Marathon Race Day Tips

A crowd of people standing on a sidewalk in front of a building.

As the ground thaws and the birds start chirping, the distances get longer. That’s right, people: it’s marathon season!

Lining up at the Atlantic City Marathon, October, 2014.

While you can find a marathon during any time of this year, the spring and fall seasons have many, many options.

Marathons involve a long-term commitment to training – ideally four months of training focused specifically for your marathon. But, if you are BRAND NEW to running or coming off the couch, we would recommend at least a year of solid training or more to avoid injury.

If you are running a marathon soon, here are our top marathon race day tips for preparation the day before the race and strategies for the day of the race. 

Pre-Race Prep

  • Packet Pickup. If you can, pick up your race packet the day before the race. For many larger races, this is a mandatory requirement. But, even if you are doing a smaller race, I highly recommend it. Race morning can be chaotic. Avoiding that fray is important.
  • Gear Organization. Set out all of your race gear the night before. This will save you time in the morning, and it also helps to calm pre-race jitters. Use a checklist, such as the customizable one available from
  • Have your food ready to go: breakfast, race nutrition, hydration, post-race recovery food/drink. John and I will put our drinks in the refrigerator, and then all we have to do in the morning is pop them in a cooler (which we place strategically by the door), add some ice and off we go.
  • Pre-pack your car the night before. Of course, not everything can be packed the night before, but try to place all those items that can be packed away. Again, this saves valuable time in the morning.
  • Create a list of tasks you must complete on race morning. This list should also include any last minute items you need to pack. That way, there’s no guessing, and all you need to do is simply follow your list.

Race day

Mental Game

  • Keep your excitement level to a 4 on a scale of 10. It is very easy to get taken up in the pre-race excitement of race morning. Don’t get sucked into it. Stay calm in your heart, and focused in your mind. Focus on the present moment, and stick to your race plan. When you cross the finish line, that is the time to let your excitement out!
  • Focus on what YOU are doing, not others. While I like to focus on people in front of me and try to catch them, I also need to keep my focus on my plan. Don’t let someone else knock you off your game – mental or physical.
  • Smile–even if you aren’t feeling it. Or, I should say ESPECIALLY when you aren’t feeling it.
  • Send out positive energy and feel it come back to you. This is clearly connected to the previous tip-but can include more than a smile. Yell “woop! Woop!” to the crowd and just enjoy all the energy they throw back at you.
  • Work through the rough patches. At some point, the run will become a matter of mental will. Recognize the sensations, think about them objectively, and realize that it’s a temporary condition, a consequence of your hard work. Shift your focus to positive thoughts, and soon enough, those annoying pains will shift out of your attention. Don’t give in to the negative voices. They are liars.
  • VisualizationA way to help you work through the rough patches is to visualize the finish line and how good it will feel to cross that final timing mat.

Race Strategy

  • Stay warm before the start but don’t overdress for the race. Spring marathons often start in chilly mornings. Consider buying an inexpensive sweatshirt and sweat pants that you can take off at the starting line and won’t
    pharmacy no prescription

    mind leaving there. (Thrift shops are great resources!) Race directors, especially for the big races, know there will be clothing left behind and typically have the leftover clothing sent to goodwill. You don’t want to overdress for the race itself. You’ll be warm enough by mile 2.
  • Start smart. This is perhaps my number one tip for distance racing. Let all the hot shots go out fast and burn out. I love catching them later, feeling all perky and strong. Once you go anaerobic, it’s hard to get that energy back.
  • Now is not the time to be unique. DON’T TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY! Wear clothing and shoes you’ve trained with (be careful of too new and too old shoes), eat food you practiced with during training–including breakfast.
  • Stick to a race plan but if it starts to go off the rails, switch to plan b. And don’t let yourself get mentally freaked by it. Stay in your head and keep moving forward.
Here John is fueling up his bottles for the 100 mile ultramarathon at the NJ Ultra Festival on March 23, 2013. You can see his race report here.


  • Use the same nutrition strategy you practiced in training. This means, of course, that you practiced a fueling strategy in training. Don’t mix things up. It’s tough to have to call it a day because your gut shuts down on you. This nutrition strategy also includes breakfast on race morning!
  • Get what you need at the aid stations. This may mean you need to slow down or even walk a few steps. I know, this advice seems to fly in the face of all tips for enhancing speed. Make certain to get the fluids and/or food that you need down my throat, rather than all over the front of you.
  • Pinch the cupWhen you get a cup, pinch it. It makes it easier to drink the fluids.
  • Be vocal. Tell the volunteers what you want, or point at them. They’ll know that you intend to come to them for water/gel/whatever and they’ll be prepared for you, allowing for a smooth hand off.

Post race:

  • Celebrate! Do you really need me to explain how to do this?
  • Ice, ice, baby. Within an hour or so of finishing the race, a cold soak in an ice bath – or even a cold shower – can aid with recovery from the effort.
  • Walk. While you likely just want to crawl into a nice warm corner of your bed or couch, resist that temptation. Move around with some easy walking before finally settling into a prone position. This will promote blood flow and aid with recovery.
  • Take it easy. Don’t get back into heavy training too soon–especially after your first marathon. A general rule of thumb is that it takes 3 weeks to fully recover (of course, this will vary by individual). You greatly increase your chance of injury if you get back into full training too soon. This doesn’t mean you don’t do anything, it just means you should keep it on the easy and short side. This period is also great for cross training.
  • What’s next? Go online and research your next marathon – they are terribly addictive!

Perhaps most importantly: have fun!

Setting and accomplishing a goal is an incredibly fulfilling and joyful experience. sure, there may be a little bit of pain along the way, but that is nothing compared to the feeling you will have as you cross the finish line. And, part of the fun is enjoying the comaraderie and community of other runners. Smile, wave, and give encouragement. I have no doubt your effort will be returned in kind. Runners are some of the best people I know. 😉


What are your go-to marathon tips and tricks? Do you have a pre-race routine you have to follow?

Marathon Race Day Tips
Scroll to top

Accessibility Toolbar