Alexi Pappas: Olympic runner shares pre-race tips for Eugene Marathon

(Photo: Josh Phillips/TrackTown USA)

With the glory of the 122nd Boston Marathon behind us, many of you might be thinking about running a marathon yourselves. Or, with the 12th Eugene Marathon just around the corner, hopefully many of you reading this article are just days away from toeing the line in Tracktown, USA! What the Eugene-Springfield community has to offer in the world of marathon running is very special – whether you’re from the area or not, the Eugene Marathon is an amazing way to celebrate the place where running was born. This is where I feel I grew up as an Olympic runner, and where so people find their “place” as a runner.

I haven’t run a marathon myself yet but I have run countless major road races, paced the Chicago Marathon twice, run a leg in a marathon relay, and I’ve also had the honor of riding in the lead car at the New York Marathon and being the ceremonial starter at a few more. So, whether your big race day is coming up in Eugene (April 28-29) or is sometime on the horizon, I wanted to share some invaluable pre-race tips that I’ve picked up along my career ahead of your big day.

1) Know your plan for race morning ahead of time. If you plan to use the shuttles or bag-check or if you purchased race-day packet pickup, make sure you know where those things are before race day! On race day, you want to conserve all your willpower and energy for the actual event – you don’t want to worry about where to park or where the shuttle pickup is or any other details like that. Remember that there will be dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people just like you all showing up to the starting line – give yourself ample time and anticipate logistical challenges ahead of time. Troubleshooting logistics ahead of time is just as important as any run or workout you can do leading up to the race.

2) Preview the course. Some marathons, including the Eugene Marathon, host “preview runs” ahead of race day. But even if the event doesn’t have any official previews, I still recommend driving the course or at least carefully studying the map as much as possible. It’s important to see the twist and turns and small rises and dips of the course! I do this before every road race, taking careful notes, and then I visualize the night before so that I know what to expect. I find that this helps me control what I can control during the race – having the knowledge to expect certain turns, hills, and aid stations leaves mental space for the unexpected and things we can’t control.

3) Practice your fluid intake during your long runs so that when you see the fluids offered along the course, your body will be familiar with taking in fluids and you’ll be familiar with the practice of drinking while running. Since the Eugene Marathon is right around the corner, take the time this week to practice drinking during your early week runs – even if it’s a short run, it’s so great to understand the way it feels to grab a cup of water or electrolytes and familiarize your body and hands with this process! When I watched the NYC Marathon from the lead car, I could tell which athletes were practiced “drinkers” and which were not.

4) Control what you CAN control, which is everything except the weather. Familiarize yourself with the course, with your routine on race day morning, lay out what you’re going to wear the night before, something tried and true. I have certain routines I never stray from: for example, my prerace meal. During all other times in the year I am very adventurous with my eating, but before a race I rely on the same meal every time. My go-to is some combination of chicken, bread, almond butter, avocado, and sweet potatoes.

5) Find a mantra: I like to tell myself to “stay” during every single race I run. I find that deciding on a mantra ahead of my race helps me return to something positive during moments in the race where I might not feel so great. Finding a mantra may sound silly, but on the chaos of race day, I find that it calms me down and lifts me up. I repeat my mantra on the start line before the gun goes off, so that it’s the last “gift” I give myself before the race begins.

6) Be thoughtful about your friends and families ahead of time. Make arrangements with family and friends at least two days in advance so that the day before you’re just relaxed and enjoying your rest day. It’s best to avoid wrangling with where your loved ones are going to be cheering from when you’re trying to focus on the race. Of course, it is an amazing feeling when you do see a loved one along the course! It can feel as wonderful as a sip of well-needed electrolytes. So find out where they will be cheering well ahead of the race.

7) Remember that it hurts for everyone. This is something I think about especially during longer races, where everyone encounters rough patches at some point – I used to think maybe I was the only one hurting, but then I realized racing hurts for everyone. This was both comforting and motivating. When you realize everyone is pushing through a challenge together, it distracts you from your own pain and also pushes you to continue alongside your peers.

8) Soak it in. Relish in the community of fellow runners. One of the things I love about road races is the gift of the environment around me – always changing, always interested. Especially during the Eugene Marathon, there will be so many sights to take in: the trees, the unique houses, the diehard running fans who keep the spirit of TrackTown USA alive and thriving.

9) From time to time, think about the finish line in Historic Hayward Field, and think about your contribution to its unique history. You’re a part of something special, and you’re also adding to something special when you cross that finish line. I have always heard that a marathon is a celebration of fitness and goals, and I love that. I love thinking about a race as something you’ve decided to commit to and earned. I will always remember watching my dad cross the finish line of his first (and only) marathon – I hope one day I will fully understand why he was crying!

10) And when you’re finished: respect your achievement. You’ve just completed a marathon!! Make sure to relish in what you’ve accomplished. This means going out and enjoying the rest of what the Eugene-Springfield community has to offer. After my track races at Hayward Field, I like to go out for pizza or a burger. And then I rest. Make sure to recover properly before diving back into training for the next one!