I know from having run the New York Marathon in 2015 (my one and only) how the nerves can really start to play up ahead of the event. In the last week of training, when I no longer had mind-boggling practice runs to achieve, I started to wonder if I really could do this thing.
Whether you're doing the marathon or are a newbie runner getting ready for your first 5K, it's common to freak out before a race, says Dr Victor Thompson, sports psychologist and a triathlon survivor himself.
"What you do in the last few days has a big impact on how it goes," he says.
"The priority is to rest and calm the mind. Try to think about what you originally wanted to get out of this. Often, over time we inflate our goals – because we talk to other people – and put pressure on ourselves to run in a certain time.
"Instead, talk to yourself in a kind, understanding way and think about how you can enjoy it."
Here, experts offer their insider tips for preparing and running a long distance race.
One week to go
1. Practise eating breakfast
"In one of your final training runs, have the same breakfast and liquids you will have on race day, at the time you will have them," advises Pullman Running Club trainer Rory Knight. To avoid pre-nerves tummy, steer clear of foods that are high in fibre (dried fruits, bran); dairy, meanwhile, can slow gut movement down.
2. Book yourself a nice treatment for the day after the race
Padabhyanga, an ayurvedic foot treatment, works to improve circulation and restore tired calf muscles and is great for runners, according to Sunita Passi, an ayurvedic health coach at Cloud Twelve. "It is best had 24 hours after you've completed your marathon, to enable swelling to calm down and the tissues to go back to normal," Passi says.
3. Write a plan
Boston champion Desiree Linden writes a race plan before every event – breaking down 42.1km into manageable chunks. "I still find long distances a mental challenge as much as a physical one," says Amy Hopkinson, digital editor at Women's Health and founder of the running podcast Well Far. "I look at the route on Google Maps and plot the landmarks, so I have something to visualise and aim for."
4. Prep your gear
Marathon runner Hannah Lanel, MD of gym Equilibrium, suggests removing all labels on your clothing to prevent rubbing. If you worry that your trainers are not giving your feet enough room to breathe, don't replace them at this stage; instead miss the bottom two eyelets out when lacing them up. Last year's marathon was the hottest on record: during sunny spells, Dr Rebecca Robinson, consultant in sports and exercise medicine at the Centre for Health and Human Performance, advises "precooling your neck and hairline with water, and using water at drink stations to wet the back of your neck."
5. Plan your playlist
"I like to keep headphones in a pocket for the first 15 miles (24km) while I'm soaking up the atmosphere and focusing on pace," says Jessica Frey, CEO of Virgin Sports and runner of 23 marathons and three ultras. "My playlist is like a jetpack that I switch on when the going gets tough at mile 20 (32km)."
6. Carb intake
We've all heard of carb loading, but that doesn't mean a huge plate of pasta the night before: it doesn't give your body enough time to digest it. Lisa Scheepers, nutritionist at Fresh Fitness Food recommends eating smaller high-carb meals - jacket potatoes, pad Thai, chicken and rice - for at least three nights before race day, "so that the glycogen will accumulate in your muscles" and prevent you hitting the dreaded wall.
One day to go
7. Focus on micro practicalities to distract your nerves
Start with how to get there: allow plenty of time, and factor in the queues for the Portaloos for a last minute wee.
8. Pack loo roll
A packing tip from Kevin Betts, founder of the virtual running club Run Things, who has run 50 marathons: toilet paper. "You feel like a god when someone comes out of a Portaloo and does the international symbol for no paper left and you have your own supply."
9. Time for a pedicure
Trim your toenails (if you've still got some) straight across, advises Michael Harrison-Blount, senior lecturer in podiatry at the Salford School of Health and Society, and strap a plaster on any potential blister spots, packing a few spare in your running belt.
10. Pre-race clothes
Dig out an old jumper and tracksuit bottoms that you can wear while you're waiting but strip off and leave at the start (you'll also need spare clothes for the finish). All clothing is collected and recycled.
