So, another Athens marathon is over. With a bang. For now, suffice it to say that my body simply crashed about a week before the race. A mild cold from Oxford was worsened during the flight to Athens and that was the end of any PB expectations despite a brilliant preparation.
I did manage to finish the marathon, though. I think that was a PB in itself, how I managed in three days to make myself fit enough to get to the start and then to the finish line.
During pre-race week, I was thinking that I should gather somewhere all the little things that I do to prepare myself before the race – practical and mental tips that conciously or unconciously have become part of my pre-marathon routine after completing 10 of them by now.
So, here are some of my pre-race preparation rituals that made my list:
1. A foot bath, followed by applying lots of softening foot creme especially on blisters. The legs have so much hard work to do in the race that I try to really pamper in the days before, so that they hang in there when the going gets tough! Nails need to be short and in pretty good condition, too.
2. I have a careful look inside my racing shoes. Also underneath the insoles, which I take out to give the inside of my shoes a good dusting with a piece of clothing and a lint roller. I try to remove any threads, grass, pebbles that might have creeped in there and might be extremely annoying during the race!
3. No new socks. I will stick to my tried and tested socks, but I will choose a new (or very recent) pair, so that it is smooth and soft, without any signs of wear. I figure is is the least I can do in my anti-blister campaign. I also wear compression socks during the flight as they help my feet not swell so much.
4. Up vitamin intake. OK It didn’t work this time (maybe I should have started earlier!), as I still got the flu, but I had upped my Vit C to 1500 units daily, and I was also taking another multi-vitamin, magnesium, folic acid, iron, and Neurobion. I also took about 15 grams of glutamine daily in the last week.
5. In the two weeks before the race I switch to my favourite breakfast option pre-race, the Greek dish Spanakorizo. It is a mixture of spinach and rice, sometimes cooked in tomato sauce, sometimes plain. I find it is extremely tasty and keeps me strong for the rest of the day, giving me a good and constant supply of energy.
6. I choose at least two race outfits, for different weather conditions, and pack other essentials, such as a cap, sunglasses, arm warmers, mp3, any old tshirts (that I can wear at the start and then throw away), my very useful North Face wristband with pocket ( where I can carry some money in case of an emergency), my gels (this time I really liked the light taste and instant boost of High5 Orange Plus and Lemon), post race warm clothing etc.
The other energy booster that really worked for me was plain and simple jelly beans, which I carried in my pocket and would have one every 5km to reward myself. They taste so good!
7. I do not want to undermine the importance of sleep and rest by lumping them together. I don’t remember who it was who said that the easiest way to improve your running times is to start sleeping for ten-hour sessions! Of course this is not easy for most people to do, but if you can increase your sleep even by just one hour per day, that will surely help! This time round I slept loads but only because of the flu, I am not sure it helped in the marathon taper itself at all. But it sure helped me recover from the cold.
8. Pomegranate juice. It is another one of my personal superfood favorites and we are lucky enough to have pomegranates in our garden in Nea Makri. I had loads of the healthy stuff, as part of my recovery plan, squeezing the juice out like an orange.
9. Have a massage or two. As far as running is concerned, massage is a life-saver. In May I could hardly run a 10K due to a painful piriformis syndrome. And then when I started training for this marathon a few experts (namely Christos Sotiropoulos in Athens and Denise Thomas in Oxford) helped me relax my painful right glute (and left ankle, due to a bad ankle sprain on Imittos last Christmas) about once a week. Towards the end of the praparation, I tried to book a massage immediately after a long run or hard session and it worked well. During the marathon my body was fresh and my right glute never even as much as twinged!
10. Go mental! I am only joking, of course. During pre-race week, I always reserve some minutes for introspection and positive thinking. I recall my most difficult sessions and how I hammered them, what I learned even from the not so successful ones, how I managed to overcome all sorts of difficulties during my preparation, and how I can do it during the race as well. I visualise myself flowing smoothly along various points on the marathon course: I am still fresh at the 10th km, going strong at the 20th, tired but pushing through at the 30th, and ‘almost there, run natasha run! hurry!’ at the 40th!
My toughest session this time round was probably the 4 x 5km intervals. I try to see the marathon as another interval, this time a very long 4 x 10 km one, and this is a session that I can do, too! I adopt some mottos, which I keep repeating to myself before and throughout the race. This time, it was “Keep calm and carry on” and “You can do it, girl” and “Pick your battles”. My battle this time, due to illness, was just to finish, no point in aiming for a PB as the heat and the illness made it an impossible task.
Knowing what it is exactly you are fighting for every time is, to my mind, a cornestone for success. And this is a lesson I learned well during my 4th Athens Classic Marathon last Sunday!