Coach McMillan on Surviving the pre-race freak out.

Yesterday, we launched the online version of Greg’s best-selling book, Surviving the Marathon Freak-Out and the response has been amazing!

Even athletes who have the paperback version are excited for this online version because they can now read their most popular section – Greg’s Pre-Race Pep Talk – right on their phones as they wait for the race to start.

As Gail says, “This book has been a lifesaver. It calms me and helps me get and remain focused on my plan for the race. I used to be so nervous before races but now, I feel really positive, excited and ready.”

We wanted to share a quick excerpt from the book so you get a feel for all of the wisdom Coach Greg provides you:

Chapter 4
Pre-Race Rules

Now that you are peaked and ready for the race, here are my rules to use as you head to the race site and get settled in. These foolproof strategies will make your pre-race more enjoyable and less stressful. You’ll have all your bases covered and if something comes up, it’ll be easy to address because you’ve done such a great job of planning ahead for everything else.

Rule #1: Be Selfish

As a whole, runners tend to not be selfish. In fact, the marathon has become one of the greatest ways charities raise funds. Marathoners are conscientious and giving. The peaking phase, however, is a time when you need to be a little selfish. You have a big race coming up so use the few days before the race as your days. Do what is best for YOU. It’ll feel weird but trust me, you deserve a few days of self focus to ensure you perform your best.

Rule #2: Pack your race gear in your carry-on baggage.

You can always buy new casual clothes but you don’t want to have to buy new shoes and race clothes for the race. Lay all your gear out on the bed (I once heard it called “Dressing the invisible man”) and make sure you pack everything you need in your carry-on bag. Don’t forget Band-Aids, chafing prevention, nutrition, etc. And remember, new TSA security requirements can sometimes limit gels, rehab tools like The Stick and foam rollers in carry-on baggage, so you may have to put those items in your checked baggage or buy them at the race site.

Rule #3: Carry food with you at all times.

In the peaking phase, you never want to get hungry (especially the last 3 days before the race). Again, don’t overeat but just be prepared in case a meeting goes long or you’re late for a meal. Always have a nutritious snack available. In addition to your race gear, pack some good food in your carry-on bag. You may want something to eat on the plane/train/car. The final week before the race is also a good week to have fluids with you at all times as well. Don’t over drink but just be prepared. Variety in beverages is good as well – water, sparkling water, smoothies/juices, etc.

Rule # 4: Book your pre-race dinner BEFORE leaving home.

You will not be alone in wanting a proven pre-race meal the night before the race. Plan ahead by making a reservation before you even leave home. The concierge at your hotel can recommend restaurants near your hotel or you can do some research online to check menus, etc. Nothing is worse than arriving at the race site and all of the desired restaurants are booked so don’t leave your meal to chance.

Find a relaxing place and enjoy a nice, quiet dinner. I usually try to eat close to my hotel so I can take a leisurely 10-15 minute walk after dinner. Don’t eat too early or too late. And, of course, don’t try a meal that you haven’t already tried in training. Nothing is worse than an upset stomach the night before and certainly during the marathon!

Side note on Carbo-loading: You’ve probably heard that you need to “carbo-load” before your marathon. The reason is that your body stores carbohydrate in your muscles (in a form called glycogen). These glycogen stores are limited however, and when the stores begin to run low, your pace will likely slow. The training you’ve been doing helps increase the amount of glycogen stored in your muscles but you can also increase your stores by eating more carbohydrates in your meals, especially in the last 3 days before a long race like a marathon.

I’m a fan of adjusting the proportion of calories coming from carbohydrates in the last 2-3 days before your race but caution runners to not go overboard. You don’t eat more. Let me say this again, you don’t eat more calories but you simply include a bit more carbohydrates in your meals than you might otherwise. Remember, your training volume has reduced so your stores are already less compromised than usual and I’ve found just a slight increase in carbohydrate intake works well (i.e., you don’t need to pig out on the carbo dinner the night before; just be reasonable.). Most importantly, eat what has worked for you in training and you’ll be fine.

Rule #5: The first thing you should do after settling into your hotel is find a grocery store.

Ask the front desk for the nearest one or call/research ahead to expedite the process. Go immediately to the grocery store and stock up. Buy the foods you like and you know will prepare you for successful running. I buy bananas, trail mix, water, sports drink, yogurt, instant oat meal (though usually brought from home), boiled eggs, smoked salmon, avocados, bagels and spread, peanut butter and jelly, energy bars, etc. Again, you never want to get thirsty or hungry prior to the race. Being stocked will help avoid this. Don’t just eat out of nervousness (another no-no) but have food available if you need a snack. I typically overbuy but I’d rather have what I want available than to want something and not have it.

Rule #6: Enjoy the expo but don’t spend all day there.

You’ll likely need to visit the expo to pick up your race number, chip, etc. Enjoy it but don’t become an expo adventurer. It’s too much time on your feet. Browse through it, pick up what you need and get out. The expo is where many runners get dehydrated and hungry, so carry fluids and fuel with you to keep this from happening. Again, the expo is part of the marathon ritual so you should enjoy it but if other runners think you are working at one of the expo booths, you’ve been there too long!

Rule 7: Re-Live Awesome

Remember before where you wrote down your best runs from the last few weeks? It’s time to pull out your memoirs of awesomeness. Once per day for the last three days, spend some time reading about your most successful workouts. Live in your own awesomeness. I guarantee that you’ll be inundated with doubt and negative thoughts during the last few days before the race. It’s perfectly natural. Reminding yourself of your capabilities can help reduce the negative and put the spotlight on the positive.



Surviving the Marathon Freak-Out is just $9.95.


About TriCoachDara

I have been a multi-sport coach since 2001 and during that time I have trained hundreds of athletes for whom triathlon, running, biking, fitness and health must fit into very busy lives. My clientele includes lawyers, doctors, full time mothers, office workers, school teachers, nurses, and entrepreneurs – and every one of them has a jam packed schedule. My goal is to help each athlete strike a balance between training to their maximum potential and balancing the various other aspects of their lives, as well as to provide all the information they need to perform at their best and stay healthy and injury free.
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