Planning your marathon day experience for optimum results. (Also, a note about the Yom Kippur fast)

Today’s post is courtesy of Coach Brenden Cournane. He is a marathon running coach and speaker based in Chicago.  He has completed over 80 marathons, including a marathon in each of the 50 States and has also raced in Europe, South America, Antarctica, China and Africa (where he also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro).  He has run the Boston Marathon six times and has a personal best marathon time of 3:16.  Questions? Give him an email at And be sure to check out his website!

As we enter our second week of taper, we’ll likely find ourselves having more time on our hands– and (consequently) anxiety may increase apace.  Many runners begin to doubt their training (“Have I done enough???”); and shorter runs seem counterintuitive for race day preparation (“I should be running more, not less, as race day approaches!!!”).

This is a good time to review what has gone by over the last 4 – 5 months. And to plan ahead for the next two weeks, from now until we cross the Finish Line!  Visualize what awaits us.  Prepare yourself for a successful race day experience, knowing that we are getting stronger physically and mentally in preparation for Marathon Day.

Think of all of the supporters who have donated to your fundraising efforts and those who benefit from your fundraising mission.  Be grateful for your supporters.

Review your training log.  Look how far you’ve come!  If you have kept notes in your training log, look back to see the improvement in performance, increases in the distance covered in long runs and your changed perception of your abilities as a result of your training efforts.  If you have not kept a training log, review the training schedule and realize how much training you have done to reach this point.  Think back to the early part of training when a 6 or 7 mile long run seemed like a ‘long run’ and this past weekend, most said ‘It’s ONLY 10 or ONLY 12 miles’.  Note the paradigm shift.

Our perspectives HAVE changed.  In June, at the start of training, 26.2 miles seemed like a long way to go, maybe it even seemed impossible to run that far at all, or, for experienced marathoners, impossible to run faster than before.  But now, as we have crossed the 20-mile threshold, the marathon distance seems less daunting and more within our reach.  With our recent runs, the Impossible has become the Improbable.  Whether running our first marathon or our 20th, training has prepared us for the distance and we can prepare mentally as well as physically these last two weeks.  During the taper phase, we take the next step, realizing that with all of our training, all the dedication, all the preparation: what seemed Impossible has become Improbable and what seemed Improbable will become the Inevitable!  Success is ahead.

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance – Use the extra time in the taper phase to create a script of how these next two weeks unfold.  Prepare a script of all that could possibly go RIGHT for you in accordance with your desires.  After writing the script, put it away for a few days.  Retrieve it and review it – item by item.  Ask yourself what you will do if the script does not evolve as written.  This is a positive exercise, for we will not panic or have our positive energy disrupted if we have a ‘back-up’ plan on how to adjust to each circumstance.  Transportation, weather, crowds – all of these circumstances can be overcome when we think of the options in advance of race day.  Planning ahead and being flexible brings about good performance on Marathon Day.

Special Note to those of you observing Yom Kippur:

With Yom Kippur on the day before the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, special needs arise for those of the Jewish faith who are planning to run the Chicago Marathon and observing the fast on Yom Kippur—from sundown on Friday, October 7 to sundown on Saturday, October 8.

The major concern is the affect on the body due to the fast.  I have spoken with several nutritionists and all agree that fasting will (obviously) have less of an effect if you have been properly fueling throughout the training season, eating a well-balanced diet.  Even so, a modified carbohydrate loaded diet (additional carbohydrates) in the week leading up to Yom Kippur will help—but the truth remains that the result of the fast will reduce carbohydrate (hence, glycogen) stores in the muscles and liver.

Even with a modification, the energy stores may be depleted to a range of 60 – 70% of the normal range by the end of the fast—so (realistically) don’t set your expectations to set a PR; and be certain to carry extra gels, blocks or sport beans with you on Marathon Day.

Hydration is a more serious concern, as runners need to stay well-hydrated leading up to the race.  The critical factor will be consuming water, carbohydrates and electrolytes throughout the 5-7 days before you begin your fast; and as soon as possible once your fast is over, while not overloading the system.  Carbohydrate drinks (such as Myoplex) are a good source of replenishment.  So are sports drinks with high electrolyte content (such as Gatorade Endurance Formula – which will be served on the Chicago Marathon course).  Continue to eat (often and in moderate portions) up to two hours before the start of the race.

Professional athletes face the same concerns.  Here is a link to an article by a Rabbi who provides some guidance on ways to handle the fast. Continue to eat a balanced diet as you prepare the body for race day, AND as you prepare yourself mentally to succeed on October 9th.

— Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through.”


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