There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as running a big city marathon. Huge crowds of runners and spectators, all lining the route and running along a spectacular venue. These races are distinctly unlike running anywhere else. Big cities really do mean big crowds. Big crowds, big lines, big waits, big atmosphere, and a whole different way to prepare.
If you’ve ever wanted to run a race in a big city, whether it’s the New York City Marathon, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Houston, these are my top tips to get ready for race day.
Top Tips for Big City Marathon Training and Prep
1) Scope out all the details.
First things first—figure out where you want to run! There are plenty of races to chose from all across the country. There are definitely a few major factors to consider as you’re deciding where you want to run. One: timing. You want to allow yourself about 6 months to train and prepare, though you can sign up about a year in advance. Two: weather. Know your own preferences and when the races fall and take that into account. You’ll find that most races will take place in the fall or spring, though some may take place in areas where it can get quite cold.
You’ll also want to read over guidelines, rules, and regulations: there will be a lot more of them than you might be used to with a local race. Security is a chief concern and that can impact what you can bring with you. You will want to be thorough and make sure you understand all of the requirements and rules.
2) Schedule and strategize.
After you've picked your race and put it on the calendar, it’s time to start planning. Sit down and begin carving out the time you’ll need to train. This happens primarily in two chunks: weekly and monthly. You’ll want to pack your week with shorter runs, at least one long run, and a day or two of cross-training (very important!).
As for your month-by-month schedule, even if you sign-up far ahead of the 6 months that you need to train vigorously, that doesn’t mean you should wait until then to start. Ease into it beforehand with running so that you slowly ramp up into your full-fledged, intensive training regime. It will help you prevent injury.
3) Fall in love with running.
Intensive training is tough on any runner. Even if you like it, it can become grueling. It’s so valuable to constantly find ways to fall in love with running. That might mean switching between running outdoors and on the treadmill. It might mean making a really killer playlist. It might mean listening to no music at all or finding a group to train with.
4) Pace yourself.
Whatever you do, don’t sabotage yourself by pushing past your limits. If you’re running a big city race, you no doubt have some kind of time goal you want to meet. Don’t injure yourself in an effort to reach time goals or fitness goals too quickly. You have to pace yourself. Remember: this is about endurance. It's not a sprint!
5) Run warm-up races.
Because training takes place over the course of several months, you have the chance to run some smaller runs before the big event. Take advantage of the opportunity! It will help you break up the monotony of weekly training to run a few 5Ks or a 10K. It will also give you a chance to gauge your time and get a measure of your progress thus far.
I really can’t stress the value of cross-training enough. For runners, cross-training helps strengthen muscle and muscle elasticity, which means you’ll not only increase your endurance, but you’ll reduce your chance of injury. It’s good for your strength and your ability to run the race to your fullest potential. Don’t just run. Focus on weight training and other exercises, too.
7) Get social!
One of the fun things about big races like these is just how big they actually are. They involve thousands of runners from all over the country and they attract a large community. It’s a great opportunity to connect. Search out a group to join, such as a Facebook group, where you can get tips from other runners who may have completed the race before, perhaps several times, or even find people to connect with (or run with) on race day.
Just because you might not have anyone around you running the same race doesn’t mean you have to run alone.
8) Perfect your nutrition plan.
Nutrition for big races is a little tricky. In New York City, for example, you can be waiting hours before you get to the starting line. So your regular breakfast and fueling strategy probably isn’t going to work. You need to practice the timing on your longer runs, experiment with different meals, and plan for the possibility of long lulls between your meal and your run. Experiment with different meals, snacks, and their effect on your performance.
Big city marathons are definitely great experiences. They’re exciting, fun, and worth doing, if only for the experience of it. While there are definitely adjustments to make, these kinds of races—even for all of their inconveniences and quirks—are worth doing at least once.
Do you have ambitions of running one of the big city marathons? Have you done one before? Share your thoughts in the comments!