Those of you who are running a marathon in the next few months might also have signed up to run a half marathon in preparation for the longer race. This is a good opportunity to test out what you’re going to do on marathon race day. What I mean by this is working out what to do in the days beforehand in terms of running, eating and drinking and also what to do on the big day itself.
Your training beforehand and how you approach the race itself will depend on how much running you’re doing and have already done. The half marathon is used by a lot of people simply to get used to running at marathon pace, so they will run the race at their target marathon pace and no quicker. Therefore the taper period leading into the half marathon doesn't need to be as long for them as it does for the marathon itself because after all, it’s only half the distance! Other people will be running the half marathon and trying to get a PB and therefore they do need to be well rested beforehand. This means that the taper might be slightly longer for them as it will help make the legs fresh and ready to run fast.
What to eat?
Regardless of how long your taper is, what you’re eating shouldn't change in the days before. The two most important meals are going to be breakfast on the morning of the race and dinner the night before. The start time of the event will be a key factor in determining what and when to eat. I like to have breakfast about 3 hours before a race is due to start although some half marathons have been known to start around 8am. Trying to get a decent size breakfast inside you at 5am in the morning might prove troublesome, especially if you’re staying in a hotel and breakfast doesn't start that early!
The best thing to do in this scenario is to take what you want to eat with you. This means you can eat at the time you want to before the race and not be dictated to by hotel times or cafe opening hours. You should have practiced with your long runs how long you need between eating and running and also what your breakfast might consist of. I know athletes who can have a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal and feel fine running 10 minutes later! (I wouldn't suggest that by the way).
Your race kit should be ready the night before as well making sure you’ve pinned your number on your vest, and everything else is good to go. Remember that everything you can do before the race will help make race day go smoothly. You really don't want to be panicking about trying to find safety pins five minutes before the race starts!
You should do a small warm up before a half marathon and also the marathon, even if it is just a VERY easy 5-10 minute jog to get the legs moving and the heart rate up a little bit. You'll find this will make the first few miles easier and you'll be able to get into your running a lot quicker.
After the race
Another thing to think about is what to eat and drink after the race. People often neglect this stage of the day as they think that once they cross the finish line, that's it! If you’re using the half marathon in preparation for a marathon it’s even more important that you think about recovery. Having a protein shake in your kit bag would be ideal for when you finish running or maybe even give it to one of your friends or family members who might be watching you race. Planning and preparation are always so important, even the smallest details can make a huge difference.