Marathon Training and Racing Tips by Josh Cox

Josh Cox
Josh Cox knows a thing or two about running marathons. Tap into his wealth of knowledge and experience as you train and prepare to conquer 26.2 miles. For a complete Marathon training plan, visit the Training Plans sections on our Nutrition & Training page.

What to eat the night before:

The cardinal rule of running marathons: “Don’t do anything new on race day.” This applies to the night before as well. You want race weekend to be turnkey. A way to facilitate this is to practice all aspects of the marathon in training. Most marathoners complete a long run each week, something my teammates and I do twice a month is a workout called the Marathon Simulation. The workout is 8-12 miles at a steady clip, typically about 45-60 seconds slower than race pace, then 8-10 miles at goal marathon pace. During this workout we practice anything and everything we encounter during a race – it’s a dress rehearsal, if you will. But the simulation extends beyond the borders of the run itself; part of the practice includes our prerace meals, including what I call my “last supper” – the name always seems fitting before pushing my body to its limit for 26.2 miles. I like to eat an early dinner, at 5 or 6 pm. This gives the food plenty of time to digest.

There are always fun, exciting meal options in town before a race but this isn’t the time to try exotic food you’ve always wanted – unless that’s part of your usual routine. My personal meal of choice: a hefty serving of rice with some grilled fish… if I’m still hungry I’ll have some more rice.

Dress the invisible man the night before: Lay out your warm-up gear, pin your race number to your singlet, put your timing tag on your shoe, and have your gloves, socks, beanie, and anything else you use, on the floor ready to go. Race morning is stressful enough, no need to be scrambling for your gear.

Fueling during long workouts and races: During a race I rely on PowerGel® Energy Gel and water. The gels have 200 mg of sodium, which is the main electrolyte lost in sweat. My water bottles on race day have a PowerGel® Energy Gel mixed in with 5 ounces of water.

My prerace routine: I wake up 3.5 hours before the start, have a coffee, eat a cup of white rice, half a PowerBar® Performance Energy Bar, sip some water or electrolyte drink and just before the start I have a caffeinated PowerGel® Energy Gel.

What to eat on a day to day basis for recovery: Most folks go to great lengths to plan their workouts but fail to plan for their recovery. Having a proper nutrition plan is key. In addition to fueling during workouts, it’s important to replenish glycogen and protein stores within 30 minutes after exercise. I like to pack a PowerBar® ProteinPlus® Bar, some fresh fruit, and a pre-mixed bottle of water with PowerBar® Recovery Sports Drink. This holds me over until I can have my real lunch.

Day to day tips: Eat every three hours, staying lean is about caloric maintenance. To lose weight you need a negative caloric balance – expending more energy than you’re taking in. You gain weight when you’re taking in more than you’re expending. Staying hydrated with water plays a vital role in both cell function and weight loss.

What to eat after a marathon: Immediately after finishing I get some calories in – typically, I’m not ready for a big meal so I’ll grab a banana and have a protein shake with some fruit. Once I’m ready to really eat I celebrate with my favorites: nachos, burgers, fries… pretty much anything I can get my hands on. One of my favorite pastimes back home in California is going to In-n-Out® Burger restaurant* and ordering a “4x4 Animal Style” – you won’t find it on the menu but they’re happy to make one. It’s a monstrosity, completely amazing, 4 patties, cheese, grilled onions, and I get ketchup instead of the spread. I maintain a strict diet for months leading up to a big race, the week after the marathon is my time to celebrate and indulge.

How much water during training and racing: Hydration is key, not only during exercise, but all the time. Being even slightly dehydrated has a profound negative effect on our ability to perform at our best. Generally speaking, you should always have a bottle of water nearby.

Hone your speed with strides + fartleks: A fartlek, the Swedish word for “speedplay”, is a system of training for distance runners in which the terrain and pace are continually varied to eliminate boredom and enhance psychological aspects of conditioning.

An easy way to gain more leg speed during training is to add in strides after your easy runs. I like to perform these the day before any quality session (intervals, tempos and long runs). A stride is roughly a 100 meter sprint where the first 20 meters is getting up to top speed and the final 20 is slowing down. It’s not an exact science, 8-15 seconds at top speed is great for most. Take full recovery between sprints, walk back to the start or if you’re at the track sprint the straights and walk the curves, or better yet, take to the grass and run diagonals, use the same method and run corner to corner and walk the goal line (the width of the field) to the other corner and repeat. This will wake the legs up and give you the speed you need in workouts and races.

Good Luck!
-Josh Cox, PowerBar® Team Elite™ member, U.S. 50k Record Holder, four-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier


*In-n-Out is a trademark of In-N-Out Burgers Corporation.
About The Author

PowerBar® Team Elite™ member, U.S. 50k Record Holder, and four-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier

Information presented by PowerBar is intended to impart general sports nutrition and training information. PowerBar is not engaged in rendering medical advice or services. Be sure to consult your doctor as needed, including when undertaking a new diet or training program. Advance consultation with your doctor is particularly important if you are under eighteen (18), pregnant, breastfeeding, or have health problems. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on PowerBar’s site.