The final week leading up to a big race such as a marathon can be a stressful time. It's also a time to reduce your mileage, giving the body ample time to rest, but also a time to mentally reflect on the benefits of all your hard training.
With a lot of Spring marathons coming up, I quite often get asked for tips and advice on how I prepare both physically and mentally in this final week. There’s a lot of things you can do that will most definitely help your marathon race, and there’s also a lot that won’t help! However, we’re all different. I have my marathon rituals that I swear by because they work for me, it doesn’t mean they’ll work for everyone. I’ve spent many years and several marathons honing these last week preparation rituals to get them just right, and whilst practice plus trial and error is the best way to find what works best - here I’ve set out some of the most basic yet effective tips for preparing yourself in the final week before your race.
If you’re following a training plan you should be well into your marathon taper phase now, greatly reducing your mileage in this last week. There’s no need to completely stop your training, but there’s no need to cram in anything new at this stage, it won't add any benefit. Tapering is designed to ensure your body is fresh and ready to race come race day.
2. Race day gear
Lay everything out ready in advance and don’t be tempted to run in something new that you’ve not trained in at least a few times before. Charge your watch. Remember to pack some post-race warm clothing. Other things I often pack in my race day kit bag include: plasters, spare safety pins, hairbands, vaseline, spare socks, post-race energy bar, a few coins.
Prepare a pacing schedule so you know what pace/time you should be running or aiming for. Be realistic and set this out based on your training and what your expectations might be. The age-old rule of not going out too fast in the first part of a marathon will help you to stay strong later on.
4. Race fuel strategy
This is so individual but it’s best to stick to what you’ve been practicing with during your long runs. If you’re carrying gels with you make sure they’re the same as the ones used in your training. Study the course map and know at which kms will be the water or electrolyte stations. On a warmer day you may need to increase your water intake, even if you feel like you don’t need it.
In this final week I always advise people to get lots of good quality sleep. Rest and recovery plays a huge part in marathon training, something which is often overlooked. The week before the race I tend to go to bed an hour earlier each night to give my body the sleep it needs.
6. Eat well
There’s no need to completely change your diet from what you’re used to, but eating lots of nutrient rich foods, plus increasing your carb intake in the last 3-4 days is a good tip. Drink plenty of water. I make sure not to eat too late the night before the race as it can affect my sleep, especially if it’s an early start for the race.
7. Plan your travel
Work out how you will travel to the starting line and how long it will take you. Always leave plenty of extra time for traffic or other potential delays - remember there will be a lot of other runners travelling at the same time! It’s always better to arrive earlier than end up late and in a panic. If you’re arranging to meet family or friends at the finish, agree beforehand on a suitable meeting spot.
8. Don't try anything new
This is my number one tip! This goes for food, running gels, race kit, trainers, etc. Don’t be tempted to go out and purchase brand new shiny running gear and then saving it for race day - this won’t help you! And likewise, don't be swayed into purchasing brand new running gels at the running expo the day before the race - stick to what you know and what you’ve been practicing with during your training and your long runs.
9. Post-race recovery
After crossing the finish line try not to sit down at the first opportunity, if you can, try to keep walking around for a few minutes before doing some static stretches. This allows your body to cool down properly - and your body will thank you for it later! Get some water/electrolyte drink and a banana as this will help to avoid cramping.
10. Don't worry
Everyone gets nervous right before a marathon - even seasoned marathoners and elite runners! This is completely normal. It’s a good time to look back over your training plan and remind yourself how much you’ve prepared yourself for this. You’ve done the hard work, you’ve done the training, you’re ready!
Meet your author
Davina is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor, as well as being a passionate vegan health coach. British born but now residing in Malta, she travels regularly overseas to run marathons. She swears that switching to a plant-based diet was a game-changer in her training. Now she spends her time inspiring others to see the benefits of adopting a healthy vegan lifestyle and diet.