11. Pack your sweeties
"If you haven't practised with gels, I'd suggest carrying a few sugary sweets," says Omar Mansour, ambassador for Royal Parks Half marathon. If you are using gels, watch out for the caffeine content: some contain three times as much as a standard cup of coffee. While you might appreciate the energy surge, your bowels might have other plans…
12. Make a plan with your supporters...
...so you know where on the route they'll be waiting to cheer you on. Don't bother with the start of the race, it's too crowded for them to see you and really you need gee-ing up at several points after 25km.
13. Get the Sharpie out
"Wearing your name on your top is an easy way for marathon runners to draw maximum energy from the crowds," advises Runner's World editor Andy Dixon. Betts suggests writing your reason for running on your back: "the runners around you will encourage you and it sparks conversation.".
14. Get a good night's sleep
"Restorative yoga will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system so that athletes can enter into a 'rest and restore' state, calming the entire body and mind to prepare them for sleep," yoga teacher Dylan Ayaloo says. Try viparitta karani – lying on the floor with your legs up against a wall.
15. Check your bags in
If possible, don't check your belongings into the bag check, says gym director Hannah Lanel. "Keep your belongings with friends and family so you can get to them immediately and avoid the long queues."
"Expect to feel nervous," Mansour says. "It means that you are ready to perform at your best." But if you feel overwhelmed, focus on deep, controlled breathing.
17. We've all seen those pictures of bleeding nipples...
"Chafe doesn't discriminate," Amy Hopkinson laughs. She applies a cream at the point her sports bra meets her armpit, on her nipples and inner thighs, but nipple chaffing is often worse for men in looser tops: some men even wear sports bras for marathon runs to prevent the bleed.
18. Setting off
When you set off, "many runners will crowd very closely around the pace makers early on in the marathon," Mansour says. "Instead, hang back a few strides and keep track of the group. If you feel the pace is too fast for you early on, relax, drop back to something that is more comfortable and aim to come through strong in the final stages."
19. Never mind the wall...
I found the first few kms hellish. "Write off the first three miles (4.8km) because you're tripping over people, you're panicking because you're not on time, and you're just finding your feet," says personal trainer Harry Jameson.
20. How to get your pace right?
Don't check your watch too often; instead, Mansour recommends getting into your rhythm and then looking every 5km.
21. Make other people run into the wind...
...so you can run behind them, Betts advises. "There's no need to spread across the road when you can take it in turns, peloton-like."
22. Don't be afraid to walk
Taking small walking breaks can lead to a better finish time. But the consensus amongst runners is that you should not stop completely, unless you have to.
There are plenty of water stations along the way - don't crowd round the first few. "You do need to take on some water but don't be obsessed by it, if you have started in a hydrated state," Professor Paul Gately, professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Metropolitan University says. How much you should drink depends on your size and how hot it is, but research shows that most runners need about 720 to 840 ml per hour of running, so take small sips.
24. Keep a mantra in mind
For when it gets tough, "use a mantra to keep you focused," says Dixon. "Short, simple positive messages work best, such as 'tall and light' or 'I am strong'." If you're running for a charity, think of all that money you've raised. I knew that friends and family were watching my slowly-moving dot on a live-app, so I couldn't stop for fear they'd think I'd conked it.
25. Try an infra-red sauna
Some ultra-runners swear by the restorative properties of cannabinoid oil post race because of its proven anti-inflammatory properties. Try rubbing CBD Muscle Balm onto sore legs. While Andy Murray and other athletes rave about ice baths, an infra-red sauna is a much more enjoyable way to stimulate your circulation and increase blood flow to your muscles.
26. Drink chocolate milk
You may not feel hungry after crossing the finish line, but Scheepers says it's really important to eat a 2-300 calorie snack with a high carbohydrate-protein ratio: chocolate milk is a really easy choice. "Don't drink to excess, but there's slim evidence that a cool beer in moderation might actually help recovery," Dr Robinson adds. Doctor's orders.
5 tips for overcoming the wall by Dr Josephine Perry
• Think about all the people who have helped and supported you
• Break down the marathon in your head into much smaller chunks so it feels more achievable
• Keep repeating a positive mantra
• Mentally think about each part of your body part by part and focus on having good technique in each of them
• Distract yourself