10 rules to follow before the marathon

Photograph: Max Herman and Bekki Wasmuth

Photograph: Max Herman and Bekki Wasmuth

Seven months, give or take, since you registered for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Sixteen weeks, more or less, since training began. Now you’re in the final stretch, the 20-miler is done and there are only 20 days to go until October 13 when you can call yourself a marathon finisher. It’s all down hill from here.


Not quite. Chicago’s course might be flat, but these final weeks can make or break you if you screw up your training or forget about the off-the-course essentials. Trust me, I’ve done it—on more than one occasion. So, as a reminder to myself and a guide to everyone else, here are 10 rules of the road for the next 20 days.


1. Dial down the mileage. Check that 20-miler off your training checklist if you completed it over the weekend. If not, you probably don’t want to wait and bust it out this weekend, because your muscles won’t recover in time. Instead, count your longest run as your peak and start tapering from there. Think only 13 or so miles this weekend, and 8 to 10 the next.


2. Practice, practice, practice. Jenny Hadfield, co-owner of Chicago Endurance Sports, suggests practicing everything from pacing and race strategy to race-day logistics and dealing with crowds. Run a 5K race the week before the marathon where you can work on these in a shorter, less-tiring format.


3. Know your nutrition plan. How are you going to refuel on the course? What’s your tried-and-true meal replacement? You know you don’t want Gatorade gut—downing the sports drink at every aid station until you can taste it on your teeth—but are you toting a Fuel Belt, carrying a water bottle, or planning to use a combination of the on-course fluids? One tip: make a plan and give it a trial run now, so you’re dialed in before the race-day jitters hit.


4. Speedwork and tempos. Yes, it’s taper time but that doesn’t mean shutting it down entirely—at least until race week. You’ll still be working the speed on the track and tempo pace, just less of it.


5. Where or what are you eating the night before the race? More importantly what’s on the menu the seven days before the race? Here’s where “you are what you eat” does become important. Plan for roughage to empty out the system first thing in the morning (not at the port-a-potties at the race start). Carbs to get the engine running race day. Protein for endurance.


6. Race day simulation. “Go out at a distance that you’re really comfortable with, wear exactly what you’ll be wearing race day and have it ready to go,” says Dave Zimmer, owner of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago. “Make sure everything is the way you want it to feel.” And if it’s not, keep testing now until you find a worthy combination.


7. Choose your race-day gear. Expo shopping? That gear is for runs after the marathon, a pre-race shake-out run or stockpiling an old favorite that you’ll have to toss after October 13. If you haven’t already selected and run in your race day outfit, shop now and get a few runs in to make sure you’re OK with the cut, feel and any chafing. Plus then you’ll know where you need to lube up before 26.2.


8. Select your shoes. Like the gear, you need to be really settled in with your most important piece of equipment, your shoes. If your current pair is looking a little saggy and sad, get shopping pronto and then get 50 to 75 miles on the new pair so they’re ready for racing.


9. Catch some zzzzz’s. I know I’m guilty of skimping myself of hours in the sack to squeeze everything into the day that I’d like. But now I’ll take the sleep over the miles.


10. Pick your playlist. Running with music might entail a special race-day mix that you know will carry your mind and body through the 26.2 miles. Just don’t put it together the night before and run it blind—those songs that sound good on the computer don’t always work for motivation on the course.



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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)

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