The Race Starts 36 Hours Before the Gun Goes Off – Tips for Running A Half Marathon

by Nikky Manausa on February 27, 2014

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The Clock Starts Ticking Well Before the Race Starts

I was flattered when my local Tallahassee photography, Jennifer Powell (she took the fun picture above), contacted me to see if I had any race day tips to offer.  Jennifer is preparing herself to run her first half marathon this Saturday. Since I have a few friends also running the Seaside Half Marathon, I thought I would writeup some of my own tips and tricks for how I would tackle a half marathon course that I have never run.

Regardless of whether you are after a new personal best time or signed up to scratch something off of your bucket list, I am hopeful that you will find my advice useful and inspiring. For those of you running a different distance, you might find my pacing strategies useful. It’s your race, your day, read on for how to make the best of it!

Two Days Out – It’s Time to Get Race Day Ready

Weather

What does the weather look like for your race? I start scrutinizing the weather as soon as the forecast will allow! At two days out, the forecast expected should be fairly accurate. If the weather is not what you are hoping for, remind yourself that whatever does not kill you, only makes you stronger!

At 11am on Thursday, February 27, 2014, the National Weather Forecast has predicted beautiful race conditions for the Seaside Half Marathon! Woo hoo! Now I wish I were running!

Weather for Seaside Half Marathon

Wardrobe

Finalize your wardrobe according to the weather. What you wear is highly personal. My fear is being overdressed, so I typically have an old sweatshirt that I don’t mind parting with at the start and can quickly toss to the side before the race begins. For Seaside, it looks like the start will be about 50 degrees. That may sound cold to most Floridians (and like a heat wave for Canadians), but after your first mile, you will naturally warm up. If it were me, I would wear shorts (or more likely a cute Lululemon skirt!) and a tank top.

  • Keep in mind where you will attach your race day bib. Most races require you wear your bib on your front side. Plan to put it somewhere that won’t get in your way. You don’t want it flapping your leg every time you take a step. It might not sound like a big deal at first, but by 8-10 miles you will find it very annoying.
  • Plan on wearing NOTHING NEW on race day. This means shoes, sports bra, that really cute visor you just bought. Your shoes do not need to be worn completely in, but you do want to make sure you have had a few runs in them to make sure they are comfortable and do not have any hot spots that will end up causing blisters. It’s not a good idea to try out new tops and bottoms because you don’t want to find out at mile 6 that the seam on your shirt is really rubbing you the wrong way.

A Word On Food

Carb loading is something I strongly recommend for running a full marathon. For a half marathon though, be very careful to not overeat in the days leading up to your race. If you plan on running a half marathon over 90 minutes, then it may be beneficial to carb load to make sure your glycogen stores (think of this as stored energy) are fully stocked; however, overeating will leave you feeling heavy and may hurt your performance.

Two days before the race consider modifying your diet to include a higher percentage of carbohydrates, but not more calories. So if you usually have 1,800 calories a day, try to aim for more of these same 1,800 calories to come from carbohydrates instead of fats and proteins. You don’t need to go all cray-cray today with what you eat, save that for the day before the race!

Sleep, Get Some Tonight!

Two days before your race make sure you get to bed early. The day before your race you are likely to feel a little anxiety and may not sleep as well, plus chances are you will need to wake up extra early the day of. Getting a good night’s rest 2 days before will help you feel more energized. If you are reading this at midnight, GO TO BED RIGHT NOW!

The Day Before YOUR Big Day!

Now is the time to really think about what you are eating!

The day before your race, it is important to focus more on carbohydrates and hydration. You do not need to increase your calories, but you also do not want to deplete yourself either. I suggest trying to consume between 75-85 percent of your calories from carbohydrates. Remember that every gram of carbohydrate is equal to 4 calories. You can use a food diary tool like My Fitness Pal (there is a free app for it, too) to keep track of your food. Today is the one day you can feel free to be super-annoyingly-anal about what you eat, and the time when I actually advise you to “skip the wheat and go for white!” in regards to your grains. Drink water all day long. 

