Marathon Day Prep Guide

Marathon preparation happens on multiple levels.

At the foundation, there’s your long-term lifestyle choices: nutrition, hydration, pliability, and sleep. This is what makes daily exercise possible and sustainable. It doesn’t have a start or end date: it’s your life.

At the next level there’s preparing to prepare — this is your marathon research. If you’re new to marathons, this is an essential step. During this stage you find a training plan, talk to a personal trainer, and learn as much as you can about what it takes to train.

The next stage of preparation is physical conditioning — your training runs, cross-training, pliability work, stretching, and recovery. This preparation increases gradually over a period of four months and then tapers off two or three weeks before race day.

These two levels make up 95 percent of your race day preparation. The last five percent — the fourth and final level — is different. You’re already in marathon shape; what’s left for race day and the preceding week is largely maintaining performance, race day logistics, and, of course, nerves.


Respect (and enjoy) the taper

Most marathon plans follow a two- to three-week taper period after the longest training run. During this period, training volume decreases gradually but significantly so that your body has time to rebuild before the event. Although some runners get anxious that their performance might suffer if they stop training hard, research shows that this is not the case.

Research has found that a two-week taper has significantly positive effects on running performance the day of the event

According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, tapers of two weeks have a strong positive effect on performance in a half-marathon — the strongest, in fact, of all taper lengths examined.

Carbo-load with a variety of plant-based complex carbohydrates

Traditional marathon prep will tell you to carbo-load with pasta and bread, but this isn’t the way to go. Instead of loading up on simple, traditional, high-glycemic, and pro-inflammatory foods, opt instead for healthy, plant-based alternatives:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • A nice, warm bowl of oatmeal

Hydrate well, and keep a stash of TB12 Electrolytes

is not as much of a daily battle as people think. According to circadian rhythm research on men in a space flight simulation, it’s a weekly or monthly one. (This is partly why we encourage people to do a 12-day hydration challenge.)

For you, this means that your efforts to stay hydrated during the race have to start at least a week before the race

In the week leading up to your event, drink plenty of water. (Tom Brady aims for half his body weight in ounces of water every day.) If you’re still putting in training during your taper, make sure to replenish electrolytes during and after your workout.

Learn more about Why Staying Hydrated is Essential.

Protect your circadian rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is a sensitive 24-hour cycle that governs a lot of important processes in your body — from your hormones to your sleep schedule. As you approach race day, you want to keep your sleep schedule on track to make sure you get good, restful sleep.

To protect your circadian rhythm, limit blue light exposure after 6 PM.

Blue light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. This means that when bedtime rolls around, you won’t feel tired enough. Sources of blue light include your SmartPhone, your computer, and fluorescent lights.

Pack your bags and lay out your clothes the night before

On race day, the obstacles that can derail your performance probably have nothing to do with your running ability. They have more to do with logistics — like finding everything you need before you leave your house.

To save yourself a potential headache or frantic search party, lay out all your race day inventory the night before the event. In the event that you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, everything you need will be easy to find, pack, or put on. This simple step ensures that you can spend the morning of your race relaxing, focusing, and hydrating — not rushing.

Start your recovery early with pre-race pliability

Treating your muscles to a pre-workout pliability session can actually speed up your recovery afterwards. Pliability improves blood circulation and oxygenation, which in turn make your run more efficient.

Working the soft tissues of your legs with a roller increases blood flow and oxygenation, which allows your muscles to work more efficiently as you run. This means less lactic acid buildup, less tissue damage, and a faster recovery.

A word to the wise, however: as we mention below, you should keep your race day pre-run pliability conservative. Adding new rolling patterns on race day is risky, so stick to what you know.

No surprises — race exactly the way you’ve been training

The day of a marathon — especially your first marathon — is the worst possible time to introduce new variables to the equation. What do we mean by that? We mean new shoes, new shorts, new lotion, new sunscreen, new warm-up moves, new pliability techniques, new stretches, new foods — anything that you don’t normally incorporate into your run.

Why be so devoted to what you usually do? Because by now, you know what works — at least when it comes to running. Stick with your time-tested tools and rituals, and you keep the odds on your side.

Make time for the bathroom

Your pre-race bathroom visit — or PRP in running circles — is an essential but too-often forgotten step in race day preparation. Gastrointestinal disturbances are very common for long-distance runners (with 25 to 42 percent reporting the need to use the bathroom mid-race). Therefore, it’s good advice to eliminate all obstacles to your performance before the race begins.

If you’re not a fan of portable amenities, make time for yourself before you leave your house. Otherwise, be sure to arrive at your event early enough to wait in line.

Spend 15 minutes centering yourself before the starting gun

In How Tom Brady Achieves a Winning Mindset, we talk about different techniques you can use to focus and center yourself. To get yourself grounded before the race, you could meditate, do deep breathing exercises, pray, or do any other activity that quiets your mind. Your mind is what’s going to get you through the next 26.2 miles, so it’s essential that you two are on the same page.

Start slow — seriously, calm down

Even if this is your first marathon, it’s probably not your first road race. (If it is, we’re impressed.) You know the excitement of the starting line: strangers packed shoulder-to-shoulder, the bouncing beat of the music, some exuberant MC rattling off names or numbers you can’t make out, your heart pounding already even though you haven’t started — the colors, the sounds, the adrenaline!

Just take a deep breath.

The environment at a race tends to make even the most mentally-centered runners blast like a rocket out of the gate and deplete their energy early. Our advice: don’t do that. Be disciplined, save your energy, and run slower than you think you need to at first. You’ll be thankful at Heartbreak Hill.

Follow these tips, and your training will carry you

If you haven’t already, take a moment to congratulate yourself on your training — that work, along with a catchy positive mantra, is what will carry you from start to finish. These tips are here to save you from common first-time marathon mistakes, but at this point — to be perfectly honest — nothing can stop you.

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