1. Sleep. Getting enough sleep in the weeks leading up to the marathon is very important. Two nights before the most important. More than likely you will not sleep very well the night before. Tossing and turning thinking about the race. Make sure to retire early on Friday and sleep as long as possible.
2. Eat. You want to make sure to eat a lot of carbs before the race. However don’t load up on tons of pasta the night before the race if that is not something you are used to doing before your long runs. The meal two nights before should be your most important meal. Don’t go overboard – just eat a bit more than you are used to. Pasta is fine but that’s not the only source of carbs – so you make the decision what works for you. The night before eat a well-balanced meal and don’t stuff yourself. Now is not the time for dessert or drinks – save that till after the race.
3. Expo. Go the expo on Friday if at all possible. Don’t try any new food samples and try to limit the amount of time you are there. The floor beneath the carpet is concrete which is very tough on your legs. Get in and get out. Enjoy the expo at a smaller race – not at a marathon. You also don’t want to be trying ANYTHING new the days before a race – the expo is not exception to this rule.
4. Sit. Sit on your butt as much as possible the week before the race. Your legs need to be as fresh as possible. I know this can be hard for some – but seriously just try to sit.
5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink so much water in the week leading up to the race that you really want to write me a nasty comment. Seriously though it’s not a good idea to enter a race dehydrated. For the first couple of days you might notice bloating if you body is not used to being well hydrated. This will go away once your body figures out that it doesn’t have to store water because it will be continually hydrated.
6. Sign your family members and friends up for the text message updates. This will help them know approximately where you are on the course if they are going around DC trying to find you. Don’t wait till the last-minute to do this – sometimes the systems get overloaded or even worse they don’t allow any more sign ups.
7. Bring trash bags. There is a lot of grass at the start of MCM and you are going to want to sit. The grass is usually moist regardless of whether it rained or not. You will be more comfortable sitting on a dry trash bag than on wet grass. The trash bags come in handy after the race when you will want to strip off your wet yucky clothes and put on some warm dry ones.
8. Bring your own roll of toilet paper. You never know when a port o potty is going to run out of TP or when you will need to blow your nose. Bringing your own roll makes sure that you aren’t left in the uncomfortable situation of needing to use a sock.
9. Music. Listen to it before you race, not during. If you use it during the race you are missing out on half of what Marine Corps is all about. Other than on Haines Point the race is pretty much lined with spectators who will cheer you on. This leads me to my next point. ETA: If you like music, use it, I’ve softened on my stance on this over the years. That being said if this is your first time running this race I stand by my opinion that it’s really incredible to be able to experience it with out other distractions.
10. Write your name on your shirt, bib number, or body. It seriously helps you in the last miles when people are looking you in the eye and cheering your name on. Just be careful in the beginning to not let it scare you. I would jump and look every time someone said my name – did they know me? – only then to remember it was written on my shirt.
11. Get there early. The masses sleep in and cut it as close to the start as possible. You don’t want to be one of those people running around stressed at the beginning of a marathon. Or worse yet missing the start and having to start late.
12. Bring throw away clothes. I usually wear a long sleeve t-shirt and make a small rip at the front of it. This allows me to rip it off while running rather than trying to navigate pulling it over my head while carrying my hydration. I also wear sweatpants to the start and take them off a couple of minutes before the gun goes off. No need to worry about littering our nations Capital – they pick up all the clothes and donate them to the homeless.
13. If you like arm warmers – make them yourself. This way if you get too hot and want to throw them away you won’t have remorse about tossing your expensive warmers. I go to Target and buy Men’s Large Tube socks – cut a whole for my watch and four slits at the toe seam for my fingers to go through.
14. Body Glide. Seriously put this stuff everywhere. You will thank me later for this one. Women – it’s especially important to lube up on the seams of your sports bra.
15. Water. Bring your own hydration and skip the first couple of water stops. Everyone and their mom, sister, and friends stop at the first couple of stops. It’s very clustered and hard to navigate. Just stick to the center of the road and rest assured that there are TONS of stops up ahead to get water.
16. Sunscreen. I’ve never run a Marine Corps Race and not gotten very burnt from too much sun. It’s always a beautiful sunny day – perfect for spectating but not so great for running. I also sometimes wear sunglasses to help with the squinting
17. If you like hats, wear one. It can get windy on those bridges and sometimes looking down and using the brim of your hat to shield your face is the only way to protect it from the junk on the road that the wind stirs up.
18. Line yourself up in the correct corral. I use to advise against this mostly because other people always put themselves faster than they are and I hated trying to weave in and out expending precious energy. I however have now changed my opinion on this one. My husband has told me that nothing is more demoralizing than getting passed the ENTIRE race because you started too close to the front and got sucked into going too fast. If you start where you are supposed to you will more than likely pass people the whole time. This is a huge confidence boost!
19. Powerade is the official drink of MCM. If you plan on drinking this at the race make sure you are drinking this on your long runs. Race day is NOT the day to try anything new. ETA: Gatorade Endurance is now the official drink of MCM – you can read about that here.
20. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT GO OUT TOO FAST. Going out too fast in your first mile can ruin the whole race for you. Start slow, finish strong. By starting out too fast you put your body into oxygen debt long before it can handle it. Check out this article for the science behind working into your pace.
21. When you get cups of water at the water stops be sure to pinch them and make a spout. This makes drinking much easier – the water won’t splash in your face as you run. Or if you plan on taking walking breaks through out the race – after a water stop while you are drinking is a great time to do this.
22. Smile for the camera. You never know who the next face of Marine Corps Marathon will be Plus they make for nice keepsakes or fun things to post on facebook. OH and make sure to go and get the finishers photo even if you don’t plan on buying it. Trust me – it’s nice to look back and see in your eyes how you felt after completing this marathon.
23. When you are on the hills or on some of the bridges remember it’s about even effort and not even pace. You should naturally slow a little on the hills – this doesn’t mean you aren’t putting forth the same effort – you should be – it’s just harder to get up them. You will make up the seconds lost naturally on the down hills, without even trying.
24. Don’t freak out. At this point in the race it’s easy to start to freak out. You are entering into uncharted territory if this is your first marathon. Rest assured that if you have made it this far – you will finish the race.
25. You will be okay. Mile 25 has always been particularly hard for me in this marathon. The bridges have beat up your legs. The wind usually has kicked up. It’s sunny and you can’t see the finish line. You begin to wonder if this will ever end even though you know it’s almost over. It’s easy for your mind to play tricks on you. There is scientific evidence that late in a marathon it’s very hard for your mind to focus on positive things and easier to let the negative take over. Have a positive affirmation or mantra ready and prepared so you can cheer lead yourself to mile 26!
26. Run don’t walk up the infamous hill. You won’t want to run it – you will want to walk. I’ve done both and trust me I always felt horrible later knowing that at mile 26.1 that stupid hill beat me. It’s shorter than it seems and literally after you get up it you are at the finish of the race. Finish strong.
26.2 Enjoy your accomplishment you just finished the Marine Corps Marathon!!!!! Reward yourself. I know I’ll be scarfing down at least three gluten free cupcakes 😉
Good luck and may the wind be at your back!!!