You have prepared for your race, you have arrived on the starting line, and now the gun is about to go off. You have prepared yourself to start the race, and now you have to make sure that you have prepared yourself to finish.
Here are the considerations you need to pay attention to during your race:
- Stick to your plan: You should have a goal for your race, and you should have a plan to attain that goal. If you stick to the plan, then you will find it is much easier to deal with anything unforeseen that comes up. Not only that, but fewer obstacles will appear during your race than if you ignore or forget about your plan. Know what splits you want at different points in the race, and try to achieve them.
- Do not go out too fast: If you stick to your plan, then you will not go out too fast. It is really easy to go out too fast, though. At a course like Boston, it can sometimes seem more difficult to not go out too fast. There may be a lot of people, the first few miles might be down hill, you are going to feel great after suffering through taper madness for the past few weeks to just be out there. Remember where you want to be and try not to do anything stupid. Running a minute under pace for the first ten miles can lead to your best race that you have ever run, but more often than not it is going to lead towards a miserable final 10 kilometers. Or longer.
- Do not go out too slow: We are still with the sticking to the plan bit. It is that important. If you go out too slow, you will not only miss your goal, but your legs are going to hurt a whole hell of a lot more before you finish. If you have trained yourself to run at a certain pace, then try not to be too conservative. Your race plan may call for negative splits, but try not to run under race pace for more than a couple of miles. I have a lot more respect for the people that run marathons 2 hours longer than I do; once, I ran a half hour longer than I normally do and it was much more painful. Run to your ability and training.
- Drink your water: You may not need water at every water stop, but it probably will not hurt to take some. Always drink at least one cup; if you want, grab a second to douse your head with. Drinking the water will cool you off much more effectively, and will help you to keep from getting too dehydrated. If you have trained with gatorade or whatever else they have on the course, then feel free to drink that too. Never dump that on your head though. It really isn’t pleasant to be sticky.
- Eat strategically: If you have gel packs with you, take one every half hour or so as you come up on a water stop. Always take it before drinking the water, and take water as soon as you can after taking it. If you have trained with bananas or oranges, then feel free to take that during the race as well. If you have not, then you may want to skip the solid food that may be offered along the course.
- Beware walking breaks: Unless it is a part of your plan that you have practiced, be very wary of walking breaks. In my first marathon, I was on pace through 17 miles exactly. I started to slow up a small amount over the next three miles. At 20.5, I walked through a water stop. My race might as well have been over. My per mile pace was a mixture of half again my race pace and twice my race pace until the last mile. If you are running fast and then you stop to walk, your legs might get really stiff before you have a chance to get going again. It is hard to fight against that. Even a shuffle that is slower than your walk will allow you to keep a little looser as you grab your water. If you have trained with regular walking breaks, however, then stick to your race plan. Your body will already be used to the change in pace.
- Use turn signals: Be courteous to your fellow racers. If you are going to turn or you want to get to the other side of the course (such as for a water stop) then signal with your hand and arm first. It will warn somebody behind you that you are not going to be continuing in a straight line, and will keep them from accidentally tripping over you. If you happen to spot a pothole, the people behind you who do not see it will appreciate it if you yell “Pot Hole!” as you come up on it. I saw a wheel chair racer wipe out in one when three people right in front of him all dodged around it at the last minute and he was not looking up for a moment.
- Do not forget to enjoy yourself: You should be having fun. There is a very small percentage of the population that will ever run as far as you are in this one race. Unless you are a competitive athlete just doing it for the paycheck, then you should be enjoying yourself. It will hurt, and the weather will sometimes be miserable. But is there really anywhere else that you would rather be? Make friends with your fellow runners. Wave to the crowd. Enjoy the sights and the sounds and the smells. Have yourself an experience, and avoid just going through the motions.
- Finish strong: Ignore how much it hurts. You want to race into the finish. Be that guy that edges out the other person. Give the crowds something to cheer for. Give the photographers a good finish line photo. The quicker you finish, the quicker you can get to the food tent. Note that this only applies to people who should actually be finishing the race; if you have ruptured a muscle, or broken a bone, or are about to collapse of dehydration then you should probably pull yourself off of the course and visit a medical tent. For the rest of us, finish strong!