2017 Austin Marathon/Half Marathon Race Prep

Austin Marathon 2010 Start wide

OK, so it’s showtime, here. You can’t just piddle through the week and show up to run Sunday morning. Well, you can, but it would be, um, dumb. This is not a 5K (unless you’re running the 5K). So, here’s a bit of a guide.

Preparing this week:

Know about the damned event – Answers to a lot of your questions, and ways to prevent screw-ups and confusion, are available on an event’s website. Will there be pacers? It’s on there (yes, there are). Driving or have friends driving to the race? Know the road closures.

Get familiar with the course – it makes a difference. Nothing shortens miles and flattens hills like familiarity. Go look at the maps. Maybe even print one.

Drive the course – If you have been training in Austin, you should damn well have run every bit of the course by now. If you aren’t from Austin, or have been shamed by the previous sentence… Set aside a couple of hours this week, and drive the course. Try to know the turns, and get the rhythm of the course. You might even stop at the bottom of hills, get out, and walk or jog up them, to know what it feels like. When you near the top, think about how it’s going to be to beat it and not let it wear you down – start loading up on positive attitude and determination.

Visualize – After driving the route, look at the maps every now and then, and run the race in your head. Austinites, you should be able to rattle off every turn of the race. Run chunks of it in your head. Feel the rhythm of the stretches that will require more effort, and the ones where you’ll be able to recover. I promise you this will be a huge benefit to you. I PR’ed a 5K years ago, despite a massive hangover, because I had planned and visualized ahead of time.

Segment the Course – Decide how you’ll break the course into manageable chunks of two to three miles each. Getting through each chunk will be an accomplishment, and it’ll be easier than going at all 13.1 or 26.2 miles at once. Aid station to aid station works well.

Plan Nutrition – Part of knowing the course is knowing when you’ll take your nutrition. What I do is work backwards – I want my last Gu two or three miles out from the finish, and I want them every 30-40 minutes. I look at the water stop placement on the maps. So, I know I’ll Gu at miles 24, 20, 16, 12, and 8. Yup, that’s a lot, but you’re not out there to lose weight. Use your nutrition.

Figure out how many gel packs or blocks or whatever you’ll need, and go buy them and some extras for your slacker teammates now – some stores sell out of everything but “Your Nephew’s Dirty Diaper”-flavored gel before races. You can also get gels at some of our great local running stores, like… Ready to Run and Rogue, and at bike shops, REI, Academy, and an increasing amount of local grocery stores. You also need to know how you’re going to carry all that stuff, but you’ve probably already figured that out on those long training runs… right?

Have your outfit ready – Our classically unpredictable Texas weather has taken its squirreliness to new heights lately, which, in truth, is incovenient. So, for what very little it’s worth, monitor the forecast on something like Weather Underground, which gives you a detailed hourly forecast days ahead. Stay informed, but… just accept that the weather will be what it will be. That acceptance will give you another big advantage over people that are agonizing about the weather all this week. Things could go haywire, as they did 2006, and it might drop 40 degrees on Saturday, making Sunday 29, windy and cold. Fine – what will you wear?

Right now, it’s allegedly looking like it might decide to possibly be 64 at the 7am start, warming into the mid-70s. For the Break-a-Leg 5K, that’s perfect. For the half marathoners, doable. For marathoners, it’s going to be warm, but at least it’ll be overcast for the entire race, so… it could be worse?

Granted, there’s a 54% chance of rain at the start, increasing to 85% by noon. You might want to bring a cap, and definitely want to make sure you lube-up all the chafe points, and the feet.

The rule is to dress for about 10-15 degrees warmer than the temperature. No one needs to run in tights or long sleeves, I can tell you that. You should know by now what you like. Now is also not the time to try new shorts, socks, jogbras, or some shirts. That’s a sure entry to that popular game, “What’s Gonna Chafe?”

Normally, I’d say to wear light colors. If the sun does come out, as it often does, even with the ambient air temperature at 50, the solar heating will cook you. Not the time for your cool, expensive black long-sleeved shirt and cap. But with it almost certainly cloudy, feel a little safer to dress like a ninja.

If it does end up actually being colder… In the first mile or two, you’re going to feel hot, and you’re going to want to ditch clothing. I did that in 2006, when it was 29 degrees for the entire race (see: “idiot”). The thing is, blood flow that is going all over the place at the onset of exertion is soon redirected by your body to keep your organs and brain warm. So, keep the extremities warm, and be patient. You might even look at where the wind will be blowing, and know that you’re going to need that warm stuff on you then.

Got Bodyglide? Bandaids?

Thursday and Friday:
Hydrate. Get a couple of liters of water in you a day, depending on your size. Use some Nuun tablets, ElectroMix or something similar – available at running stores, Whole Foods, H.E.B., or bike shops.

As you should know by now, electrolytes are salts (sodium, potassium, etc.), that, when dissolved in solution, carry a charge. Our cells have to be able to conduct electricity to function. People worry about dehydration, and pound water, making hyponatremia, an electrolyte deficiency, just as common and serious a problem.

