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Race Day Plan + Mental Toughness + Pre/Post Race Plan

It is time for THE Chicago Marathon, almost. Likely if this is your first marathon, or even first Chicago, you  have had many tips and talks throughout your training from coaches, friends, pacers, neighbors, people walking down the street, each other, family, other random “know it alls”, your Tinder date, and so much more! Maybe you are even  a seasoned marathoner! Race day, regardless of your level, is still a big day!

Race Plan + Tips

A race plan is different from a training plan. The training plan is what distances to run, what the workouts are, and at what pace in the weeks or months leading up to the race. A race plan is for the race itself. The race plan may take many forms and include many things…including the race strategy.

Example:

  • Goal (A, B )
  • Race Execution: pace, fuel when, etc; when to switch to Plan B
  • Get to race/race morning
  • Equipment/Special needs
  • Packet pickup/day before
  • Meal plan for day(s) prior

Things to consider when making the plan.

The start. Trying not to go out too fast. You may be feeling good, but stay behind someone; this will help so you don’t burn out your legs too fast! There will be people around you the entire race; so try not to worry about “getting away” from people! Stick to a pace; stick to YOUR pace (your plan). Your “best” race is not always your fastest. Your “worst” is not necessarily your slowest. Run smart. Fuel well. Listen.

Run each mile…one at a time! Whether you consider the race 26.2 miles made up of 26, 1 mile races (plus a little more); or maybe a 5k, 5 miles 4 times, and a 5k; or any other way. It is YOUR race to run; however you choose to do it!

Mental Toughness:

Know your WHY. This is your motivation. Not the person or people you may be running for (if running for a charity); not the bucket list piece, or a bet, or just the next step after being a runner for a bit…but WHY the marathon. Why THIS marathon. WHY you want to do this. Be honest with yourself. Motivation always comes from within. Own it. You may do it to “honor” someone but there are many ways you can do that. Why do YOU want to run this marathon. Why did YOU train for months. Why did YOU even register. Why did YOU show up to all those runs, and why are YOU going to show up on race day? The WHY may have even changed throughout, and may even be many reasons!

Having a hard time “digging deep” out there on the course? Look around you and smile. Worst case if that smile doesn’t help you, it certainly will help someone else. Look at all the charity shirts out there. All those millions of dollars raised by others, running their WHY. WOW! Its quite breathtaking! If THAT does’t make you smile, then there will be some puppies around the corner and some more fun signs!

Utilize self talk, “I am” willing to push through this. “I am” capable. You can also “coach” yourself and say “you” are going to finish strong; “you” are crushing this part of the race; “you” have some great shoes!

Prior to the race, look for a spot to just be calm. Close your eyes, tune out and tune in, visualize the race. If you listen to music when running, maybe even sit back with your playlist and visualize the day while listening for a little bit. No surprises.