Just how do you consume 80 percent healthy carbs? I didn’t say load up on gummy bears and Sour Patch Kids; however, if you run a full marathon, I might give you a green light on those treats! How about I break it down meal-by-meal for a person who usually eats about 1,800 calories:

Breakfast: If you normally have a 3 egg omelet for breakfast, you are eating about 350 calories with most of those calories coming from protein and fat and very few carbs. Instead, have a bowl of oatmeal (150 calories and 27 grams of carbs), a banana (100 calories and 27 grams of carbs), and a cup of orange juice (100 calories and 26 grams of carbs). Enjoy your cup of Joe with two teaspoons of real sugar (30 calories and 8 grams of carbohydrates). You have now had about 380 calories with 110 grams of energy-packed carbohydrates!

Morning Snack: When I am not carb-loading (most days of the year), I love having a handful of almonds as a snack worth about 160 calories, with 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of protein. For a better carb option, have a cup full of fresh strawberries (about 50 calories and 11 grams of carbohydrates), and an individual serving of flavored (sweetened) fat-free Greek yogurt (about 110 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrates). This snack is worth about 160 calories and 23 grams of carbohydrates.

Lunch – YOUR MOST IMPORTANT PRE-RACE MEAL: Now is the time to pig out on healthy carbohydrates and skip the salad. Make this your biggest meal of the day. My go-to pre-race lunch includes a 6 inch turkey sub sandwich on white bread. I leave out the mayonnaise (I don’t like mayo to begin with) and cheese because those calories are coming from fat and protein. A 6-inch turkey sandwich from Subway with veggies has about 300 calories and 50 grams of carbohydrates. I will also have a second banana (100 calories and 27 carbs) for the day, and 16 ounces of coconut water (about 100 calories and 18 carbs). Coconut water is naturally hydrating and loaded with potassium to keep your muscles from cramping. Eat this delicious lunch and you will earn yourself 500 calories and 95 grams of carbs that you will be able to cash in on come those last few miles of your race.

Afternoon Snack: Instead of an apple with almond butter, opt for a Health Nut Smoothie with whey protein and Splenda from Tropical Smoothie (331 calories with 54 carbs). When I have smoothies from Tropical Smoothie I substitute Splenda over Turbinado sugar because I would rather get those sugar-calories from another source. If you do not use artificial sweeteners, then adjust the calories accordingly.

Dinner: Usually I skip the starch at the table and stick with a lean protein and veggies. Pasta parties are famous for a reason. Go ahead and eat a serving of white spaghetti noodles (210 calories and 42 carbs) with a cup of marinara sauce (about 120 calories and 20 grams of carbs), and a small slice of French bread without butter (about 100 calories and 20 carbs). This meal provides you with 430 calories and 82 grams of cars. I also suggest finishing your dinner no later than 7:30pm to give your body plenty of time to digest!

Total Suggested Calories and Carbohydrates for the Day Before a Half-Marathon: 

  • 1,801 calories
  • 364 grams of carbohydrates
  • 1,456 of these calories are coming from carbohydrates, which is roughly 80%! (Man, I’m good at carb loading meals and math!)

Here are a couple of big time food no-nos:

  • NO Mexican. No beans or cabbage or anything else that might give you the bad kind of runs or make you gassy. Talk about embarrassing and painful. It’s definitely not worth it!
  • NO heavy desserts. Save that gigantic slice of chocolate cake for after the race.
  • NO partially cooked meat or raw fish. You do not want to risk getting a food-related illness.
  • Stay away from really high fiber foods. I love Kashi’s Go Lean cereal but you are better off sticking with other, less-fiber, alternatives.

Pick Up Your Packet the Day Before

If at all possible, plan to pick up your packet the day before (or days before) your race. You do not need the added worry of picking up your packet the morning of. Plus, the packet will probably include important race day logistical information that you need to read (see below!).

