Last-minute tips to prep for Flying Pig race day

Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-28 12:35:32-04

“You start running when you’re a little kid … It’s a natural experience. It doesn’t take a lot of coaching. It doesn’t take a lot of experience. It doesn’t take any fancy equipment. It really just takes time and effort.” — Matthew Busam, M.D., Cincinnati Sports Medicine Mercy Health

On your mark. Get set … 

Runners from across the Tri-State, and around the country, are counting down to Cincinnati’s 18th annual Flying Pig Marathon.

Race day is Sunday, May 1.  It’s the culmination of months of training — short runs, long runs, aching legs, sore feet, lots of sweat and maybe even a few tears.

Whether you run a half-marathon, relay, or the full 26.2-mile course, it takes mental toughness, physical stamina and sheer determination to complete the run.

As runners log the final miles on their training schedules, we asked Dr. Matthew Busam, an orthopedic surgeon at Cincinnati Sports Medicine Mercy Health, for a few last-minute tips on how to enjoy a safe and healthy race. Busam, an avid runner, ran the full Flying Pig last year and plans to run the half-marathon this year.


Q: It’s less than a week before the race.  Many runners have been vigilant in following their training schedule. What else should they be doing and thinking as they approach race day?  

A: First, understand that your fitness level is what it’s going to be. You’re not going to gain fitness in the last four or five days. Your goal is to make sure you’re not getting hurt and that you are recovering enough to be ready to perform at the optimum level.

Mentally, you might feel like you need to run. You’ve been putting in four, five, sometimes six days a week of training. So be active:  

  • Do light jogging or walking. 
  • Stay loose, flexible and comfortable.
  • Think about the distance that you’re going to run, but understand you don’t need to get any extra mileage during the final week to be ready to run the race. 

Q: What should runners eat during the final days before the race?

A: Nutritionally speaking, the key thing the last few days before the race is: Don’t try anything new. You don’t want any new experiences or exotic foods that your body is not used to. The last thing that you want to experience is stomach upset or GI (gastrointestinal) distress (heartburn, indigestion, bloating and constipation) the morning of the race.

Regarding your diet, keep eating and drinking the way you’ve been doing it for 14-16-18 weeks that’s worked for you and don’t do anything different. Don’t carbo-load if you haven’t been doing that already.

Q: What about timing your meal before the race?

A: One challenge — the race starts at 6 a.m. If you typically run at midday after eating, you need to get up at 3 a.m. and eat something so you have digested your food and are fueled for the race. If you get up at 5 a.m. and run without eating, do it the same way.

Q:  What type of shoes should runners wear?

A: The key is to wear shoes that you have experience running in. Don’t get a new pair at the expo, put them on and then go run that marathon. You’re going to blister, and you’re going to have problems. And you don’t want to wear a pair of shoes that you’ve already put 400 or 500 miles in either. Instead, wear a pair of shoes that you’ve certainly put some mileage in, broken in, and you’re comfortable in.

Q: What kind of stretching and warm-up should you do the morning before the race?

A: Maintaining flexibility is important, but lots of static stretching before the race really isn’t going to change a whole lot. Over the course of your training, hopefully, you maintained your strength and your flexibility to allow you to run pain-free and train without injury. The morning of the race, getting a good warm-up is going to be sufficient: a few minutes on your feet getting in a light jog or some strides; making sure those tight muscles from the evening are ready to go.


Q: What should I eat during the race?

A: You’re going to need to fuel, roughly every hour.  If you’re on your feet for three, four, five, and six hours, sometimes during a marathon distance you’re going to need to take in fuel, roughly every hour.  During the race, they’re going to pass out fuel packets and there will be people handing out oranges, gummy bears, Jolly Ranchers or things like that. Similar to the time before the race, during the race  you don’t want to try any new food products. You don’t want to eat or drink something and realize all of a sudden, “That’s making me sick.” 

Q: Should I drink water or Gatorade during the race? And does it really matter?

A: You want to make sure that you hydrate appropriately, but not excessively. Trying to pound water continually can actually hurt you because you will dilute your salt stores. The body has a natural amount of electrolytes, which are composed of sodium and potassium, to be “normal.” If you are sweating out a lot of salt and only replace the water, your body will have too little salt. That will make it hard for the muscles to contract and for you to think normally. If you sweat heavily, make sure to have electrolyte replacement in the mix and not just water or your muscles will have a hard time responding to the demands you are putting on them. That’s where Gatorade fits in.

Q: How often should I take water or Gatorade?

A: You should drink more frequently than you feel thirsty, but again, don’t replace only water. Use some of the Gatorade, too. One warning: If you have never had lemon-lime endurance Gatorade warm, you may need to get used to it ahead of time.

Q: Some runners experience cramps during a race. What can runners do to deal with cramping during a race?

A: Cramping is a pretty natural experience through the course of a long-distance run like a marathon. One key thing to do if you start to experience some cramps is to get to a water station and take in some electrolytes. So think about some Gatorade or fuel that they have at that station as opposed to just pure water. Try to replenish some of your salt stores. See if you can get back out there, but if you continue to limp, or if you notice something starting to swell, it's probably best to walk off the course.

Q: Some runners experience pain during a race. What can runners expect? Is it OK to push through the pain? 

A: First of all, understand, the marathon is a long distance, and you’re going to experience some pain. Over the course of your training, runners can experience lots of different injuries, including low back pain, hip pain, knee pain, ankle pain and foot pain.

Once you've made it to the starting line, only a few things would really concern me:

  • If you notice something swelling
  • If you start limping
  • If you experience discomfort that comes on sharply and really starts to limit or change your form

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s probably a good thing to think about walking off the course and coming back to fight another day. If you’re not dramatically limping and the distance to the end of the race is relatively short, it's OK to push as best you can.


The 2016 Flying Pig Marathon starts in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, May 1. Race time is 6:30 a.m. Runners and spectators can get more information about the event here.

WATCH 11-time marathoner and Editor in Chief Mike Canan talk rain, lightning and chafing prevention for the Flying Pig Marathon in the player below.