The Birmingham half-marathon is just weeks away and it is time to start thinking about final preparations. I’ve got loads of tips based on common mistakes people make or things they forget, so I’m splitting it over two blogs so as not to overwhelm you! Although aimed at half-marathons, the advice is applicable for any race distance up to half-marathon. Most of it would also apply to marathons, but there are extra considerations needed for a full marathon.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying something for the first time on race day. This might be wearing new clothes or shoes, eating or drinking something different or having a different warm up. Don’t do it! Test everything you plan to do on race day thoroughly beforehand to ensure it doesn’t disagree with you. Six miles into a thirteen mile race isn’t the time to discover your shoes give you blisters, your top chafes and your new breakfast doesn’t want to stay in your stomach.
I am not going to give any training advice in this article. If you’re just a few weeks out from the race you can’t start a full training programme. Instead have a look at my previous blog article on race preparation.
The three most important things to get right are food, clothing and pace. I will deal with the first two in this blog and my second one will deal with pace and other miscellaneous tips.
You need to plan for the weather to be both hot and cold/wet. Make sure you don’t avoid hot or cold days in training because you need to work out what suits you in different conditions. You cannot control the weather on race day, but you can control what you wear! Trainers and socks will be the same for road races no matter what the weather, so make sure you are used to wearing them. If you need to get new trainers buy them six weeks before the race so you have plenty of time to break them in.
All the clothes you will race in need to be tried and tested. A common mistake for charity runners is to save their charity running vest/T-shirt for the big day. If you find it chafes or fits badly you will be in for thirteen miles of pain and misery. I would advise having a vest that you will wear on its own in hot conditions and could be worn over a T-shirt or long-sleeved top in colder weather. Women should wear a proper sports bra to give support and also help in the fight against runner’s nipple! Shorts will generally be fine in hot or cold weather unless very close to freezing, because your legs work so hard they soon warm up even on a cold day.
In cold weather you may want thin running gloves and a thin hat. However you may find you warm up and want to get rid of them. I used to wear gloves for racing in freezing conditions but often found I wanted to discard them after a couple of miles. You can have a friend waiting at the two mile mark to throw hats or gloves to if you no longer need them, because carrying them is a pain.
In hot weather you need to slather yourself in high-factor cream. You might also want to wear sunglasses. Some people wear a cap to keep the sun off their face. I would be careful with this because it will keep heat in so use the lightest possible hat or just a visor. However if you’re a little thin on top, then a hat may offer the best protection against sun-burn.
The last clothing to consider is in the warm up. You will want to start with more layers on and slowly shed them as you warm up. However in big races like the Birmingham half-marathon you need to check-in your kit quite a while before you start. You will then be in a starting pen for anything up to half an hour, which gives plenty of time to get cold. I would advise you to have an old sweater and possibly trousers to wear in the pen. If a friend is on the outside of the pen you can throw them your clothes just before the start or leave the clothes over railings at the side. The organisers collect unwanted clothes at the end and normally donate them to charity. A bin bag with a hole for your head, worn as a poncho, also makes a great insulating and waterproof layer.
The day before the race you want to be as inactive as possible, just walking around a little to keep loose. Start drinking plenty of water so you will not be too dehydrated when you wake up the next morning. Avoid excessive caffeine and all alcohol. Your evening meal should be high in complex carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes) with some lean protein and not too much fat.
On the morning of the race you need to eat 2-3 hours before the start. Use the training period to see whether you can eat just two hours before. If you can, without feeling bloated or nauseous, then this is ideal. If you need more time for food to digest then work out how long you need prior to the big day.
Your breakfast on race day should involve lots of complex carbs, such as oats (porridge/muesli) or wholemeal toast. Have a few simple carbs such as sugar, honey or chocolate and a small portion of protein such as a yoghurt or small glass of milk. Don’t have more than one coffee, but start drinking a good amount of water. You want to consume at least a litre before the race so you’re well hydrated, but stop drinking at least half an hour before so you don’t need toilet stops.
Most people will need a little more water during the run. Drinking whilst running is a skill and you should try to practice it in training. If you end up wearing more than you drink it is worth stopping at the water station for a couple of proper gulps and then carrying one. Don’t drink too much at any one water station or you will feel it sloshing around! If you are likely to take more than two hours you may want some energy as well. Carry a handful of Jelly Babies in your pocket and eat one every mile or so. Alternatively try some energy drink if they have it on one or two of the drinks stations.
After the race try to eat within an hour of finishing, eating protein and carbs to help your body recover.
The second half of my half marathon preparation blog is now available here: Birmingham half marathon prep II.
Jamie Johnston is a Birmingham Personal Trainer and founder of At Home Fitness. He has raced at local and national level in athletics, road and cross country running.