Seasoned marathon runners give their best race day tips for first-timers

The carbs are being eaten, the hard work has been done. But what should you keep in mind on the day itself?

Imy Brighty-Potts
Monday 17 April 2023 07:00 BST
If the London Marathon is your first, get ready for an exciting route (Alamy/PA)
If the London Marathon is your first, get ready for an exciting route (Alamy/PA)

However prepared you may feel for your first marathon, it is still a huge, amazing challenge to take on, and nerves will be inevitable.

But, there is a reason people go on to run countless marathons – and there is plenty to be learned from them.

As London Marathon (April 23) – and marathon season in general – is approaching, what can we learn from seasoned long-distance runners who take on 26.2 miles time and time again?

Here’s their advice…

1. Get there early

“Give yourself plenty of time to get to the start,” says Alice Ball, who is running her seventh marathon in London this year, “that includes enough time for one final trip to the portaloo before you have to be in your pen. Queues for portaloos for the world majors, in particular, can be long, but that final wee or more is a necessity, believe me.”

2. Don’t try anything new on race day

However many times you have run marathons, changing anything at the last minute could be a race-ruiner.

“Everyone says it, but believe it,” says Ball. “You want to eat the same breakfast you have on your training runs, use the same fueling strategy, etc. Most races have carb gels or electrolytes on the course, but unless you have specifically practised with these brands I wouldn’t risk it. Carry what you need.”

3. Do it in chunks

You are about to run a long way – but frame it differently.

“Don’t stand on that start line thinking about the looming 26.2 miles you have to run. Chunk it up into smaller distances: a 10k, a half marathon, one final Parkrun when you’re near the finish,” suggests Ball.

4. Visualise success

You may need a boost to remind you just how worth it the run will be.

“Visualise it: I picture myself crossing the finish line at every race, the feeling of wearing that medal. I tell myself, ‘You’ve got this’, repeatedly throughout the race and at points when it’s feeling hard,” says Ball.

5. Create a ritual

Whether it is wearing one specific hat, eating porridge with the same toppings before every long run or even a pair of lucky pants, use routine to get you in the mood.

Ball says: “My ritual the evening before any race is to play Heather Small’s ‘Proud’ on repeat. It’s a bit corny, but it puts me in the right headspace and allows me to picture that finish line feeling.”

6. Accept that the real challenge is mental and prepare for that too

Sally Brider ran the 2023 Tokyo Marathon aged 59 and is set to complete her sixth Abbott World Major in 2024. She’s an advocate for women getting into running at any age and an ASICS FrontRunner.

Brider advises: “Prepare your mind as well as your body because it will get tough during that 26.2 miles.

“Our mind often gives up long before our legs do! What often helps here is to ‘Remember your why’. Are you running for a charity, in memory of someone special or is it for a personal goal?

“Everyone running on marathon day has their own reason. When things get tough tap into this reason and a positive mindset. Tell yourself you can do this and most definitely eliminate any negative mind chatter.”

7. Open your eyes and enjoy it

This is special. Make sure you enjoy it.

“You’ve been training for 16 weeks and this is your celebration,” says Brider. “When you see the sign that says ‘1km to go’ you are nearly there so make sure that you really take it all in.

“I have run the Paris Marathon with people that don’t remember seeing the Eiffel Tower… don’t do this! Crossing that finish line and getting your medal is a moment you will always remember so make sure you’re smiling for the photographer. Marathons are not easy, if they were everyone would have a marathon finishers’ medal. You’re joining a club that is less than 1% of the world’s population.”

8. Avoid caffeinating throughout

It may be tempting to try and keep your energy levels up throughout. But, 31-time marathon runner and coach Ania Gabb advises against it.

“Don’t have too much caffeine during the race as it may cause stomach cramps. Mix up your gels between regular and caffeinated,” she advises.

9. Pack dry food too

Around the marathon and during, you will feel hungry and gels will not be enough on their own to keep your energy up and stop your tummy from rumbling.

“While you wait for the race to start you may want to nibble on some cereal or something similar to keep your energy up,” Gabb advises, knowing the long wait at the start line well.

10. Pack warm clothes and flip flops

When you go to collect your bag, “you will really need some warm clothes and comfy shoes like flip-flops to change into at the finish”, Gabb says.

11. Find out where people will see you most clearly on the route

Having friends and family in the crowd along the way will be a godsend.

For London Marathon, Gabb says “miles 21 to 23 is the best place to stand because you will see the runners on both sides”.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in