Race Day Tips for Your First Marathon

racedayM1_fThe final few weeks of training and the days leading up to your first marathon are going to put you on an emotional roller coaster ride, but you can find confidence in your training. Look over your training plan and think about everything you have done to get to this point. You have earned this chance at glory.

The Taper

The final phase of marathon training is called the taper. All of the miles and effort you put into preparation has left your body in a depleted and damaged state. The taper period allows for a full recovery while maintaining the benefits of prior training.

As your mileage dwindles, you may experience what I refer to as taper tantrums. The crazy mood swings that are caused by excessive energy coupled with anxiety and self-doubt. It’s completely normal to feel this way, but as I said in training section, you have to trust the plan.

Carbohydrates, proteins and hydration are the three big components to eating well before your marathon. You want your body to be full of fuel and energy. Try to eat less fats, avoid junk, and consume less alcohol. You’ll be burning fewer calories during the taper phase, so make each one count by eating healthy foods.


As race day gets closer, you’ll want to consider all of your travel and lodging details to make sure that everything will be as easy as possible on race weekend. If you are making your race part of a larger family trip, be sure to plan for more than just the race. Keep in mind you are going to be in bed early the night before the race and sightseeing on foot will not be a part of your pre-race routine. And, after the race you’ll want some quiet time followed by some easy walking and a lot of eating.

Bring your own food.

Eating healthy meals and race-friendly foods can be a challenge when traveling. Bring along some staples like bagels, pretzels, and fruit. Remember that security rules will prohibit you from bringing peanut butter, energy drinks, and some other food items. It may be a good idea to go shopping for a few of these things after you arrive.

Stick to your routine.

Be a creature of habit. Be sure to eat and sleep as you would at home. Not only will this make things easier on your children, but it will help minimize the disruption to your body’s internal clock.

Don’t walk too much.

This sounds like it might be an easy rule to follow, but it’s one that I have struggled with more than any other. If you walk around the city to see the sights, you may be surprised how many miles you rack up over the course of the day. When I visited San Diego last year for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, I covered 12 miles the day before the race. Tough to run your best on tired legs.

Use your maps and apps.

Use your smartphone to make your life easier. Map out your destinations ahead of time. A bird’s eye view of your location in real-time makes it easy if you get lost or need help finding your destination. You can even use a GPS app and follow the prompts as if you were in a car. I also depend upon apps like UrbanSpoon to help me find decent restaurants when I am in a new place. If you’re a Twitter user, check out the hashtag for your race. Many times other runners are posting helpful pre and post-race suggestions.

Plan for your fans.

Your fans are the most important people in your life. Plan a vacation that you’d all enjoy even if the race is cancelled. On race day, pick out your post-race meeting locations and find some good cheering spots along the course. Seeing your family or friends along the race course will boost your spirits and make them a part of your fantastic racecation experience.

Marathon Pacing

On race day if you go out too fast you’ll end up paying a heavy toll for your foolish exuberance. The race may be 26.2 miles long, but it doesn’t begin until mile 20.

1.  Set a realistic goal and stick to the plan.

You have spent months training for this race. You know if you’re on track to hit your goals based on your recent workouts. Now is not the time to be overly ambitious. Think about your fueling strategy, your race gear, your goal pace, and visualize success in meeting your goals on race day. When the cannon fires and the crowds cheer, be disciplined and stick to your race plan.

2.  Steady as she goes.

Try your best to be consistent in your mile splits. If anything, you want your first miles to be slower than your last. There is nothing worse than running out of steam with 6 miles left to go. Check your pace every mile and adjust accordingly. The first half should be easy (green light), the next 7 a bit tougher but still not hard (yellow light), and the last 6 define your race.

There is no such thing as “time in the bank.” You can’t run 6:30 for the first 13.1, and assume that the next 13.1 will be an easy 7:30 pace, to result in an overall race pace of 7:00 per mile. It doesn’t work that way. Your spending your retirement savings in your 20’s and hoping it’ll be fine. It won’t be. The fatigue is cumulative and the miles get harder as you continue towards the finish line.

3.  Adapt to the terrain.

If your marathon course isn’t flat as a pancake, you’ll have to account for a change in pace when you run up and down hills. Try to maintain the same level of effort as you run. You may slow down a bit on the inclines, but you’ll also speed up a bit when you coast back down the other side. Be careful to give yourself enough wiggle room to account for terrain changes.

Each course is different. Do your research ahead of time by looking at the course maps, visiting the course for a preview, or by talking to others that have run the race before. If you’re running Chicago, Boston, New York or any other big race, you’ll find tons of information online to help you develop the right race strategy.

4.  “Know when to walk away, know when to run.”

Thank you Kenny Rogers for your marathon wisdom. Sometimes things just don’t go well. Life happens. If it’s not your day, and you know it before you hit the halfway point, consider shutting it down. You don’t have to throw away your training. Count your effort as a tough workout, and sign up for the next marathon you see. Or, just walk and jog, and enjoy the spectacle of the marathon without the pressures of racing.

Bill Rodgers, 4-time winner of the New York City and Boston marathons, dropped out of the 1973 Boston Marathon at mile 21. He said “You want to be one of those runners who can succeed and not be in the medical tent after the race.” (Yankee Magazine)

5.  Where the mind goes, the body will follow.

The mental aspects of running a marathon would take entire volumes to cover adequately. Let’s just say that to run 26.2 miles takes concentration, willpower, and extraordinary mental toughness. Tanzanian marathoner Juma Ikangaa once said “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” Toughness comes from training and believing in yourself.

