To become a greyhound, you've got to work like a dog, says Debbra Jacobs-Robinson of San Diego. And she has. At the Honda Los Angeles Marathon, Jacobs-Robinson ran her 121st marathon as a leader with the CLIF Bar Pace Team.
For the past 10 years, the team of 30 expert marathoners have helped beginner and competitive runners score their desired times and even set personal records. So far the team has paced more than 300,000 runners at 115 full and half marathons in the United States.
Whether you're running a spring marathon or just a neighborhood 5K, follow these 30 tips from 30 veteran marathoners to have the best race of your life.
1. Skip Expo Snacks
As tempting as it is to try new bars and drinks at the race-weekend expo, don't. Last thing you want is an upset stomach -- or worse, diarrhea -- at mile 9 thanks to unfamiliar food.
-- Lori Tubbs, 48, Virginia Beach, Va., 50+ marathons, 3-time Ironman finisher and military sports dietician (What are the best snacks in America? Pick up Eat This, Not That! 2012 to find out!)
2. Wear Arm Warmers
They provide the perfect bit of protection from the cold, easily roll down when temps rise, and can hold gels if you don’t have pockets. I've even used them to carry my hotel room key and a few bucks, just in case.
-- Scott Stocker, 45, Columbus, Ohio, 90+ marathons
3. Don't Race to Win
There will always be someone faster or capable of running farther than you. Run for your own personal goals -- weight loss, general fitness, completing a marathon, winning a bet. Maybe you’ll get lucky and win a race someday, but if that were everyone’s goal then about 40,000 runners failed in the NYC Marathon last fall.
-- Chris Cavanaugh, 41, Cincinnati, 99 marathons
4. During Tough Moments, Focus on Form.
Think about maintaining a clean, efficient stride. Drop your shoulders and relax your hands. A little energy saved here may just get you mentally -- and physically -- back in your race.
-- David Bea, 32, Cincinnati, 35+ marathons
5. Picture the Finish Line
At the start of the race, think about the end. Imagine yourself coming down that final stretch. All soreness disappears as soon as you hear and see people cheering, clapping, even yelling your name (make sure it's written somewhere visible). See yourself pumping your fists under the big banner, smiling wide. Replay this over and over until you've made it a reality.
-- Karyn Hoffman, 49, Folsom, Calif., 23+ marathons, 7-time 100 mile ultramarathon finisher and 4-time Ironman finisher
6. Beware Goal Inflation
If you've never run your goal pace in an 18-mile training run, don't expect a marathon morning miracle. You'll have a better experience basing your goal on a long run that was satisfyingly hard but doable. (We recently talked with the leading success researcher in the nation to learn her 7 Tips For Achieving Any Goal.)
-- Sharon McNary, 53, Pasadena, Calif., 95 marathons and 3-time Ironman finisher
7. Find Your Carrot, Then Commit
Are you doing it for your body, your mind, or simply the thrill of the race? Once you know the why, establish the plan to achieve your dreams.
-- Whit Rambach, 44, Carmel, Calif., 100+ marathons and ultramarathons
8. Be Prepared with T.P. You don't want to find the paper has run out at the worst possible time.
-- Darris Blackford, 48, Columbus, Ohio, 170+ marathons and 4-time 100 mile ultramarathon finisher
9. Suit Yourself
I use races as an excuse to purge old work clothes. I have been known to lounge around the start in old khakis and button down shirts. There's no better way to pay final respects to your 1996 Dockers than to shed them just before the gun goes off.
-- David Szeremet, 44, Fort Mitchell, Ky., 25 marathons
10. Hydrate Hard
Water is fuel. If you skip the water stations, you can skip the awards ceremony, too.
-- Debbra Jacobs-Robinson, San Diego, 120+ marathons
11. Take It Like a Man
You are not the only one feeling the pain. Moving through it is what makes the event heroic. It is what makes those who don't run admire you.
-- Bruce Yang, 43, West Nyack, N.Y., 40+ marathons
12. Stay Fueled
Eat about 100 calories every mile.
-- Danny Ripka, 54, Naples, Fla., 100+ marathons and nationally ranked ultramarathoner
13. Tailor Your Training
Whether you're training for your first 5K or the U.S. Olympic Trials, one thing is universal -- have fun. If it's not, it probably won't last. Don't be afraid to tweak training plans and advice to make them more enjoyable for you.
-- Tommy Neeson, 43, Virginia Beach, Va., 40+ marathons
14. Build Up to Your Pace
Studies show that if you gradually work up to your desired speed over the course of the first five to 10 minutes of your run, you will lower your risk for injury.
