With less than three weeks to go before the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on February 16, the idea of running just over 42 km non-stop is fast becoming a reality. If this is your first marathon, here are a few tips to make sure all that hard work and dedication pays off and you have an enjoyable and successful race. If possible, drive the course to give you a sense of what you're up against. Even though this race isn't considered a hilly marathon, knowing the contours of the course in advance will help. On the day of the race, wake up at least three hours before the gun goes off in order to get some food into you and properly digested. Make sure you eat what you are used to. Don't experiment with some new type of food you just read about in a fitness magazine. If you get caught up in the masses at the start line, don't panic and waste energy trying to fight your way through. The crowd usually thins out in the first five minutes anyway. Then you can increase your speed and settle with a pack that's at your pace. A hint about pacing: thanks to the adrenalin pulsing through your body, you're going to feel and run faster than in training. If anything, run on the slow side until you hit the 16 kilometre mark. Any seconds you lose at the beginning are more than made up later in the race. The need for hydration cannot be over emphasised. Don't start to hydrate the morning of the race. It's too late by then. Begin 48 hours before the race, and drink even if you don't feel thirsty. The type and amount of fluid during the race is also important. During your training runs, practise drinking one of the many sports drinks on the market. Or better yet, practise using the type of drink offered at the aid stations. Don't just drink plain, hypotonic water. There's a small risk of developing 'water intoxication' (hyponatremia) and research has proven that you'll run better, faster and longer drinking a sports drink that includes electrolytes (such as potassium, magnesium and sodium). If the race doesn't provide these at the aid stations, carry your own in a waist pack, for example. Make sure you practise drinking a few gulps every 15 minutes or so while running before the race. It's not as easy as it looks. Don't wear a new pair of shoes, socks, or any other type of clothing. Any discomfort will only be exacerbated during the race. Warm up before the race but not too much. Jog very easily for about 15 minutes and then stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and lower back for another 15 minutes. For at least 10 days before the race, start to cut back on your distance until you are running less than 50 per cent of your highest weekly distance the week before. But don't fill it up with other activities. Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates but don't start eating every meal as if it's your last. You don't want to put on weight going into the race either. The day before the race, keep your feet elevated as much as possible. Going on a shopping binge is not a good idea. If you've followed these few basic guidelines you probably won't need any food energy. However, everybody is different, so make sure you know your limits and, if necessary, carry an energy bar with you. Good luck, and have a great race.