Read, and Re-Read, The Race Day Rules and Procedures

Don’t get blindsided the day of your race with unexpected rules or parking specifics. Discuss with your fan club where you all will reunite. When I ran the Chicago Marathon, they would not allow anyone near the finish line.  I knew this ahead of time, because I read the fine print. Had I not taken the time to do so, I would have been pretty disappointed that my family was not where I expected them. Parking is an issue at many races. Make sure you know how you are getting to the start line. Seaside Marathon says that 30A will close at 6am! This is important information! Talk with your hotel about taxi services and familiarize yourself with the available shuttle and public transportation services. Larger races will also close the corrals early. Be prepared and read the rules!

Analyze the Course and Support Available

Make a mental note of when and where support will be available on the course. Seaside Half says that water and Powerade will be available at 7 stops along the course. There is no mention of any type of Gu or Gel provided along the course, so if you anticipate needing something like this, you better bring your own. It is also a good idea to know where the restrooms are in the event that you need one.

I always try and look at an elevation map, when available, to prepare myself for any hills along the course. I could not find a valid elevation map for Seaside, although the website says the course is “fast and mostly flat.” Seaside is also an out and back course, which means you will run back the same way you started. All these little tidbits of information help you feel prepared and less anxious about the day. Be sure to find out as much information as you can about your race.

If You Are Using a Running Watch

I am fortunate that I have a very nice Garmin 910xt triathlete GPS watch that has several display screens. Decide in advance what information you want to see during your race. Since I am able to see 4 bits of data at a time, my preferred data fields include overall time (clock time), lap pace for 1 mile splits (I set mine up so that the watch automatically laps every mile), overall average pace, and distance. Here is what mine looks like (left top is overall time, left bottom is distance, right top is lap pace, and right bottom is average pace):

Garmin 910xt Data Fields for Race

Before You Head To Bed

Layout everything you need for race day in one place. Have your watch, shoes, socks, clothes, bib, water bottle if you are carrying one, hat, sunglasses, anti-chaffing rub, and sunscreen in a pile ready to go. Make sure you know what you are having for breakfast and have that ready, too.

A Few Other Things To Consider

Mentally prepare yourself for how you plan to run. These are actually things you should have thought about during your training, but remind yourself again by reflecting on the following questions:

  • What is your finish time goal? Even if you are just running to cross the finish line, it helps to have an idea of when you think you will finish. Plus, this is helpful information for your Paparazzi.
  • How do you plan on pacing yourself? Are you going to start off slower and finish faster? Do you want to run even splits? Scroll down for pacing tips!
  • Establish a mantra - Something that will keep you going. Maybe it’s, “I am awesome!” or “I’m freaking running a half marathon, take that couch potatoes!” or “I will finish strong with a smile” or “Keep going, keep going” or “On your toes, on your toes” or “King cake, king cake!” (I used that some when I ran the Tallahassee Marathon because I had an authentic Louisiana king cake waiting for me at home!) I often think, “I’ve worked too hard to not meet my goal today.” I also “talk” to my Dad, a lot, and I thank God for giving me the gift to be able to run.
  • Go to bed as early as possible! Set two alarms! Lord knows you don’t want to over sleep!

RACE DAY

Wake Up Early

If possible, I try to wake up 2-3 hours before the start of my race. This way I can get up, grab something to eat, have a cup of coffee (don’t do this unless you usually do), and hopefully go to the bathroom. Seaside starts at 7am. I would probably wake up at 4:30am, drink a large cup of water, get the coffee started, and take a hot shower. Yes, a shower before I race. The shower helps to wake me up and then I feel fresh and clean!

When you get dressed, don’t forget to rub either Vaseline, Aquaphor, or BodyGlide anywhere that might hurt. This includes where your clothes rub your legs, between your thighs, under your arms where your inner arms swing against your shirt, under your bra strap, and for men, your nipples if you are wearing a shirt.

What to Eat Before Your Race

Just like I said earlier, nothing new on race day. Eat something that you have tested during your training that you feel confident will not upset your stomach. For me, I would eat a banana with about a tablespoon of almond butter. Some people like to have a bagel or a granola bar such as a Clif Bar. Keep your breakfast light! If this were a full marathon, I would eat 3 hours before and then have another banana within a few minutes of the start; however, I do not feel this is necessary for a half marathon.