-- Darrin Bright, 40, Columbus, Ohio, 50 marathons, Ironman Florida finisher and sports physician
15. Pack Your Own Porta-Potty
Bring an extra 32-ounce Gatorade bottle and so you can hop into the bushes if you have to. Nerves creep in right before the gun. Bathrooms lines are long. Nobody wants to leave the start line. In a pinch before the start, it can be your savior.
-- Matt Brereton, 34, Nashville, 75 marathons and 2-time Ironman finisher
16. Plan, Man Learn as much as you can about the course ahead of time.
-- Jack King, 53, Richmond, Va., 75+ marathons and 2-time Ironman finisher
17. Keep it Real
Life loses focus when any one area (work, family, even running) becomes too dominant. Keep your running goals reasonable and attainable. This way, after a good run, you'll be better prepared to deal with everything else.
-- Michael Rieker, 36, Peoria, Ill., 20+ marathons
18. Get Faster
The four-step surge is a great way to increase your overall speed. During practice or a race, quickly pick up the pace for just four steps a few times during your run. These surges will freshen your stride and, at the same time, make your regular pace seem easier. (Visit our Complete Guide to Running for more tips on how to run faster, fix your form, and enjoy running more.)
-- Jim Chaney, 48 Akron, Ohio, 170+ marathons and 2-time 100 mile ultramarathon finisher
19. Enjoy a Time Out
Take a break from your watch or heart rate monitor to reconnect with your body. A digital display can be an inaccurate distraction of what performance level you're really capable of achieving.
-- Jody Stange, 38, Los Angeles, 90+ marathons
20. Try to Fly
While doing speed workouts, imagine your feet hitting the ground as briefly as possible. The moment one foot makes contact with the track or pavement below, pick it up as fast as possible. Think of it as running over hot coals.
-- Kathleen Dolan, 44, Columbus, Ohio, 80+ marathons and 2-time Ironman finisher
21. Get Tough
I run for many reasons, and one of them is the love of the challenge. When I encounter hurdles, get cramps or hit the wall, I consider it a new challenge.
-- Diana Widdowson, 45, Conestoga, Pa., 50+ marathons and 10-time 100 mile ultramarathon finisher
22. Brighten Your Step
Don't wear the usual white top and black shorts. Loud colors help family and friends spot you from the sidelines.
-- Shannon Price, 33, Fort Collins, CO, 130+ marathons and 2-time 100 mile ultramarathon finisher
23. Become a Speed Demon
Wanna run faster? Go out there and literally run faster. Mile repeats will only improve your times.
-- Michael Cook, 41, Sawka, Calif., 50+ marathons, 2-time Ironman finisher and 2-time 100 mile ultramarathon finisher
24. Pick a Side
Another way to help your personal cheering squad find you: Tell them what side of the road you’re going to be on so they don’t search for you on the wrong side.
-- Ann Scholl, 41, Kimberly, Wis., 20+ marathons
25. Waterproof Your Tech
If you run with a cell phone, slip it into a zip lock bag for extra protection from sweat or water, like the cup you will likely dunk over your head.
-- Mike Renavitz, 42, Dunellen, N.J., 50+ marathons
26. Pack the Paper
Bring the morning paper or a magazine for the downtime in the starting area. Reading will keep you calm and relaxed prior to the race.
-- Colin Wallis, 40, Austin, Texas, 50+ marathons and 4-time Ironman finisher
27. Take a Mental Break
During the longest, loneliest, most difficult stretches of the race, strike up a conversation with another runner, focus on your music, or dedicate this portion to someone who inspires you.
-- Marie Bartoletti, 54, Pittsburgh, 225 marathons and Badwater 135 finisher
28. Make Yourself Findable
Text family and friends a quick photo of yourself in your race day outfit in the morning. This way, they'll know exactly what you’re wearing and what to look out for from the cheering sections.
-- Bill Sanders, 42, Elmhurst, Ill., 90+ marathons
29. Run for a Reason
Dedicate the race or the last several miles of your marathon to special people in your life. Focus your thoughts on them and what they mean to you, rather than how bad you may feel.
-- Tom Tisell, 44, St. Paul, Minn., 50+ marathons and Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier
30. Beat Post-Race Blues
Don’t get stuck feeling down after your big day. Always have something to look forward to next, whether it's a mini-vacation, another race, or celebratory beers with your support crew.
-- Star Blackford, 36, Columbus, Ohio, 150+ marathons and 6-time 100-mile ultramarathon finisher