6 Things to Do the Day Before a Marathon

After training for a half-marathon or marathon, it is common to feel more than a little anxious as race day nears. In the final hours leading to the race, you will want to do everything you can to ensure all the hard work is not undone by a sudden, last-minute mishap.

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Watch Now: 8 Things to Do the Day Before a Marathon

To perform at your peak, there are six simple things you should always do the day before your half-marathon, marathon, or other big race.

1

Carb-Load Correctly

Plate with healthy looking pasta dish
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In the last few days leading up to your race, 85% to 95% of your calories should come from carbohydrates. While some runners will eat nothing but rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you don't have to be so stringent. Oatmeal, bread, tortillas, pancakes, waffles, bagels, and yogurt are all easy-to-digest options.

Just be sure not to stuff yourself at dinner the night before a race. Carb-loading does not mean overloading. Focus on consuming 4 grams of carbohydrate for every pound of body weight. If you weigh 165 pounds, that translates to 660 grams per day (or roughly 2,640 calories).

Avoid heavy sauces, high-fat foods, lots of fiber, or too much protein. The aim is to load with plenty of carbs which your body will convert into glycogen for fuel. Choosing the right foods can make a difference between a winning performance and a case of runner's trots. It's always best to stick with familiar foods so you don't get an unpleasant surprise.

2

Stay Hydrated

runner drinking from water bottle

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Drink plenty of water the day before a race. If you're properly hydrated, your urine should be light yellow. Generally speaking, experts suggest drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, or roughly half a gallon. As an athlete, you may need to drink more, throughout your training and especially just before a half-marathon or other long race.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that athletic men drink 104 ounces of water (13 glasses) and athletic women drink 72 ounces (9 glasses) per day.

You don't want to go too much beyond this, though, as overhydration can be just as bad for you as dehydration. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, both of which can cause dehydration and interfere with your sleep.

3

Don't Overdo It

Man getting massage

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Your instinct before a race day may be to put in one last training session "just in case." If you have trained properly, you will not lose any fitness by resting the day before your marathon or half-marathon. It may even be a great excuse to pamper yourself with a massage or a spa treatment.

Instead of running, take the day to focus and relax. When you go to the expo center to pick up your race packet, don't waste hours walking around, attending clinics, and eating free food samples. Spending too much time on your feet will only wear you out, and hanging around all the pre-race excitement may raise your adrenaline levels and leave you exhausted by day's end.

However, it may also be beneficial to enjoy a very slow, 20-minute run to shake out your legs and calm your nerves. If you do run, use the time to remind yourself that you have trained hard and that you are ready.

4

Prepare for Race Day

clipping toenails

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The best way to beat pre-race anxiety is to organize every detail so that you don't have to think or stress about anything on race day. Start by laying out all your clothing and gear the night before your race.

Essential items include:

  • Anti-chafing products, such as Body Glide
  • Baggage tags or bracelets you might need to access restricted areas or services at the event (such as the bag check, VIP area, charity tent, or pre- or post-race transportation)
  • Extras, like throwaway layers and an old pair of shoes in case it's cold or wet
  • Race bib and safety pins
  • Race fuels, such as energy gels 
  • Running outfit, hat, shoes, and socks
  • Sunscreen
  • Wristwatch or GPS watch (make sure it is fully charged)

Remember the golden rule: Nothing new on race day. Long training runs are your opportunity to make decisions about race gear. You never know if new clothes or shoes will rub you the wrong way and lead to chafing, blisters, or other issues, so don’t make the mistake of wearing them on race day.

Similarly, don't try new fuel options that you just picked up at the expo during the race. You don't know how they are going to affect you, so save them for a later training run. The same applies to your race day breakfast. Plan in advance what you are going to eat, purchasing or pre-ordering your food if possible. Eat what you know, and stick to your plan.

Make sure you know exactly how you’re getting to the race, where you’ll park, or whether you’ll use public transportation or race shuttles. Look at the marathon website for recommendations, and check if there are any road closures that will affect you.

Give yourself plenty of time. You'll need to use the restrooms (lines can be very long), check your bag, and find your corral (if the race has them). Talk to other runners who have done the race or read reviews on websites to find out how early you should get to the start

Have your post-race friends and family meet-up plan set or your post-race plan figured out before race day. You don't want to waste energy sorting this out on race morning, or post-race when you might need all of our energy just to walk or to not be in pain. Know where you have to go.

Finally, check your toenails and clip any that are too long. Keeping your nails short will prevent them from striking the front of your shoe, causing not only foot pain but a black toenail.

5

Strategize

map app on iphone

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During your training, it helps to know what to expect in terms of hills and elevations on the course. This will help you identify at which point you'll need to conserve energy in anticipation of a hilly stretch. A course map will be available to you as soon as you register for a race.

Just before the race, go over your plan again and make sure you account for weather and any injuries or illness you had been dealing with or are dealing with. In addition to elevations, make mental notes about where water stops and porta-potties will be situated. In this way, you can hydrate accordingly without fretting about where the next stop will be.

Know where, exactly, your friends and family will be cheering for you on the course. You want to be prepared to look for them at the northeast corner of 75th Street and 1st Avenue (not just "at 75th Street").

It also helps to picture how you want to pose for your photo as you run through the finish. Imagine what you'll be thinking as a volunteer puts your race medal around your neck. This kind of visualization will help you feel less anxious and more excited about your race.

Have a Mantra Ready

It’s going to get hard at some point, and you’ll need to be prepared. Have a few phrases in mind that you’ll be able to keep repeating to get through rough patches. Try something short, simple, and positive, like "Keep running strong."

6

Unwind

woman reading a book
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Try to organize your preparations earlier in the day rather than later. If you leave it too late, you will almost be guaranteed to be too wired to sleep. Plan to have at least 2 to 3 hours to settle quietly. Instead of joining fellow runners for a last-minute get-together, meet up after the race when tensions have eased.

To help unwind, find a book or movie that will make you calm, happy, and uplifted. Avoid action thrillers, horror movies, or a downbeat tale of murder and woe. If you do yoga, meditation, or some other form of mind-body therapy, use the practice to calm and center yourself.

You should also avoid video games or other screens. As you approach bedtime, start lowering lights gradually. If you are sleeping away from home, bring along a sleeping mask and earplugs in the event there is any noise or excessive outdoor lighting.

Before going to bed, set the alarm clock so that you arise early. Double-check to make sure it works. Set a second alarm or arrange for a wake-up call as a backup.

If you go to bed but cannot fall asleep, try not to stress about it. Most people do not sleep well the night before a big race. The excitement of race day will provide you with more than enough energy to perform at your peak.

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Article Sources
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  1. Racoobian T. Mind over marathon: the psychology of running a marathon. Baptist Health South Florida. 2018.

  2. Jarvis J. Video gamers delay bedtime for playtime. University of North Texas Health Science Center. 2016.

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