Continue hydrating until 1 hour before your race. So at 6am, I would stop drinking and allow my body to metabolize what I drank. Hopefully I will get to use the potty about 15 minutes before the start.

10 minutes before the start, I might start sipping water or Gatorade again.

Your Warmup

A light warmup is probably all you will need. I would take a 5-10 minute easy jog before a half marathon, and then spend a few minutes stretching. Be sure to stretch at least your hamstrings, quads, calves, and shoulders. If you have practiced striders, you could add in some striders after you stretch. Race day striders would be done at your race pace. Honestly, I have not done these before a race, but I know some people do. I prefer a light jog and stretch.

If at all possible, try to pee one more time!

On Your Mark, Get Set, GO! – How To Pace Yourself

Identify An Accurate Pace For Your Fitness Level

Hopefully you have already identified your pace. If you have not, you can use a race time predictor calculator to give you an idea of what your predicted finish time will be. These calculators are not foolproof though. I personally have found Runner’s World Race Time Predictor to be pretty accurate for me. Simply enter in a recent race and then it will give you equivalent predictions for race times. As a reference, two weeks before I ran the Tallahassee Marathon, I ran a 5K in 21:18. Runner’s World predicted that I would run a half marathon in 1:37:59 and a marathon in 3:24:17. About 3 weeks before I ran that 5K time, I ran a 16 mile tempo run inclusive of a warmup, cool down, and a 13.1 mile split. I ran the half marathon split in 1:39:10. This was just a fast paced training run, so had I run a race that day, I can assume I would have been pretty close to Runner’s World’s predicted half marathon time. My Tallahassee Marathon time was 3:25:45 on a moderately warm and humid day, so 3:24:17 was not all that far off.

Once you have your predicted finish time, then you can use a pace calculator to figure out your pacing. I like Cool Running’s Pace Calculator. It looks like this:

Cool Runnings Pace Calculator

You can even have it calculate your individual mile splits. I like to use a permanent marker and write some of my splits on my arm to remind myself where I should be at what distances. There are also several split wristbands you can print. Marathon Guide offers one for free.

Cool Runnings Splits

Be A little Flexible With Your Pace – Have 3 Goals

I like to have 3 race day time goals. My A goal would be what I realistically think I might get. In the case above, it would be to break 1:38. Then my B goal would be what I might get on a perfectly perfect race day. So instead of a 7:28 pace, maybe I would try for a 7:20 pace, which would give me a finish time of 1:36:08. My C goal applies if I am not having my best day. I might drop my pace to 7:45 with a finish time of 1:41:35. Having a couple of goals will help you to stay motivated when things are going really well and you don’t want to let go of your hard-earned pace, or when you feel like it’s just not your day, but you still want to finish strong.

DO NOT START OUT TOO FAST! - The First Mile

Have you ever watched a bunch of young kids run a 1 mile race? Most of the inexperienced children run all out for maybe a quarter of a mile and then they end up walking. I remind my own kids every race to not start off too fast. Maddie will even tell me as she is getting past by others, “I will catch them at the end,” and she is usually right! This is a half marathon, not a sprint! 

I have read a few studies that show when you start off 15 seconds faster than your ideal pace, you will end up being slower in the end. Read that again, and again, and again! It takes serious discipline to stay within your pace that first mile when your adrenaline is pumping and you are surrounded by a ton of energy. I PROMISE you will not regret keeping to your pace. Even if you run 10-15 seconds slower than your pace, you will reap the benefits later.

How to Mentally Tackle The Half Marathon

First, chunk it up. I divide and conquer a half marathon like this:

  • First mile warm up, mantra: “Don’t go out too fast!”
  • Miles 2-5 get into the groove
  • Mile 6.5ish halfway point (and turnaround for Seaside)
  • “Stay strong” through mile 10
  • Keep at it for 10-12. Ask yourself, “Can I pick up the pace a little?”
  • Mile 12 through the finish – GO, give it all you have left!

