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When running a big race, I always perform best when I’m relaxed. It’s important to remember that race day is an accumulation of all your hard work and preparation. The race will be difficult, but try to embrace the pain and focus on crossing the finish line and celebrating after the race.

With each marathon, I’ve learned tips to help me be as prepared as possible to run. Here are my top learnings.

One month before the race:

  • Study the course map, make sure there are no surprises on race day.
  • Start modifying any HIIT workouts to combat muscular soreness from higher running mileage.

Two weeks before the race:

  • Eliminate potentially risky movements at the gym such as box jumps, rope climbs, heavy Olympic style lifts or sprint workouts.
  • Tone down the intensity of gym workouts.
  • Start slow regular integration of whole grain carbohydrates into your diet.

Race week:

  • Focus on keeping muscles fresh.
  • Eat a bland diet and avoid highly fibrous vegetables. I avoid eating out and stick to foods like grilled chicken, white rice and steamed baby spinach.
  • Avoid getting sick. Continually wash hands, use hand sanitizer and avoid sharing drinks. I give fist bumps instead of handshakes.
  • Switch to all running based workouts. The week of the race I’ll do two runs. I avoid HITT training and hot yoga. My last run will be Thursday before the race. When the race starts, I want to be ready to go.
  • Get a massage to relax. Avoid deep tissue and schedule the massage at least 48 – 72 hours in advance. Confirm plans with your support team. Find out what mile markers they will be at along the race.

48 hours before the race:

  • Incorporate a last light run. For a marathon, I aim for a 45-minute jog.
  • Finalize your running playlist and download podcasts if you plan to listen to music.
  • Drink water, water and more water.
  • Look at the weather forecast and prepare for any outfit corrections.
  • Become a robot; do not change anything from your normal routine.

24 hours before the race: Race Morning Prep

  • Pick up your race packet. I always try to thank sponsors but avoid lingering too long at the expo.
  • Mentally prepare for the race. Imagine yourself finishing the marathon with big smiles. The last miles will be difficult, so prepare for it, embrace it.
  • Layout your outfit, shoes, socks, skin glide and fuel. Pin your bib to your shirt. Charge your iPod and have your headphones ready.
  • Have your car keys ready to go and a plan for parking.
  • Plan breakfast. I typically eat an egg, oatmeal and two cups of black coffee.
  • Go to bed early, you may have trouble sleeping well.

Race Day - Minimize Stress

  • Wake up early and eat breakfast. I aim to eat two hours before the race.
  • Get to the start early. I try to arrive 45 minutes early, leaving plenty of time in case of traffic.
  • Walk when you arrive. For me, I find it’s helpful to keep my mind at peace. New runners often want to chat before a race, which I attribute to nervous energy. I try to avoid that.
  • Have a plan for meeting friends and family after the race.

After the race, celebrate your accomplishment but plan on going to bed early. You may find yourself more mentally then actually physically fatigued that evening. Drink lots of water. I find wearing compression socks to bed helps reduce leg soreness.

The following day, celebrate and take some time to reflect on your accomplishment. It’s also helpful to get up and move, so take an easy walk or a bike ride to speed recovery. Personally, I’ll also be having an extra serving of pancakes while debuting my new medal.

Good luck runners!

Aaron Hewitt PA-C is a physician assistant with the OrthoCarolina Sports Medicine Center. He is a former assistant athletic trainer with the Minnesota Vikings (NFL) and is an orthopedic provider for UNC-Charlotte and Myers Park High School. He also is a physician assistant manager for OrthoCarolina's PA department and a clinical and surgical preceptor for Physician and Physician Assistant Students. In his free time, Aaron is an avid marathoner, CrossFitter, and yogi and serves as an ambassador for lululemon®.

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