After all these months of preparation and hard training, it’s time to focus on making race day the best experience it can be. We’d like to share a few thoughts on how to get the most from your marathon: our ten top tips for marathon race day.
Some of these ideas might sound tired and oft-repeated, but it’s well worth dwelling on them for a few minutes, because time and again even experienced runners find themselves victims of a few banana skins!…
In the days before the marathon
1. Stick with what you know
Now is not the time to start changing routines, habits or to experiment with new things. This applies particularly to two key areas:
- Kit: It might sound obvious, but don’t buy a pair of new shoes just before the marathon and wear them to run your 26.2. Make sure you have road-tested all your clothing and your shoes. It’s essential that clothes are completely comfortable and don’t chafe in unexpected places, so it’s a good idea to run a long training run in your full race-day kit. With shoes, it’s a good idea to wear a pair that you’ve worn in with around 100 miles of training.
- Food and drink: It’s probably unwise to start experimenting with new foods right before a marathon. Stick with an evening meal you would usually eat, and a breakfast that you know your digestive system will easily cope with. There’s no particular need to stuff lots of extra calories into your system – you’d probably just end up feeling bloated. The same applies to drink – it’s important to be well hydrated, but it can be dangerous to drink too much. So stick with what you know – eat and drink enough but not too much.
The marathon needs to be conquered by your mind as much as your body. Getting into a positive frame of mind is important. Spend time in the week before the marathon reflecting on the effort and training you’ve put in to get here, and focus on the things you are most proud of. Even if your training hasn’t quite gone to plan, ensure you focus on the positives, such as your resilience in sticking to your goal despite any set-backs.
It’s ok to feel nervous. The nerves are helpful, the adrenaline is a powerful tool to help you perform to the best of your ability. On the morning of the race, stay calm by breathing deeply and centering your thoughts on these positive ideas.
You are a marathon runner. You have done the hard work and now you have the opportunity to show your determination and give it your best effort in the race. Visualise yourself enjoying the cheers of the crowd, and visualise yourself crossing the finish line. You owe it to yourself to be positive and enjoy the experience.
(For more on this topic, see our recent article Mindset: Sport Psychology for Runners)
3. Be prepared
It can be helpful to minimise stress by ensuring you are well organised in advance and don’t leave preparations to the last minute. For example:
- Pack your bag at least one day before to make sure you’ve got everything you need.
- Plan your journey to the marathon start, including any different forms of transport and walking necessary.
- Leave plenty of time – make sure your planned journey gets you to the starting area with time to spare so that you’ve allowed for any unexpected delays.
- Plan with your supporters where they will be and what time you’re likely to get there (an optimistic and pessimistic time is helpful for them so they don’t miss you or start to worry – marathons can be very tiring for spectators too!).
Race day – preparation
4. Minimise annoying injury niggles
Think of the things that might cause an annoying injury or niggle that could spoil your marathon. Make sure you have short clipped toenails, for example, and that you’ve been liberal with the vaseline anywhere where chafing might start spoiling your fun.
The most discussed subject on any marathon feedback form: toilets.
If one thing is guaranteed at a marathon, there will be long queues for the toilets at the start. Beat the queues and make sure you don’t end up with 30 people still in front of you when you’re being called to the start line.
Also consider taking some toilet roll with you, as there’s often none left by the time you get there!
6. Start – stay warm
Most runners will only do a cursory warm up and dynamic stretch before a marathon because they want to conserve energy. It’s therefore important that you don’t get cold in the wait for the start. Take old clothing or bin bags which you can throw away once you’ve crossed the start line.
7. Yes, it’s the biggie: don’t go off too fast!
We’ve all heard it, but most marathoners have still done it anyway.
We all know it would be silly to start too fast. And yet it still happens. Perhaps we get tricked by the amazing sensation of how comfortable we feel at the beginning of the marathon. But after a proper taper all the tiredness in our legs has faded, this is exactly how we should be feeling. Or perhaps we just lose track of pace in all the excitement.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it all feels so easy, so maybe today is the day when everything finally comes together and you pull an unexpectedly fast time out of the bag. Well, that may be true, but it’s unlikely to happen by turning on the gas in the first few miles. Save the energy – you’ll definitely need it after 20 miles.
Most world marathon records have been set with negative splits (the second half quicker than the first). If you really are feeling on top form, then save the speed for later. The first half, or even 20 miles, is about ticking along, and following race strategy. If you still feel strong after that… lucky you – turn on the gas for a big finish.
8. Take the shortest route
Over the marathon distance you can add a surprising amount of unwanted extra distance by weaving and not taking a direct path. It’s easy to do without realising, especially if you’re running in a crowd and want to move around people. But be smart: ducking in and out could add half a mile to your total mileage, which is distance and time that you certainly don’t want.
9. GPS watch – don’t panic if you lose signal
In big city marathons, GPS signal can be lost. In London, for example, GPS signal often drops out going through the underpass towards the Isle of Dogs, sometimes going around Canary Wharf, and sometimes in the underpasses along Embankment. It’s helpful to know that this is likely to happen in advance, particularly if you are using your watch closely for pacing. But if it happens, don’t panic. Trust your running and listen to your body.
10. Enjoy yourself
Regardless of whether you hit your time goal, make sure you enjoy the event. A marathon is a thrilling, exhilarating, moving, motivating experience that restores any lost faith you may have had in humanity. Look around you at the other runners and why they are running, and at the crowds of spectators cheering you on. Even if things are not going to plan, make the most of the incredible experience and enjoy yourself – count yourself lucky to be there and live the moment!
Good luck for your marathon. Enjoy it!