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Hendrik's marathon hacks - the last days before the race

Hendrik Pfeiffer winning the Hannover Marathon 2023
Hendrik Pfeiffer winning the Hannover Marathon 2022
Hendrik Pfeiffer
May 15, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Nina Kasbauer
Good news for regular runners: Our beloved road races - including the big spring marathons - are finally getting back into the swing of things. After long winter months, Raceday seems within reach.

After the difficult Corona years, road races are finally getting back into the swing of things and offering us the long-awaited highlights for which we swapped the couch for icy kilometers outside the front door several times a week - often even every day - during the winter months.

To make sure that Raceday really is a success, I rely on a few little pro tricks in the days leading up to the race that have a big impact with little effort and are also suitable for beginners.

Don't force anything just before the race

Getting into the perfect shape for the day is less of a coincidence than you might think at first glance. Because the dream of "good legs" on day X can at least be brought a good deal closer by well-dosed training in the last few days before the race. On the other hand, you can quickly destroy it by false ambition and "tickling out" the form at the last minute. Tapering - i.e. reduced training in the ten days before my marathon - is enormously important for me. That doesn't mean taking a complete break, but rather doing about 1/3 less training at similar intensities and consciously taking it easy the last three days before the race.

Avoid "rubber legs" from too much therapy

The same applies to regenerative measures: Don't overdo it! The temptation to achieve a perfectly loosened musculature shortly before the race by massages, fascia rolls or sauna sessions is deceptive. After all, a certain amount of pretension does no harm in the race, and disciplined tapering will already leave your legs fresher than you were used to during the intense weeks of training beforehand. I have made better experiences not to increase my regenerative measures excessively shortly before the competition.

Full batteries for full power

The longer the race distance, the more valuable stable carbohydrate reserves are. In the last few days before the race, I have found it helpful to consciously eat a carbohydrate-rich and easily digestible diet such as pasta and rice and, in the morning before the race, to eat light bread rolls with jam in a very unspectacular way. I consciously reduce vegetables and other high-fiber products during this time to avoid going to the porta-potty during the race.

Eat pasta dishes before a big race

The night before the last night counts

What sounds complicated has a simple explanation: the night before the competition, you rarely sleep peacefully and well. The nervousness is usually too great. The good news is that it doesn't matter. On the contrary. A certain amount of tension is usually a sign that your body and mind are already gearing up for the stress ahead. The night before is more important, and you should make the most of it if possible. Including a good night's sleep and a late breakfast.

A "master plan" also helps for running

Going into a race without a care in the world does not mean acting mindlessly. It's worth developing a plan for success in the days leading up to a marathon, guided by a realistic goal. You should also take into account external factors, such as the weather conditions and the course profile with potential elevation gain. Since mileage is common in most events, it is easy to monitor the race with split times. Especially at the beginning, the temptation is great to be tempted by the great atmosphere and the euphoria of running in a huge crowd of people to a too high initial pace. The previously planned split times serve as a corrective and also as a mental support, since the enormous distance of a marathon can be divided so well into smaller bites. It is also helpful to know that many marathons offer special pacemakers for recreational runners, who can often be recognized by balloons with the planned finish time written on them.

A marathon also holds additional challenges that play a lesser role in a classic 10-kilometer road race, for example. Of great importance to me is the drinking strategy during the race. It pays to be careful not to drink when thirst is already setting in. As a professional, it is customary to take in fluids every five kilometers, i.e. to start drinking after five kilometers of 42. The key is to rely on the tried and tested! Experiments like drinking Coke at kilometer 35 because of the high sugar content or eating a banana directly at the start without having practiced it beforehand should be avoided. Accordingly, my tip is to practice the optimal refreshment strategy already during training. Speaking of relying on the tried and tested: Using brand new shoes on race day is never a good idea. The pair on race day should already be broken in and have covered at least 50 kilometers.

Make the competition special

In the course of my career, I have repeatedly succeeded in delivering performances in competition that hardly seemed achievable in training. There is a psychological trick behind this: not to perceive the competition as a special event from the moment the starting gun goes off, but to generate positive tension in the hours and days beforehand.

In the case of major competitions such as a marathon, this begins with my arrival, which I deliberately do early so that I spend at least one full day at the venue before the day of the event. I use this day for a short course inspection, especially to find my way around the starting area on race day, and I take my time to prepare my race clothing and equipment for the next day.

For me, it's all about minimizing any potential stress factor for the next day and starting the event with the necessary calm. In addition, these activities also prepare me mentally for the race and ensure that my thoughts are not still stuck on university or my job. Rushing from the office or desk to the race should be avoided if possible.

Focus is key!

Woman packing her suitcase and checking the time

Checklist for beginners

It can be useful, especially for less experienced runners, to prepare a small checklist to go through the day before the race: Is my watch charged? n? Do I have my race number and race clothes prepared? Do I know when I have to be where tomorrow? If possible, such questions should not be clarified on the day of the race. It also helps to have a positive feeling when I think about what I have already trained and achieved in the last few weeks. Reflecting on the training you've already done helps enormously to go into the race with confidence and to face the goals, which can suddenly seem particularly intimidating in the hours before the race, in a positive way.

The shoe for special occasions

A little psychological trick that has already served me well is to wear my race shoes exclusively in competition, apart from the absolutely necessary break-in after purchase. Even if you use the same model in training, if you want to use the trick, a pair should be reserved exclusively for competitions. The feeling that I only wear these shoes when something damn fast and important happens helps me find the right focus and get even more out of myself.

Hendrik Pfeiffer wearing the Deviate Nitro 2 from Puma

Making the race a home game

Marathon preparation in particular requires a lot of heart and soul. Reason enough to share the big day with your family and friends and to push yourself as well. Knowing that familiar faces are waiting and cheering you on along the course can be enormously performance-enhancing and motivating. This is especially true beyond kilometer 30! The thought of a reward waiting for you at the finish line can also work wonders. It's worth planning a delicious meal or a long-awaited outing beforehand, which the thought of at least dulls the pain in the last third of the marathon.

In collaboration with Laufzeit

This article was first published in Laufzeit Magazine and was written in collaboration with Hendrik Pfeiffer and the editors.

More info on the Laufzeit Magazin on their website.

Hendrik Pfeiffer winning the Hannover Marathon 2022
Hendrik Pfeiffer
Hendrik Pfeiffer is a German track athlete, who won several state championships and ran the Marathon at Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.
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