See success. On several nights before going to bed, or first thing in the morning, visualize yourself crossing the finish line as the clock shows a new personal best. Before this year’s Olympic Marathon Trials, where Wells placed seventh, she replayed positive mental images before falling asleep at night. “I knew the course we would be running, and I’d see myself out on it running well,” she says. “There’s a hill in the 25th mile, and I’d say to myself, ‘Okay, get up that hill, and then run strong to the finish.’”
Chill out. Reduce the outside stresses in your life as much as possible the last week. “This is not a good time to get married or divorced,” Rodgers jokes. Try to have work projects under control, politely decline invitations to late nights out, and so on. Most of all, stay off your feet–save museum tours and shopping sprees for after the marathon, and don’t spend four hours the day before the marathon checking out the latest energy gel flavors at the race expo. “Before the Trials,” says Wells, “I went to my brother’s house and just basically hung out.”
Carbo-load, don’t fat-load. “During the last three days, concentrate on eating carbohydrate-rich foods, such as pasta, potatoes, bread, fruit and fruit juice, low-fat milk and yogurt, low-fat treats, and sports drinks,” says Suzanne Girard Eberle. It’s the carbs, after all, not fat or protein, that will fuel you on race day. Girard Eberle says what’s important is increasing the percentage of your calories that come from carbs, not simply eating more of everything. (Bummer, we know.) “Since you’ll be tapering and expending fewer calories,” she says, “you don’t have to consume a great deal more food than usual. Rather, make sure your food choices are carbohydrate-rich, not full of fat–for example, spaghetti with red sauce, instead of Alfredo sauce, or a bagel versus a croissant.”
Go with what you know. Even if Olympic Marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor appears on your front porch dispensing advice, don’t try anything radical this week. Stick to your plan and what you’ve practiced during your buildup. For example, if you haven’t done regular speedwork, now isn’t the time to start just because someone told you it will keep your legs “fresh” while you’re tapering. At this point, also ignore any “can’t-miss” diet tricks from friends. “So much of those last few days is mental,” says Wells. “Feel comfortable with what you’re doing rather than trying something new and worrying how it will affect you.”
Eat breakfast. Two to three hours before the start, “eat a carbohydrate-rich breakfast, even if that means getting up at an ungodly hour and going back to bed,” says Girard Eberle. The reason: As you slept, your brain was active and using the glycogen (stored carbohydrate) from your liver. Breakfast restocks those stores, so you’ll be less likely to run out of fuel. Aim for a few hundred calories, such as a bagel and banana or toast and a sports bar. “At the minimum,” says Girard Eberle, “consume a sports recovery drink, or a bland, well-tolerated liquid food such as Ensure or Boost.”
Warm up. But just a little. Even the best marathoners in the world do only a little jogging beforehand, because they want to preserve their glycogen stores and keep their core body temperature down. If you’re a faster runner with a goal pace significantly quicker than your training pace, do no more than 10 minutes of light jogging, finishing 15 minutes before the start. Precede and follow your jog with stretching. If you’ll be running the marathon at about your training pace, skip the jog. Walk around a bit in the half hour before the start, and stretch (see Tip 19).
Collect yourself. An hour before the start, find a quiet place, and spend five minutes reviewing your race plan and motivation. “Remind yourself of why you’re there,” says Rodgers. “Take confidence in the months of effort behind you. An exciting and satisfying day is just ahead of you!” If you’re running the race with a training partner, make it a group session: Share your goals with each other for mutual reinforcement.
Line up loose. Fifteen minutes before the start, begin some gentle stretching. Concentrate on the muscles of the back side of your body–your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Remember, your goal is to start the race comfortably, not to audition for a yoga video, so go easy. Try to keep stretching after you’ve been herded to the start area. Jog in place as well, to keep your heart rate slightly elevated.