Share this article

print logo

Train your mind as well as your body for marathon

How do you know if you can finish the Buffalo Marathon next weekend?

Time and preparation will tell, according to several experts. Here are some tips they want you to consider for the week before the race:


Now is not the time to run a full marathon to see if you can run another one a week from Sunday, said Vicki Mitchell, the University at Buffalo track and cross-country coach. The training regimen you should have undertaken for at least the last 18 weeks should wind down and you should let your body repair itself leading up to the big run.

“If you go out and run 26 miles, the body needs a week to 10 days to recover. That dents into a prerace training regimen,” said Mitchell, also a coach for Checkers running club and race director for Girls on the Run. “The longest I have anyone train in preparation for a marathon will be up to 3 hours to 3 hours, 45 minutes in run time, or 20 to 22 miles – whichever comes first.”

Save your reserves – and the 26.2-mile distance – for race day, Mitchell recommended. “Competition is something special,” she said. “Race day is something special. That’s why you don’t do it every day.”

Take care of yourself

Proper sleep and nutrition need to be part of the entire training equation, Mitchell said, and remain important the week before the race. Sleep aids in recovery, she said, as does deep-tissue massage therapy – so maybe a massage is in order.

“In the months leading up to the race, we want you focusing on nutrient-rich foods instead of empty calorie foods” like sodas, sweets and baked goods, said Dr. Jason Matuszak, a sports medicine specialist with Excelsior Orthopaedics in Amherst. The night before the race is a good time to stay consistent with your diet, he said “It’s not the time to try squid.”

Eric Orton, of Jackson Hole, Wyo., a Springville native and the running coach featured in the best-selling book, “Born to Run,” suggests an early dinner the night before the race with a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat. “You might want to go a little heavier on the carbohydrates,” he said. “Sweet potatoes are a great source, so you can do sweet potatoes and a little bit of chicken and some dressing, olives, avocados.” He also recommended a small meal with carbs and protein a couple of hours before the race.

Mitchell said successful completion of a half or full marathon – or longer – requires runners during training runs to establish a system of hydration and fueling that they will apply to marathon day. “Your body does not have enough fuel to run 26.2 miles at a high level, so taking in fuel as you go is important,” she said. That includes power gels, sports drinks and protein bars.

Be steady

The biggest mistake on marathon day is going out too fast, Mitchell said. “Go out and feel like you’re jogging. Go out slower than you think you should be and it’s probably going to be the right pace. … Much of getting prepared for the marathon is training your mind to be prepared to run for a long period of time. An experienced runner may be able to finish in 2½ hours; a novice might need twice that long. You have to accept, and be prepared, to be running for two football games in a row.”

Embrace the challenge

“When you cross that line, especially for the first-time marathoner,” said Mitchell, “there should be a feeling of joy, exhilaration, satisfaction,” along with lots of exhaustion. “But you do need to accept it’s going to be hard. You’ve got to be ready to gut it out. It’s a grind.”

When she ran her first marathon, the last 4 of 42 kilometers was gut-wrenching: “I’m not going to lie, some swear words came out,” she said, and the legs started to go.

During the race, how can you know you can get through it?

“That’s when you have to step back and trust that the 18 weeks of preparation has prepared your body,” Mitchell said.

“Race day brings something special. It brings excitement. More stimulus. It brings the crowd cheering for you. At the Buffalo Marathon, when you get to the last one to two miles and the course is lined with people, that’s going to carry you through. All of a sudden you forget how fatigued you are.”