Top Ten Ways to Run a Faster Marathon

By Rick Morris

Marathon training requires discipline, commitment and a lot of hard work. Now that you have successfully completed your marathon training you are guaranteed success in your race – right? Wrong! You still need to prepare for and properly deal with marathon race day and race week logistics. Here are the top ten ways to run a faster marathon.

Plan Ahead

The first step to run a faster marathon is to plan ahead. When marathon race day arrives you do not want to be unsure of where to go or what to do. If you are driving to the starting line plan your route and locate your parking areas before race day. If you are taking public transportation figure out the schedule and pick up locations early. Read the marathon race day information packet carefully so that you know what the routine and schedule is for getting there, lining up and finishing.

Become Familiar With The Course

Knowing the terrain and landmarks of the marathon race course can give you a big advantage. If you know where the hills are, the location of hydration stations, placement of spectator viewing areas and major landmarks you will be able to a better job of planning your marathon race strategy. It is especially important to be familiar with the last mile of the marathon course. A good way to become familiar with the marathon race course is to do some of your training on the actual course. If that is not possible then study a map of the course. Most marathons will have a marathon course map in their informational materials or on their website. Becoming familiar with your course is a great way to run a faster marathon.

Avoid Activity Before Your Race

Try to avoid walking around a lot the day before your marathon. Many of the larger marathons are destination marathons. Runners often use them as a personal or family vacation. Many marathon runners make the mistake of touring the city or area attractions the day before their race. They may walk many miles during their tours. All of that walking will fatigue your legs and decrease your ability to run your best marathon. Take in the area attractions after your race rather than before. You will start your marathon with fresh legs instead of exhausted ones and will run a faster marathon.

Carbo Load But Don’t Over Load

One of the great traditions of marathon running is the pre race carbo-load dinner. The carbo-load dinner the evening before your race is a great place to socialize and meet your fellow competitors and marathon runners. The social aspects aside the pre-race carbo-load dinner has been touted as essential for top off your body’s stores of energy supplying carbohydrates. Several helpings of heaping plates of pasta, bread and salad are a common sight at these occasions. But do you really need all of that food? Not really. You do want to eat a high carbohydrate meal the evening before your race. That is important for maximizing the carbohydrate stores in your body, but avoid over eating. All of that food can disrupt your sleeping pattern and even make you a bit sluggish on race morning. So, enjoy your carbo-load dinner and eat a normal portion of high carbohydrate foods, but don’t over do it to run a faster marathon.

Get Ready The Night Before

Don’t wait until race morning to prepare your race gear. The evening before your race, lay out your running outfit, warm up gear, race number and anything else you are taking. You don’t want to add any additional stress of trying to find all of your gear on race morning.

Dress Appropriately

Dressing for race day can be a bit tricky. Many marathons start early in the morning and the temperatures can range from bitter cold to comfortable. Always bring along some throw away clothes. A long sleeve shirt, some old sweat pants or warm ups, old running gloves and hat. You will probably be waiting around at the staging area or starting line for some time. If the weather is cold you can wear your throw away clothes. When the race starts you can discard the clothing on the side of the road. Volunteers will pick up the discarded clothing and donate them to a charitable organization. Also bring along a large plastic trash bag. If it is raining you can cut head and arm holes in the bag and use it to keep dry. Avoid over dressing. You should be just a bit cold before you start. If you are warm at the start you may start to over heat after you start running.

Arrive Early

Giver yourself plenty of time to get to the starting line or staging area. Parking, public transportation and access points can all get very congested before the race. You can use the extra time to prepare yourself both mentally and physically for your upcoming marathon.

Don’t Do a Long Warm Up

I have seen many marathon runners performing a long warm up before their race. A long warm up is not necessary because of the moderate pace of a marathon. You can use the first mile or two of the actual marathon to warm up. A long warm up will burn valuable carbohydrates in your body and hurt your performance. Just before the start of your marathon you should do some dynamic stretching drills such as high knees, heel kicks and walking lunges. Those exercises will warm up your muscles and improve your functional range of motion without burning a significant amount of carbohydrates.

Hydrate Properly

Start your race properly hydrated, but do no over hydrate before the marathon. The night before and on race morning drink normally – when you are thirsty. Don’t force fluids down when you are fully hydrated and not thirsty. If you are over hydrated you will probably need to make stops at the portable toilets during the first part of your marathon. That will cost you valuable time. During the race consume the sports drink that is available to you at each hydration station. The minerals and electrolytes in the drink will help keep your blood sodium level from becoming diluted. The carbohydrates in the drink will replace part of the carbs you are burning. Do not drink plain water exclusively. That can lead to hyponatremia or low blood sodium.

Line Up Properly

Many of the larger marathons will stage you in the position that is appropriate for your estimated pace. If they do not stage in that way, be sure to line up properly. Faster runners should always be towards the front and slower runners towards the rear. If you line up with runners that are faster than you are you could be “pulled along” at a pace that is too fast for you. That will prove disastrous in the last miles of the marathon. If you line up behind slower runners you may have problems falling into your planned pace and you could lose time.