Even before the point at which you’re royally screwed, electrolyte deficiency will obviously cause your cells to not work well, resulting in loss of performance, and increasing the chance of cramping.

So. Electrolytes and water. Lots of both, in balance.

Friday night:
This is actually your best night to get your carbs. Have a reasonable-sized plate of pasta, not too late in the evening. Our pasta dinner works great for that. And get to bed at a reasonable hour. You kids can forego your jitterbug clubs and keggers for one damned night.

Stay off your feet. This is not the time for a hike, lawn work, or walking at the race expo for four hours like I did in Chicago trying to decide if I should buy and wear new clothes for the marathon when I know not to do that (I didn’t).

In the afternoon, go take a load off your feet (and mind). Pull up Netflix and watch Spirit of the Marathon, probably the best all-round marathon movie out there (check out the trailer. They ended up changing the name, but this is my favorite trailer. Dare you not to tear up and get excited for the race. Freakin’ dare you).

Don’t forget to pick up your race packet. 

Eat early – eat at 5:30 or 6, be done by 7 or 7:30. Why? Because you want to be able to sleep, and you want the food to digest, so that it’ll be usable in the race, but yet not filling up your lower intestines demanding immediate release at mile five. Having to pee is fairly common, but you do not want to have to go twosies, losing time while your legs cramp up in a cold, nasty porta-potty. And if you try to hold it, your core will tighten up, expending more energy and messing with your mechanics.

Don’t drink too late – you want to be able to sleep without getting up constantly through the night.

Get everything together Saturday night, not Sunday morning: 

  • Pin your race bib to your shirt or shorts. If you are slightly OCD like some coaches, this could take you half an hour to get it perfectly straight. It has to be straight. It just does.
  • Put your gels, electrolyte capsules, NO IBUPROFEN (read the link) whatever you’re taking on the course, in whatever you’re taking them in.
  • Pack your gear check bag with your pre and post-race stuff (warm, dry clothes, comfortable shoes, morphine).
  • Make sure you have what you need for breakfast.

And then… lay down. Relax in whatever way works best for you.

Sunday. D-Day.

Before Friday, figure out your race morning schedule – work it backwards:

  • The race is at 7am.
  • You need to be parked and out of the car at 6am AT THE LATEST. Period. Gear check is between 5th and 6th, and the start is at 2nd and Congress. (Where is this info? Yeah. Website.) You will want to hit the bathroom again, and you’ll want to do some very light warmups.
  • Maybe it’ll take you 20 minutes to get there, so you need to leave your place at 5:30, just in case you hit traffic.
  • You want to use the restroom before you leave. If God is willing, you will emerge from your bathroom, able to declare, “the Eagle has landed” (this is good inspiration). Give yourself time (because you never know) – so, take the throne by 5:15.
  • You need to allow at least an hour for your breakfast to digest, so you need to be eating at 4:15.
  • Set your alarm for 4:15 (you’ll eat first, immediately). Yeah, this is insane. But, so is running farther than you’d drive to the damned airport, so…
  • Set multiple alarms. Use your alarm clock, your phone, your running watch. Get a friend to call you. Leave nothing to chance.

On race morning:

  • GET THE HELL UP. No snooze button. This is when being nervous is a good thing, because it’ll wake you up.
  • Eat first, and have a glass of water, and coffee, if you need it.
  • If you’ve done things right, you have an hour to check the weather, put on your laid-out clothes, make sure your bib number really is straight, and relax. I always turn on the local news to check the weather. On the other hand, one morning, the weatherperson’s first words were, “Wow, it is really unpleasantly hot and humid out there.” *&$%

At the race:

  • DO NOT BE LATE. Period. Non-neogtiable, no excuses. Whether you’ve been punctual up to this point in training or your life or not, it’s time to get your crap together. BE ON TIME.
  • Don’t guzzle water. If you’ve hydrated properly, and had some when you got up, you’ll be fine with what you get on the course. Drink too much, and you’ll have to pee.
  • Still, hit the porta-potty. There are tons of them around the start area. Don’t go for the first ones you come to, because they’re probably the first everyone’s come to, and they have the longest lines…
  • Do a few light drills to warm up. No, you don’t really need a warm up, but it’ll loosen you up, help you focus, and calm your nerves.

Get to the start area by 6:20. Make sure you line up in or near your projected finish time. AS YOU KNOW FROM THE WEBSITE, runners will queue up from the start at 2nd Street, up  Congress towards the Capitol. There will be tall signs with projected marathon finishing times, fastest at the front (half marathoners, just double the time – if you’re running a 2 hour marathon, line up with the 4 hours marathoners).

Find your friends. Then… relax. Soak up this moment. Look around at all the people that are about to do something pretty cool. You’re one of them. Don’t feel snobby about it, but know that you’re probably also better trained and better prepared than most.

This is a lot of stuff, I know. But again, you’re running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, asking a lot of your body. You’ve all worked so hard, you deserve nothing less from yourself than to be as knowledgeable and prepared and mindful as you can possibly be going into this. Don’t waste anything you’ve given so far to carelessness. It’s a little late to be a slacker.