Q&A: Race Day ??’s

This is part of a series of posts I’m doing this spring focused on marathon training. To get these “Marathon Monday” posts in your inbox, sign-up here! 


Welcome to another edition of Coach Carl Q&A (submit your questions here). This time I’m answering a trio of marathon race-day questions on racing flats, pacing tips, and whether you need to warm-up for your marathon. Let’s get to it!



“What are your thoughts on wearing racing flats for my marathon?”
— Will T.



For the majority of people, I don’t recommend wearing racing flats for a marathon. I think that the potential benefits don’t outweigh the risks.


The benefits of wearing a racing flat are that it weighs less and potentially better energy return. But, with current shoe technology, regular training shoes are extremely light-weight already. Consider:


— Nike Pegasus 2007: 12.6 oz
— Nike Pegasus 2015: 9.7 oz


Even a stability shoe like the Brooks Adrenaline is 11.1 oz these days. So while racing flats are still lighter than training shoes (Nike LunarRacer: 6.3 oz), it’s not like you’ll be clomping around out there if you wear your regular trainers.


Two other big factors would make me nervous:


— Racing shoes often have a lower heel drop (the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the forefoot) than most trainers. This can cause potential calf and Achilles issues if you’re not prepared for it.

— If your foot needs, or is used to, any stability components in your training shoes, it may be tough to replicate that in a racing shoe. There are racing shoes out there that have stability added (Brooks Racer ST, Asics DS Racer, etc.), but the effectiveness is going to vary. Putting a new stress on your feet and lower legs during a marathon (which is pretty stressful anyway) is always a dicey proposition.

All that being said, if you DO want to wear racing flats on race day, take the following precautions:


1) Do at least one long (18+ mile) training run in the flats before deciding they’ll work on race day

2) Do at least one long (10+ mile) marathon pace run in the flats (this can be combined into the long run)

3) After those runs, be honest with yourself about how your legs feel, how the shoes felt, and if you think you could have continued on for the marathon distance

Those steps will at least ensure that you’re not trying anything new on race day and will increase the chances of getting through the race without issue.



“I watched your video on how important it is to run even or negative splits in the marathon, any tips on how to actually do that on race day?”
— Trish P.



Great question — if negative splitting your marathon was easy, everyone would do it, right? There are three big things that I think you can do to increase your chances of pulling this off:


1) Acknowledge the adrenaline
Race day will have you amped up. You’ve been training for this for a long time and you’re going to be chomping at the bit to get started. Add in the crowds, announcer, music, etc., and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and get carried away.


The best way to counteract that is to accept that you’re amped up and adjust accordingly. The first couple miles of a run at marathon pace feels easy when you’re in the middle of your training. On race day — fully tapered AND amped up — it should feel like a jog!


Go out at a pace that feels a good bit slower than race pace. If you’re behind at the mile, so what? You’ve got 25+ miles to make up the few seconds you might be behind pace. Better that than accidently run 45 seconds too fast for the first mile.


2) Use the crowds to your advantage
Unless you’re lining up at the front of the race, there will be a lot of people running around and in front of you. In a lot of cases, they’re running slower than you want to running. The tendency is to get overexcited, try to run around them, surge to make up time, etc.


But, this is the time to R-E-L-A-X!


If you’re weaving around other runners, you’re adding distance. Unless you really want to turn your marathon into an ultra, better to just be patient, wait for a break in the traffic and get back up to speed.


Don’t put in a big surge to try to make up time — the truth is you probably didn’t lose that much, your body reacts REALLY poorly to big pace changes, and again, being a few seconds behind early isn’t anything to worry about.


3) Take advantage of pace teams
Most big marathons offer a pace team of some sort. Running with a group of people that are all aiming for the same time is a great way to take a BIG mental stress off early in the race and just cruise along. Saving that mental energy till the end of the race will be a huge help.


Even if the race doesn’t have a pace group for exactly what you want to run, starting with a pace group slightly slower than your goal time for the first couple miles is a great way to make sure you don’t need to go too fast.


If you’re trying to run a big PR, beware that pace groups are notorious for starting faster than pace. Since the pace group leaders are runners capable of running much faster than the group they’re pacing, they sometimes aren’t able to judge their speed well at the beginning of a race.


So in that case, I recommend starting behind the pace group with the goal of being caught up to them by mile 3-4, by which point they will probably have settled into their pace.



“Do I need to warm-up for my marathon?”
— Mike O.



The short answer: no.


The slightly longer answer: kind of.


The full answer:
Because the marathon is such a long race, your body has plenty of time to get up to running at full capacity during the course of the race. I also think that if you don’t warm-up, it may help you mentally start a little slower than you would normally.


However, there are some things that you’ll want to do the morning of the race to help your body be ready to tackle the distance:


1) Take a light 10 min walk / jog when you wake up
Doing this several hours before your race will help wake up your body and your nervous system, will loosen up your muscles, and get your blood flowing a bit. Because it’s so short and so far before the race, you don’t have to worry about wasting energy or building up fatigue.


2) Walk for 5-10 minutes about 30 minutes before the race
If it’s a big race where you have to get to the start line hours before, this can be a great way to loosen things up again and can help work out some nerves, too.


3) Do some range of motion / body-weight exercises about 5 minutes before the race
Some light leg swings, body-weight squats, lunges, or even a few high knees and butt kicks can be a final step to make sure your range of motion is ready for the race, work out any last minute kinks, and get your body ready to tackle the race.



About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, and Competitor and is a regular contributor to Running Times.