If you do not have a pacing strategy, this is what I suggest (and what works for me):

  • Try to hit even paces. If you are aiming for a 9:15 pace, try to hit 9:15 every mile. Do NOT go any faster than 9:15 until you  at least hit the halfway point of your race. Once you hit the halfway point, you can start picking it up a little each mile if you are feeling up to it, maybe dropping it 2-5 seconds a mile, more as you get closer to the end.
  • I typically run my mile splits like this: I stick close to my pace goal, and then when I see my watch hit in the .8 range of that mile (say 9.8 miles), I monitor closely to make sure I hit the split dead-on or a second or two faster. Sometimes I have to pick up the pace a little towards the end of the mile split (maybe my mile lap pace is 7:33 at my .8 mark, but I want 7:30, I will pick it up until I hit 7:30 and I get to that next mile).  After I hit the mile split, I might back off the pace just a littlejust enough to catch my breath if needed. As soon as possible I jump back into my pace. That little break may only be 15-20 seconds slower than my race pace and only lasts maybe 30 seconds. This is a little tricky, but it works if you can figure it out! Since I have learned to do this, most of my races are run with even splits or negative splits (faster on the back half).

Remember your mantra! - You CAN do this!!!

Thank the volunteers. Take the time to thank all those who have come out to support you along the way. If you cannot muster up the words, “thank you,” then at least give a friendly wave.

SMILE at the cameras! Can you guess which picture I saw the camera guy? At least pretend like you are having fun!

 Nikky Manausa

Nikky Manausa

Start focusing on other runners. The first part of the run is all about me and getting into my zone. The second half of my race, I start zeroing on who is in front of me, and without sprinting, focus on trying to pass one person at a time. This is how I motivate myself to keep on going as my legs start to tire. As I focus on them running, I think I naturally run a little faster. It’s like a mind/body game.

At around 8 miles I might take a Gu or Gel, but do this only if you have practiced this before as these sugary supplements can upset your stomach. I choose 8 miles because it takes about 15 minutes to “kick in” so by the time you are at 10 miles, when it’s time to suck it up and bring yourself home, you’ll have a little something extra in you. You may feel better about taking the Gu or Gel around  6 miles. It just depends on your training. I also like freezing my Gu the night before. That way my Gu stays cold and feels cool in my mouth.

HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE! 

I carry a water bottle with me so that I can take little sips along the way; however, there should be plenty of water stops along the way so carrying your own fluid is not necessary. I do suggest taking a cup of water/Powerade at least every 2 miles if possible. Even if you do not drink the entire cup, put what you can in your mouth. If you become dehydrated, your body will slow down prematurely. Don’t let this happen to you! It is also not necessary to drink 8 ounces every mile.  You should never feel thirsty, but you should also not feel full!

Concentrate on Form

When you start to feel tired, think about your running form. Are you slouching forward too much? Is your neck tilting to the side? Are your shoulders tensing up closer to your ears? Sometimes, I will say to myself, “Quick feet, on your toes” to remind myself to keep my legs going and to not heal strike. Today is not the day to go about changing your form. You can, however, focus on parts of your body that might start feeling tired resulting in sloppy form.

Nikky Manausa Pensacola Marathon Finish LineTHE FINISH LINE!

FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT! No matter what kind of day you had, remember that you did something most people cannot or will not do. Even if you did not hit your goal for the day, think about how far you have come and how much you have improved your health through your training. BE PROUD, you deserve it!

Celebrate!

When you cross the finish line, immediately start drinking some water or an electrolyte drink and continue to walk around for five minutes. Reunite with your loved ones, give them a sweaty hug, and thank them for their support. Grab something to eat as soon as you think you can tolerate it. And celebrate! YOU DID IT!

Good Luck! I would love to hear your feedback. Let me know how your race went!

Thank you for reading my blog! Please consider subscribing so that I can help keep you, and your family, fit for life!

 

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