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Race Day Tips for Your First Marathon or Half-Marathon

10/16/2015 07:58 EDT | Updated 10/16/2016 05:12 EDT
Rudi Von Briel via Getty Images

With the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon this weekend (as well as marathons in Cape Breton, PEI and Detroit) and marathons from Moncton to New York City on the horizon, I'm getting tons of questions from clients and readers about race day tips.

While I could give plenty of nutrition advice, it's also general advice you're looking for (and no, I am not an expert on how to avoid the dreaded "nipple chafing"). I'll be running my first half marathon this weekend so I reached out to my most experienced running friends for their tried and tested tips.

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(Photo credit: Presidio of Monterrey via Flickr)

Cristina Markham, 32, already has 20 half marathons under her (running) belt. Ms. Markham will be running her eight marathon in New York City on November 1st. Here are her top tips for prepping for and getting through race day with a smile on your face!

THE WEEK BEFORE THE RACE

- Keep up with your training, but avoid the temptation to get in a few extra long runs. Stick with the distances in your plan, and don't jump into any new physical activities or exercise programs.

- Try to eat relatively well. Nothing specific, but try to avoid junk. Try to get a decent amount of sleep and drink enough water.

- A lot of people have a hard time getting to sleep the night before a race (I don't think I slept AT ALL the night before my first marathon), so don't stress out if you're tossing and turning. Getting a good night's sleep two nights before the race (Friday) will help a LOT.

THE DAY BEFORE THE RACE

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(Photo credit: James via Flickr)

- For the love of God and all that is holy, don't eat/drink/do anything new! Stick to food and drinks that you know how you will react to.

- Drink lots and lots of water. Carry a water bottle with you all day.

- Eat well. Avoid junk food and stay away from booze (obviously).

- Figure out what you're going to wear, right down to your socks and underwear -- try to wear an outfit that you've run a long distance in before. Get everything together, along with your sunscreen, deodorant, race bib, etc, so you won't have to scramble in the morning. Make sure your music player is charged and your running playlist is on it.

- Put together a bag of post-race stuff to leave in the car. I always have a sweater, a pair of flip flops (or more comfortable shoes), a bottle of water, and some Advil.

- You should finish your dinner roughly 12 hours before the race starts, i.e. if you start at 8 a.m., try to eat some time between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. I usually have some kind of pasta with tomato sauce and garlic bread with a bit of salad -- not too heavy on the fibre, for obvious reasons! Try to pick something you've had the night before a long race so you know how your tummy will react.

- I learned this the hard way in Ottawa -- eat til you're full, but don't stuff yourself! 42 kilometres feels a LOT longer when you have an upset stomach!

- Watch a cheesy sports movie and get excited! I really like "Run, Fatboy, Run," "Spirit of the Marathon," or "Rudy."

THE DAY OF THE RACE

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(Photo credit: Peter Mooney via Flickr)

- Stick with a breakfast you've had before a long run. Nothing, nothing, nothing new! I usually have a bowl of Vector and half a bagel, and I bring a banana with me in the car. Again, eat til you're full, but don't overdo it.

- Drink some water, but try to stop about an hour before the race. There are bathrooms at the start of the course, and along the way, but the race will be easier if you don't have to stop for a pee break. The lines at the washrooms are always a nightmare, so try to be done with your pre-race bathroom break 30 minutes before the starting gun.

- If you're worried about getting an upset stomach, take some Pepto Bismol after breakfast. I do this before pretty much every race and I find it helps a lot. You obviously don't have to -- just a suggestion.

- Again, I've learned this the hard way MANY times, but it's better to be bored waiting around at the starting line than panicking about missing the start, so aim to get to the race site an hour before gun time.

- The best advice I ever got was "You only run your first race once." It's more important to enjoy yourself and feel good when you cross the finish line than it is to have an impressive time on your first marathon. You have a whole lifetime to improve your pace (if you want to), but your first race is all about the excitement! Take the time to enjoy the course, wave at the spectators, give high-fives to people who are offering them, etc.

- HAVE THE MOST AMAZING FUN EVER!!!!! Crossing the finish line at your first big race is an amazing feeling, and you've worked incredibly hard to get there.

A final thought...you're probably going to look awful in your official race pictures. It's just a law of nature. Get someone to take an awesomely hardcore picture of you before you get all gross and sweaty.

Are you a running newbie with questions about race day prep? Are you a marathon pro with some tips to share? Share with us on Facebook!

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