On April 15th, were you looking for your form 1040? Did you write your term papers in college the night before they were due? Do you buy Christmas presents on December 24th?
Don't let a habit for procrastination spill over into your running. Surprises on race day can be disastrous, so try out every detail of your race day plan during training.
Ron Hill, former course record holder for the Boston Marathon, used to have a "full-dress rehearsal" before every major marathon. Ron would put on his racing shorts, singlet, and shoes and head out for a hard run a few days before the race to make sure everything was in order. As the holder of the record for most consecutive days run (including hopping 1 mile the day after foot surgery), Ron might be considered a tad obsessive, but you too can benefit from eliminating the element of surprise from your racing.
What should you test before the race?
Well, everything. First, and foremost, test your shoes. Wear your race day shoes on a few training runs. Shoes these days don't need much breaking in time, but they do need some, and a shoe that feels good walking around may give you blisters after an hour on the road.
Test your race outfit. New shorts that feel comfortable in the store may turn to sandpaper after 2 hours in the marathon. And a wide variety of innocent-looking tops have been known to rub a runner's nipples raw by 15 miles.
Test your race drink. If the marathon is supplying Super-MAX-2000, buy some and try it on a training run. All stomachs were not created equal. And, while you're at it, practice drinking on the run.
Drinking on the run is probably the most overlooked aspect of race preparation. Most runners spend more time crushing cups or dropping cups than they do getting vital fluid replacement. If you tend to take a swig, choke for a few strides, then take another swig and spit it out, then you need to work on your technique. Who says running doesn't require skill? With a little practice, you can master the art of drinking on the run.
How to drink on the run
Dieter Hogen, coach of Uta Pippig, and several of the top Kenyan marathoners, including 2:08 marathoner Jackson Kipngok, understands the importance of preparation. On any training run of 15 miles or longer, Dieter drives along the course, stops and hands water bottles to his runners every 5K, who continue running while they drink. And, Dieter's runners drink the same solution in training that they will drink in the race.
As an alternative, there is always the round and round the track method. Simply set up some cups at the local track and practice drinking every couple of laps. The advantage of the track is convenience. The disadvantage is that if you're running intervals you will be breathing so hard that you will get to experience the thrill of getting water up your nose. But, if you can master drinking at faster than race pace, drinking during the race will be a snap.
Another convenient way to practice drinking on the run is the road loop method. Olympic marathoner Julie Isphording used to back her car to the end of her driveway, puts 6 cups of water and 6 cups of Exceed on the back of the car, and heads out for an 18 mile run, consisting of 12 loops of 1 1/2 miles.
Julie says, "I used to get so mad when I'd drop a cup and miss a water stop during a marathon. Now, I'm reasonably good at grabbing a cup and drinking. The secret is to try to breathe as normally as possible in-between sips."
If volunteers are handing out water during the race, try to make eye contact and point at the cup so you don't surprise them. If the cups are on a table, eye contact with the cup generally won't help. Slow down slightly and try to move your arm back while you grab the cup so you don't hit the cup with your full running speed. Then squeeze the top of the cup closed so all the liquid doesn't slosh out, and take a swig. Take a couple of normal breaths in-between swigs. When you're done drinking, accelerate back to race pace.
On a warm, humid day use a different strategy. Stop and drink at the aid stations. Water-stops in a marathon are often every 5K or every 2 miles, so there are about 8 to 12 stops. If you stop for 8 to 10 seconds at each station, you will add about 1 to 2 minutes to your time. If you ran through the stops while drinking, you would slow down a little anyway, so stopping isn't going to add much time, and stopping helps to ensure that you take in enough fluid to fight off dehydration. On a warm day, an extra minute or two at the water stations can repay you with 10 or 20 minutes gained by the finish of a marathon.
Okay. The race is still a few weeks away. Back your car down the driveway, fill some cups, and practice drinking on the run. On race day, while the other runners choke their way through the water stops, you will confidently grab a cup, drink, and pass them by.
(This column originally appeared in Running Times Magazine.)