Marathon Race Week – Tips From a Professional

It’s Marathon race week! You have done the hard training, logged the miles, executed the workouts, made it through the long-runs, and now it’s time to focus on the big day. Coach Hugo van den Broek, ex-professional marathon runner and now world class marathon coach, presents his key pieces of race week advice to help runners of all levels maximise their race day performance.

Reduce Mileage, not Frequency

Reduce your overall mileage by keeping your runs short, not by reducing the number of runs you do. If you are used to running six days per week, suddenly taking three to four rest days can make you feel ‘out of whack’. Having lots of days without running can actually be seen as a form of stress on the body, since you are not used to it. It is best to take only one extra rest day in your last week but reduce the mileage further by keeping your runs very short.

Do a Session at Marathon Race Pace

In the final week, try to do one session with relatively short intervals at marathon pace or slightly faster. An example is 6 x 1K, building up from marathon pace to half marathon pace. Or 4 x 5 minutes, with the first 3 intervals at marathon pace and the last one a little faster. This is best done on the Tuesday or Wednesday (assuming the marathon is on a weekend). The rest of the week can consist of easy running and some relaxed strides.

Save your Mental Energy

Increase your freshness and mental toughness by sleeping early and spending less time on social media. Many e-mails don’t need to be answered immediately and can be answered after your race. Save as much mental energy as you can, you’re going to need it!

Don’t Introduce a New Shoe

Several weeks before the marathon, you should know which shoe you are going to use. Before race week, you want to have done at least two or three sessions in the shoes you plan to race in.

Embrace the Strange Race Week Feels

Realise that everyone, including elites, can feel ‘weird’ in race week. That is normal. When you feel nervous, frame it as ‘my body is getting ready for action’. When your muscles feel ‘itchy’, tell yourself: ‘I have so much energy, I can’t wait to start’. Know that it doesn’t matter how you sleep the night before the race. Many elites barely close an eye the night before the race. The work is done and you are ready. Just lying down at night will be enough to have your best performance, there is no need to feel stressed about it.

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Practice Visualisation and Self-Talk

Imagine how relaxed you are in the first half of the marathon, how focused you are in the second half and how you persevere at the end. Imagine yourself being mentally very tough and know what you are going to tell yourself during the different parts of the race. Telling yourself phrases such as ‘this is your day’, ‘now it’s time to push’, and ‘you are stronger than ever’ can help you stay in the present and get rid of negative thoughts. Visualisation and self-talk improve your mental toughness and your race performance, especially when done frequently. In race week try to perform ten minutes of visualisation, twice per day and know which phrases or words to tell yourself during the race. This can be very powerful, but it does require some practice.

Slightly Change your Diet

In the last 3 days before the race alter your diet slightly by reducing the percentage of fat and increasing the percentage of carbohydrates. There is no need to eat more than you normally do (you train less, so your body does not need as much food), but you do want to be sure that your diet is high in carbs, so that you fill your glycogen tank as much as you can. Changing bread with cheese for bread with jam, for example, is one option. Or taking a bit more rice/pasta and less meat.

Stay Hydrated

In the last 2-3 days, make sure you stay well hydrated throughout the day. Your body needs water in order to store glycogen. So drinking less does not just mean you risk being dehydrated, it also impacts your fuel stores.

Prepare Well for Race Day

Know at what time you are going to wake up (preferably at least 3 hours before the race), at what time you’re going to have breakfast, what you will have for breakfast, what you will do for warm-up and so on. On race day, you don’t want to spend time or energy making decisions on what to do. Again, this will help your focus and mental toughness in the race.

Hydrate on the Start Line

Take a bottle of water or isotonic sports drink to the start line and drink it 5 to 10 minutes before the start. Preferably a solution that contains some glucose and fructose as well as sodium and potassium – take a drink that you tested and that works well for you.

We hope these marathon race week tips help you reach the start line feeling mentally and physically prepared to give it your all. Be confident, be focused, be ready.

Thanks for reading
Coach Hugo

About the Author: Hugo van den Broek

Hugo is a former international athlete with a best marathon time of 2hr 12. He represented the Netherlands on many occasions in international events, and since his retirement from competition has made a successful transition into the world of coaching. Hugo has vast experience in coaching runners of all abilities, from Olympic athletes to first time runners. Find out more about Hugo and the services of Train Smarter Run Faster by clicking here.

Hugo is also the head coach for The Kenya Experience running camps.

Train Smarter Run Faster

We are a team of two dedicated and passionate running coaches with over 30 years of combined experience. Between us we can design the perfect, bespoke training plan for you, whatever you goals, whatever your current ability and whatever your lifestyle. We have worked with people who are new to the sport, Olympic athletes and everyone in between. Whether your aim is to run your first 10km or smash your marathon pb, we can help. Click HERE for more information.