With 95 marathons so far I’ve made every mistake possible (and some that probably aren’t) so distilled below is my ‘wisdom’ so you don’t have to make the mistakes.
Stick to the plan
- You’ve tested your breakfast , your snacks.
- You’ve tested your pre-race poop strategy.
- You’ve tested what you’re going to run in.
- You’ve tested what fuel and hydration you’ll take on during your run.
- You’ve tested sunglasses, hat or headband.
- (If you have long hair like me (cough cough)) You’ve tested what combination of plaits/bunches/dreadlocks/Mohawk works best for you.
- You’ve planned what to leave in your drop bag for after the race (warm hoodie, wet wipes, dry clothes).
- You’ve planned what to wear whilst waiting in your start pen (bin bags are a good look).
- You’ve decided what pace you’re going to run and tested it in training.
Go in your kit
Wear extra layers on top but ideally the first items you put on that morning are your complete running kit. From trainers to hat you should have everything you need to run – especially your bib and timing chip!
Travelling several hours from home to realise you’re still wearing the beat up flip flops you use to put the bins out is not ideal. If you end up running late you don’t want to be getting changed on the train and showing the world your unmentionables as you try to squeeze out of your skinny jeans and slide on your running gear.
This is not a parkrun. You can’t wander up 2 minutes before, lob your hoodie in a bush for later and set off.
Allow time for several things to go wrong. Hopefully they won’t and you can sit down under a tree, relax and soak up the atmosphere. If they do go wrong you’ve got time to spare.
You need to allow to get to the venue through busy traffic and park/walk from bus/lock up bike. Everything will take longer than you expect.
Join a toilet queue. Then double check you have everything you need and queue to drop off bag. Then toilet queue again. Then warm up muscles. Then join the crowd to the start pens. Then realise you need a wee again, join the queue again and rejoin pen. Then set off.
Things can go wrong
Trains run late, cars breakdown. Parking and traffic management can take time. If you’ve trained months for this spending countless hours pounding away you don’t want to blow it because you spent an extra 30mins in bed getting beauty sleep. No amount of beauty sleep will improve the finishing photos.
Avoid goal creep
You’ve planned and practised a pace. Your taper has worked and you feel great so likely this will feel easy. Don’t be tempted to increase the pace. If you get to mile 20 and feel good then push, NOT at mile 3. Every minute too fast on the first half will cost you two on the second. Get tricked into aiming for a 4h45 rather than your planned 5h and you’ll likely blow up and miss the 5h.
Stick to the plan – but also adapt!
If something goes wrong on the race don’t panic.
- You reach down for your final gel to realise it’s fallen out. All hope is not lost – swig an energy drink and power on.
- Your Garmin goes flat. You have no idea what pace you’re doing – rely on mile markers and ask other runners, run on feel. If it feels too fast slow down.
- The gel makes you gag and you threaten to vomit it up – stop taking them. Stomach cramps and hair matted with sick will slow you more than a marginal loss in fuel.
- You didn’t see a loved one at mile 12. Now you’re miserable – they’re probably stuck in crowds or maybe they saw you but you missed them. Keep going.
- It’s way hotter than your practice runs – tip water over your head, bin some clothes, roll up sleeves, run in shade when able.
Most importantly – Enjoy!
This is your first marathon. <1% of the population have run a marathon so you’re joining an exclusive club. Whether you glide across the line in a world record time or drag yourself like a drunken student just before the cut off everyone has covered the same distance and has earned the medal.