I love marathon training long runs. Sure, they take forever and they leave me pretty ineffective for the rest of the day, but still, I love them.
I view each long run as a dress rehearsal for race day. Every Saturday morning, I get a tiny bit of race day energy since I’m constantly testing some part of my race day plan.
Long Run As Dress Rehearsal
You should be testing and iterating each element of your marathon race-day plan on every long run: test something you will do, wear, or eat on race day and see what happens.
Did your pre-long run coffee mean 3 mid-run pit stops?
Did your favorite running pants start to chafe after 15 miles?
If it works, great. Keeping doing it.
Was it terrible? Change it up and test it again.
Was it so-so? Adjust it, or try different elements in combination until you make it great.
For each element you test, take note of:
- What worked?
- What didn’t?
- What can you adjust?
- What can you not change and you’ll just have to get used to?
- Did anything unexpected happen during the training run? Remember, something just as unexpected could happen on race day.
What You Should Be Testing
Food And Fuel
Consider and test what fuel you plan on using on race day.
If you plan on using the fuel provided by the race on race day, find out what they’ll have (it’s usually on the race website). Get some ahead of time, and test it out.
If you don’t test it, DON’T take it on race day. That is a very bad time to find out what fuel doesn’t agree with you.
- Was your fuel(s) of choice effective and keep you energized?
- Did your fuel(s) agree with your tummy?
- Have you tested the fuel that will be provided by the race (if you’ll use it on race day)?
Flavor fatigue is a real thing. Even your favorite flavors get old after a few hours.
- Do you need/want to mix up your fuel flavor options?
Similar to flavor fatigue, having only a single texture can be tough over many hours.
- Do you need/want to mix up your fuel options to include multiple textures?
Personally, I love GU gels, but after a few hours, I need something solid I can chew on.
- How often do you need to take in fuel to stay energized?
- Do you want/need to develop a fueling schedule (for example, taking a GU every 45 minutes)?
- Do you have any additional fueling cues? For example, I’ve come to realize I should fuel every time I think “Wow, I feel great” because it means I’m about to crash.
Consider your fuel and hydration plan for race day as a whole.
- Are you getting enough energy from your fuel and only need/want water as hydration?
- Do you need/want the additional carbs and electrolytes from sports drinks?
If you aren’t sure, try different combinations of food, fuel, water, and sports drinks until you discover the right combination for you.
Similar to fuel, if you plan on taking the sports drink offered by the race on the course, find out what they’ll have, get some, and test it out. DON’T take an unknown and untested sports drink on race day.
- How often do you need/want to hydrate?
- Do you drink enough if you rely only on being thirsty? If not, develop a hydration plan to ensure you remain hydrated.
Eating The Morning Of
You should eat breakfast both before a long run and before a marathon. This meal doesn’t have to be huge, but you need to top off your fuel stores before you start to run.
- What foods do you like eating in the morning? If you aren’t usually a breakfast person, what food can you endure in the morning?
- Did your breakfast keep you energized?
- Did your breakfast agree with your tummy during the run?
- How long before you start running is the best time to eat?
Try foods in different combinations and quantities at different times until you find the right pre-run food combination.
Eating The Day Before
While you don’t need to do a full carb load for training long runs, pay attention to what you eat the day and night before, how you feel, and how the meal agrees with you.
- What food worked best for you the day before a run?
- What is the best timing for your main meal the day before? The marathon cliché is a 6 pm pasta dinner the night before a race, but that doesn’t work for everyone. For example, I eat my main meal around 3 pm the day before the race.
Special Concerns If Traveling
If you are traveling for your marathon, you’ll have a few additional things to consider.
- What foods will you have access to in the days before the marathon?
- What breakfast options will you have on race morning?
- What cooking tools/ingredients will you need pre-race or on race morning?
- What cooking tools/ingredients will you have access to?
- Is there anything you need to add to your packing list?
Clothing and Gear
Race Day Outfit
Test out every item you will wear on race day during a long run. Even gear that is great for short runs can get annoying and painful as the mileage gets higher.
This includes race costumes, if you’ll be wearing one. If you will be dressing as Wonder Woman on race day, test it out on a training run. Yes, you’ll feel ridiculous, but you don’t want nasty surprises on race day.
- How did each piece of clothing feel during the long run?
- Were there any chafing issues?
- Was any piece of clothing annoying or difficult?
You know (or are figuring out) your best fuel and hydration, now you have to carry it.
- How will you be carrying your fuel?
- Will you be carrying your own hydration? If so, how so?
- What other gear will you carry on race day? A phone? A camera?
- How will you carry your other gear?
Many runners don’t carry hydration on race day because of water stops on the course. I always recommend carrying your own hydration anyway (the two main reasons: paper cups are a terrible waste of resources and races can run out of water). If you insist on not carrying hydration, be sure to research where the water stops are and how often they occur. Compare their locations to your hydration plan to make sure you’ll remain sufficiently hydrated.
Consider what weather race day may bring. Heat? Sun? Rain? Snow?
What additional race day gear or clothing may you need?
Be sure you take every opportunity you can in training to test gear you may need on race day.
If it’s raining on a Saturday when you are supposed to do a long run, don’t reschedule the run for Sunday. Use it to test your rain gear so you’ll be ready in case it rains on race day.
Timing And Logistics
Run At (Roughly) Race Time
When does your race start? Make sure a few of your training runs start at roughly the same time so your body can get used to it. This usually isn’t a huge issue, but if your race starts at an unusual time best be ready for it.
This doesn’t have to be precise (unless you want it to be), but if your race doesn’t start until 11 and you’ve only done early morning training runs, you may not know what to do with yourself for the extra few hours.
Similarly, if your race starts at 6:30, timing breakfast can be a challenge.
Race Day Timing
Consider all the things you have to do on race day between the time you wake up and the time you start running.
Pay attention to roughly how long each step takes during training.
While these aren’t things you’ll test out exactly, knowing what your long run/race day timing is (or should be) will make race morning familiar and comfortable, you’ll be less likely to forget something, and it makes knowing when to set your race day alarm super easy.
Pay attention to and consider:
- When does your race start?
- How much downtime do you want between the time you arrive at the start area and the gun going off?
- Do you have a pre-race routine and visualization that requires a certain amount of time?
- How many porta-potty stops do you usually need?
- How long of drive/commute will you have?
- How predictable is that timing?
- How much of a cushion should you add for potential traffic or unpredictable public transportation?
- Consider the pre-race food tests you’ve done. How much time do you need between your breakfast and starting to run?
- How much time do you need to get dressed? (hint: lay out your race outfit ahead of time)
- How much time do you need to get your gear together? (hint: put your gear together ahead of time)
- Notice what timing is flexible (for example, getting dressed) and what timing is non-negotiable (for example, when breakfast is)
- Take into consideration if others will play into your timing. I know on race day I can be up and out in half an hour if I’m alone and I’ve prepped breakfast in advance, but if I’m with family, I’ll have to work in their timing and pit stops and it will take me at least an hour to get out the door
- Regardless of how well-tested everything is in advance, have a time cushion for the unexpected – parking issues, traffic, longer than expected porta potty lines. Something unexpected will happen.
Special Concerns If Traveling
If you are traveling for your marathon:
- How well do you sleep in hotels or unfamiliar circumstances? You can’t do much to change this, but try a few runs under similar conditions, if you can
- How familiar are you (or will you be) with the start area, parking, and transportation options? Adjust your timing, if necessary
Is there anything you wish you would have tested before race day?