Race Day Tips

  • Anticipate security to gear check/corrals to take longer than anticipated. The worst thing that will happen is that you will be checked in early.
  • Driving or CTA? Make sire to leave earlier than expected. Use Spot Hero, and make sure to account for early road closures. CTA can also have delays.
  • No changes. Same breakfast, same timelines as for training. Don’t give you body unknowns or variables.
  • If your goal time is around one of the pace group signs, play it safer and run slightly behind the group. They get paid to get as close to the time as possible. Many of these pacers will go out slightly faster in order to hit the time for sure. Just keep that in mind. If they are within eyesight, you’re pacing okay. (You can also plan to run with them)
  • Follow your race plan; don’t go out too fast; don’t forget to take your fuel & fluids on schedule
  • Don’t forget about your nutrition; bringing it and using it!
  • Enjoy the day, smile, high five everyone, thank volunteers
  • Try and ear something with your name; spectators can then cheer for you!
  • GPS will likely NOT show 26.2 miles at the end. This does not mean the course was wrong, it just means that GPS isn’t perfect. Utilize course mile markers to track as well.
  • Don’t forget that THIS. IS. FUN. enjoy the moments, the miles, the process.
  • If weather is going to be cooler, or you run cold at the start bring some toss away clothing; old sweatshirt or even an old button-down shirt and/or old heat sheet to toss at the start (easy to take off without going over your head with hat/earbuds!)
  • Review (even if on paper) the first few & last few turns/miles on the course so you know what to expect
  • If you aren’t familiar with the area, include a printed map back to your hotel or other meeting spot in your gear check just in case you have phone issues or have “marathon-brain”
  • Tell people what you are wearing (send a pic) and find out what your spectators will be wearing & approximate location (but they might have to adjust depending on crowds)
  • If it’s going to be hot, and the race director sends numerous emails telling you to hydrate, hydrate, HYDRATE! …don’t just drink ONLY water all weekend before the race as you will flush all the electrolytes out of your body! You need those!
  • Carry TUMs and crystallized ginger on the run in case of any nausea
  • At the aid stations, point to the volunteer and let them know you’re coming for that water/Gatorade/banana.
  • Hydrate and eat well at least 72 hours prior to. And steer clear of lots of raw veggies, unless you are used to them! They may not bode well for race day.
  • KNOW where the aid stations are located and what they will have available.
  • Don’t shave the morning of or night before (face, legs, pits, nothing…ouch!) Also no toe nail cutting (just file), no pedicures, no facials, the week of the marathon (Again ouch) -More on this later in the week!

Now What?

Right away after the marathon is when recovery begins. Maybe you have a race day space with massage therapists, recovery boots, and other tools to aid this. Or can take advantage of the massage therapists on site.These sessions are not meant to replace a good recovery massage (more below on this)

What else though?

After you finish the best thing to do is keep waking for at least 10 minutes or so (gets you through the finisher’s chute and over to our space!) This will help the blood flow and heart rate to begin returning to normal. Do not immediately sit down! This would not be good. Continue walking every 2-3 hours for about 10-15 minutes for the rest of the day, and next. Walk it out!

When you are finished you will want to begin the refueling process. The depleted muscles need to get some carbohydrates, protein and sodium within the first 30-60 minutes after the race. If you struggle with eating, you may want to try a protein rich liquid recovery drink. Continue to sip liquid electrolytes and water throughout the day. Monitor your urine for hydration levels (good to do during the race too!) Small meals for the next day or so may also be helpful.

How about a massage? The day of, or even the next day is likely too soon…but schedule this NOW so your therapist isn’t booked up! Your body needs to start the recovery process and know that it is not injured prior to receiving a lot of work from a massage therapist. If you have never gotten a massage before a full massage beyond a quick flush, may be too much for you for a couple of days. Personally, as a massage therapist for the last 28 years, I will not work on anyone (especially new clients or new marathoners) until Tuesday after a Sunday marathon AT THE EARLIEST. Likely even longer. Prior to the race, depends on what our goals are but likely Friday morning.
Continue to use tools like a foam roller etc thorough the next couple of days.

Want to get moving? Swimming, cycling, yoga (your cross training) for some active recovery! Give your body a good week or so to fully recover prior to any real running. Too much, or anything too soon running wise may lead to injury.

The next couple of weeks post marathon, are reversing the taper. Begin with a couple 30 to 40 minute easy runs to check out the legs. If you are feeling good, then you may gradually increase the duration and frequency; and eventually the intensity (after about 2-3 weeks or so)

Always listen to your body. You got this!

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Terri was not an athlete growing up. Maybe a bit “athletic” and definitely awkward. Now she is not only a runner and triathlete, but a Coach (running + triathlon) as well! She has been a part of the Chicago “sport” community for over 25 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist and Movement Specialist. Terri runs her own business, Urban Wellness Chicago in the wicker Park neighborhood; and also works with the Northwestern University Athletic Department. She does now consider herself an athlete, and regularly competes in races of multiple distances. Oh and yes, still a bit awkward! Terri is also a Certified Life & Happiness Coach with her own business All You Coaching; with additional focus on performance, life transitions, confidence, and mindset.

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