Many runners have mantras that help them when the race becomes difficult. The Kenyan runners are known to use the phrase “Keep going, lion.” Think about why you wanted to run a marathon in the first place, and that may help you come up with your own meaningful mantra to use on race day. Good mental discipline will help you stick to your pace and meet your race goals.

How to Run the Marathon Like a Pro


We all know that it takes some serious training to prepare your body for the rigors of a 26.2 mile race, but did you know your breakfast can make or break your race? I spoke with Andy Potts, 4th place finisher in this year’s Ironman World Championship, about what it takes to make it through a grueling endurance race. His advice was simple and straight-forward, eat what agrees with you a couple of hours before the race.

For some it’s eggs and bacon, for others it’s a bowl of oatmeal. The essential takeaway is to eat something that you know won’t cause you any stomach issues. The last thing you want to do before a race is eat something new, or grab race fuel that you’ve never tried before. Be predictable.

When it comes to race strategy, Gwen Jorgensen, the 2014 World Triathlon Series World Champion says stick to your plan. Go over your goals, determine your splits and fueling strategy and visualize the race. On race day, don’t get carried away early in the race. Instead, remember your plan and follow it all the way to the finish line.


What do you think about to stay focused and race efficiently even when it feels like the wheels are about to come off? Surprisingly, you might want to think about your elbows. When everything hurts and your thighs or your calves are screaming for attention, divert your attention by focusing on a body part that doesn’t hurt.

Another mental trick is to focus on the what got you to the starting line. Deena Kastor, American record holder in the marathon and half-marathon and Olympic bronze medalist, says that you can find confidence in your hard work. She reviews her training log before race day and finds conviction and credence in her earlier workouts.


To get through the marathon you need to call upon a higher power. For each of us, that means something different. Coach Andrew Kastor says that an event like the New York City Marathon offers inspiration everywhere you look. The girl who hands you water along the course might be inspired by you to come back as a runner one day.

Every runner has a story. Each one of the 50,000 competitors serves as an inspiration to someone in their community. This event is more than just a foot race, it’s a testament to the human spirit.

Ryan Hall, American record holder in the half marathon, says that we should give thanks every time we run. Even bad workouts are a gift. The act of running alone is something to be cherished.

Andy Potts suggests finding inspiration and keeping it close when times are tough. He thinks of his children and strives to make them proud when self-doubt begins to creep in. His advice is simple and effective: “Smile through the sticky moments.”

Every runner who navigates the cold and windy marathon course through the five boroughs of New York City this Sunday has a chance to do something inspirational. With the right training, the right attitude, and a dose of inspiration, you too can run the race of a lifetime.

50 Race Day Tips for Your First Marathon

Congratulations on making it to the starting line after months of training.  Here are some practical tips to help you run your very best on marathon race day. Good luck and Godspeed!

  1. Plan your transportation to the starting area
  2. Plan your transportation from the finish area
  3. Pick a post-race meeting place for friends & family and write it the back of your bib
  4. Run for a charity cause when possible
  5. Drink coffee or tea, but no more than 2 cups before racing
  6. Clip your toenails
  7. Eat lots of carbs all week, switch to white pasta and breads 2 days before your race
  8. No spicy food the day before
  9. Make lunch your biggest meal the day before the race or eat dinner early
  10. Pick out everything you’ll wear, try it on, and set it out the night before
  11. Pack a throwaway bag with snacks, fluids, and Vaseline to take to start
  12. Don’t wear new shoes
  13. Wear the same type of gear you trained in. Be predictable.
  14. Write your full name and emergency contact details on back of your bib
  15. Pin your number to your shirt the night before
  16. Go to bed early but read or watch TV if you can’t sleep due to anxiety
  17. Set more than one alarm clock and have a buddy call you just in case
  18. Eat something like oatmeal and bananas in the morning, avoid fats
  19. No massage the week before your race, no cross-training, be conservative
  20. Sleep well the week before, night before isn’t as crucial
  21. Don’t walk around sightseeing, save your legs for the marathon
  22. Double knot your laces, but leave just a little room for your feet to swell
  23. If it’s cold bring gloves and hat from dollar store and throw away once you’re warmed up
  24. Bring toilet paper to the start
  25. Bring a trash bag to the start to sit on
  26. Bring a bottle of water or sports drink to sip, not guzzle, before the race starts
  27. Use an extra pinch of salt on your food the week before
  28. Wear warm clothes while waiting to start and leave them in charity bins
  29. Being nervous is part of it, trust in your training and your taper
  30. Visualize reaching your goal and crossing the finish with your arms raised in celebration
  31. Drink a little bit at each water stop or at least rinse your mouth out
  32. Only drink water with your energy gels
  33. Avoid puddles, potholes, and curbs
  34. Start at a slower pace than you hope to finish (negative splits)
  35. Aim to run an even goal race pace if possible
  36. Temperature, wind, and hills will make things harder and slower, adjust your expectations accordingly
  37. Try to run the tangents when you go around corners, the distance adds up
  38. Fatigue will visit you, be ready to kick it’s ass when it does
  39. During the last 6 miles, everybody hurts. This is what you signed up for.
  40. Stand up straight, you’ll breathe easier
  41. Look where you’re going and you’ll get there faster, keep your head high
  42. Listen to the crowd cheer and feed of their positive energy
  43. Write your name on your shirt so people can cheer for YOU
  44. Wear band-aids or something extra over your nipples to avoid chafing in wet conditions
  45. Wear sunglasses to avoid squinting and stay relaxed
  46. Put plenty of Vaseline on any hot spots before you start
  47. Tape over existing blisters with band-aids and duct tape
  48. Fuel the way you did during your long run training
  49. Smile at the photographers, a picture is forever
  50. High five the kids along the race course and enjoy the experience

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