Health & Wellness

Uta's marathon training tip of the day: Stick to your plan and have fun!

Uta Pippig is a marathon legend, the first woman to win three consecutive Boston marathons. As TODAY's Natalie Morales prepares to attempt her sixth marathon, and first run in Boston, on April 21, Pippig is sharing her daily training tips with Here are her last-minute words of advice to runners:

Uta Pippig, winning the Boston marathon in 1995.

Dear Boston Marathon runners and dear Natalie,

In just a few hours you will wake up to your Race Day, make the journey to the Hopkinton starting area, and feel the crisp spring morning mist against your skin. You will be ready to take on one of the most exciting marathon events on our planet—the Boston Marathon. To rein in some nervousness and stay on course with your final moments of marathon preparation, these tips, that I followed before my own Boston Marathon races, may help you. Please avoid anything complicated, and stay focused to give yourself the best chance to be mentally and physically ready on YOUR big day!

It is a good idea to review your race strategy one more time, factoring in all the circumstances, and be open to adjust your final time goal. Once you have set your realistic time goal, stick with it. If you don’t go out too fast at the start you will burn fat and ensure that your store of glycogen—your muscles’ preferred source of fuel for distance running—will last throughout the race. You will be excited at the start, so try to keep to your planned average pace. 

Make sure you are all set with your race equipment. Pin your bib number to your race uniform the night before so you will not forget it. Wear your favorite singlet or some clothing you like or that inspires you. It could be the “lucky” top or shorts you wore in a previous marathon or other race that will remind you of being successful. Many runners like wearing a top that bears their name, their college’s name, or some other personally-meaningful words. You can get little boosts of energy throughout the race from hearing spectators shout the words emblazoned on your shirt or singlet.

I hope you can sleep well tonight. The rule is to go to bed 12 hours before the start of the race. If you can’t sleep well, do not get concerned. My fellow Kenyan runners, for example, only sleep three to four hours before some of their events.

The marathon starts at 10:00 am tomorrow morning for many, but of course your specific starting time depends on which wave you are assigned. By that time you may have been up for several hours, so make sure you have eaten properly to be well-nourished right from the start. 

Each person’s needs are different, so go with the strategy you tested before your long runs. My recommendation is to eat a large bowl of oatmeal with an apple, or something similar, four hours before your race. Then eat something again two hours before the start. If you will be out on the marathon course for four hours or more, some whole-grain toast with nut butter two hours before the race is fine. And don’t worry—by starting the marathon at a comfortable pace, digestion shouldn’t be a problem. Energy bars also are a good choice and can be eaten one hour before the start. Just make sure that oats are the primary ingredient to gain the most long-lasting energy. And please take the important step of drinking small amounts of water throughout the day to effectively hydrate.

Here are a few more quick tips you may want to consider:

  • It is best to carry sunscreen and tissues or toilet paper on your way to the start. You never know when you will need them!
  • Check the weather conditions, but wait for your last-minute evaluation since weather predictions can vary, and often they are not final until a few hours before this event.
  • Recruit some friends or family members to be alongside the course to cheer you on. They will want you to run well, so take in all their energy and transform it into your own.
  • Just in case things don’t go well, have a pre-race plan to make sure you get safely home. (I hope this is one tip you will never have to use!)
  • And if things don’t go as well as you hope, you can always say: “But I did what Uta suggested, it must be her fault!” :)

During the countdown to my own marathon races, I always told myself, “Keep a Cool Focus …nothing can worry me now.” I would sleep well because my mind was filled with positive thoughts. I hope the same is true for you, and you can visualize yourself confidently running a great race alongside thousands of fellow runners. With that, I would like to wish everyone good luck and run well—I will be rooting for you! Have lots of fun and enjoy a great marathon experience! We run together for our Boston friends, for our human spirit.

Natalie Morales is running the Boston marathon to raise money for The One Fund, which supports victims of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing and their families, and the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which helps people with disabilities remain active in sports. Learn more and donate on Natalie's Crowdrise page

Uta Pippig won the Boston Marathon three times, the New York City marathon once, and the Berlin marathon three times. Born in what was then East Germany, she is now an American citizen based in Boulder, Colo., where she coaches runners, has a health foundation called Take the Magic Step and does motivational speaking with her Running To Freedom series.