So You're Running Your First Marathon Part 1
Let's assume that you've been putting in your mileage for at least the past six weeks and are up to at least 55 miles per week at a comfortable pace. Now you're nearing race date and are thinking about what to do in the last few days before the marathon, and during the race. Don't plan on doing any intense training in the last two weeks; this is the time to allow the muscles and cardiovascular system to recover so that they can get you through the 26 miles 385 yards without failing you. Taper off on your mileage and the intensity with alternations of moderate and easy days; no long stuff except, perhaps, for one last easy, long run a week before the marathon, about as long as any you've done in the past six weeks, but make it at a very easy pace. Then, the next day, an easy three- to five-mile run to loosen up after the long run. Marathon-Day-Minus-Five: should be a easy warm-up followed by some increasingly fast strides and a warm down. Marathon-Day-Minus-Four: easy warm-up and a moderate distance run and warm-down. Marathon-Day-Minus-Three: same as Marathon-Day-minus-Five. Last two days: easy warm-up, a few accelerations and a warm-down jog. The idea is to let the systems recover, but to still keep the muscles loose and limber, don't rest completely.
During this last week is the time to also allow the muscles to load up on glycogen and water and electrolytes; eat normal sized meals with more carbohydrates and less protein and fats than usual, but don't overeat, especially the day before the marathon. The last day and a half, try to avoid as much protein as you can; protein requires energy to be assimilated,and can cause acidosis and muscle cramps during your run. Be sure to include a little salad with your pasta, potatoes, rice or other carbs you don't want to be "plugged up" during your race. Many marathoners will drink at least a half-gallon of balanced electrolyte drink* in each of the last two days, don't rely on plain water because it will actually flush out your own electrolytes, leaving you depleted before you even start**. Be sure that the electrolyte drink has at least as much potassium as sodium; if not, take one or two 99-mg. Potassium supplement pills (if two, take on morning and the other evening). If you're sometimes bothered by "night cramps"; (muscle cramping hours after a workout or during he night), take one or two 250- to 500-mg calcium supplement pills as above. It doesn't do any good to take these supplements for the marathon more than two days before because you won't retain them. During training, however, the balanced electrolyte drink will aid recovery and help prevent muscle cramps and fatigue. The morning of the marathon you should eat a light breakfast. The following should be easy to digest: toast and jam, granola bar or energy bar, muffin, banana or the like, no milk or milk products (a sure source of "side ache"), no doughnuts, etc. Instead of coffee, light juice or a balanced electrolyte drink or even an energy drink,especially if you don't expect to finish in less than 3-1/2 hours. You should probably ensure that you are hydrated by drinking another quart of balanced electrolyte drink between the time you get up and the start of the marathon.
Don't forget to "make a pit stop" before you head off to the race; facilities may be busy and you don't want to have to hunt for one during the race.Now for the marathon strategy: (1) no matter what your goal, start out conservatively for the first fifteen miles; you can always pickup the pace after that if you're feeling good, as much as a minute or more per mile, but, if you start out too fast, you may be forced to slow down five minutes per mile or more and those become very agonizing extra minutes (2) Drink at every opportunity, a little if you're feeling fine, more, if you're going more slowly and/or your muscles are beginning to feel tight. If you've tried the electrolyte drink before the race and it seems O.K. to you, by all means drink that. You can also sip water or pour it over your head (make certain that it is water and not an electrolyte or sports drink!) (3) If you are running at a pace to finish in more than two hours forty minutes, you'll need to ingest additional carbs to keep going; you can maintain a pace of 10 minutes per mile on lipid reserves but, at that pace you can also ingest and even digest energy drinks, energy bars, bananas and orange slices. Don't forget that for every 8 ounces of energy drink, gel, energy bar, banana or half-orange, you need to drink 8 ounces of water or, preferably, electrolyte drink to digest and absorb this food. If you're pushing the pace, be careful that you don't overload your digestive system: the primary function of most laxatives is to pull fluids into the intestines; "nuff said"!