The ‘Insiders Guide’ For First Time Marathoners


“Nothing new on race day”

“Run the tangents”

“Carbo load”

“Don’t go out too fast”

…. blah blah blah.

Pick up pretty much any running magazine or read any running website and you’re almost guaranteed to see the same 5-10 pieces of advice for new marathoners.

Now, this information is not incorrect – it’s just that in the year 2019, it’s pretty standard fare.

Below are 14 tips that you likely won’t get from checking out that running magazine in the supermarket checkout line.

1. Leave Time For #1 and #2

As you can imagine, race day brings about a lot of pre-race jitters and with that, long lines for the Porta-Potties. You’re already got enough on your mind that you don’t need to add the additional stress of not knowing if you’re going to miss your start wave because you’re still in line for the bathroom. When planning out your pre-race schedule, be sure to leave enough time for the porta-potty line!

2. Bring Your Own TP – and Hand Sanitizer!

In addition to leaving enough time, you’ll also want to bring your own TP and hand sanitizer. Because the last thing you need to experience after standing in the bathroom line for 20 minutes is no toilet paper!

3. Make Hotel and Restaurants Ahead of Time

For big races that have thousands of runners at them, it’s always a good idea to make hotel and restaurant reservations way in advance of the race – in some cases, months in advance. For example, for those that qualify and get notified about being accepted into the Boston Marathon, the next step should be to book at hotel!

Also, if you plan on getting a pre/post race massage, it’s also a good idea to book this way in advance as well.

4. Stay Close To The Finish

You got up early and ran 26.2 miles – the last thing you need to do is walk miles or try to compete with thousands of other runners for an Uber to get back to your hotel. While likely more expensive to stay close to the finish line, your tired legs and mind will thank you!

Also, be prepared to stay for a while. Hotels close to the finish line of big races typically not only raise their rates, but require a two to three minimum night stay.

5. Stay An Extra Day

Even if a hotel doesn’t have a certain day minimum, if possible, it’s ideal to stay an extra day. Since you likely won’t be back to your hotel before check out time, you’ll have to check out before you leave for the race which means you won’t have a place to shower or rest after your race.

If you can’t stay and extra day and think you’ll be back to your hotel right around check out time, ask for a late check out in advance.

Lastly, if you have to check out before your race, ask the hotel if they can keep your luggage in a secure location.

6. Pack Your Shoes In Your Carry-On

If you check luggage when flying to a race, be sure not to pack your running shoes in there. You can lose pretty much anything else in regard to race day and be OK, as you can always pick up clothes at the race expo or even the local Target. However, by race day, your running shoes are an extension of your body and if they end up in Tallahassee when your race is in San Francisco, that is a less than ideal scenario!

7. Be Wary Of the Hosted Pasta Dinner

Most big (and some small) races have pasta dinners for a discounted price as compared to eating at a restaurant. Aside from price, there are a lot of other benefits. For example, the dinner is often in the host hotel or near the race course start and/or finish. It’s also a great time to meet other runners.

However, the dinner is only offered for a set time so if that doesn’t agree with your schedule, you’ll want to make other arrangements. Also, as the pasta/sauce is cooked for hundreds of runners, if you have special food requirements in regard to type or preparation, you’ll likely want to pass on the pasta dinner.

8. Stay Away From Water Stations

Runners are often most frightful of hills and distance when running marathons… perhaps they should be more scared of water stations! There are two main reasons why water stations can wreak havoc to your race.

  1. Runners often don’t see the water station (or decide they want some water) until the last minute. This leads them to cross over directly in front of other runners to get to the water stop. Tripping, swerving and having feet stepped on are not uncommon in this scenario.
  2. Let’s face it, most runners don’t practice grabbing water while running and more specifically, trying to drink while running (it’s harder than you think!!). The result is water flying all over the place and more specifically, on your feet. This can lead to blisters later in the race which will likely result in a slower time at best, and a DNF at worst.

So, unless you’re getting water at a water stop, stay on the other side of the road. It’s also just the polite thing to do so you’re not in the way.

9. Know The Fuel 

Oh great, there are gels at mile 20. Crap… it’s Strawberry Fusion Berry 🙁

Find out in advance of race day what stops have gels/bars and if so, what the brand/flavor is. This also goes for water stops that have drinks such as Gatorade or a similar electrolyte drink.

10. Timing Chips

One of the great advancements in race technology is that a lot of races have apps that allow spectators to follow runners in real-time throughout the race. While awesome when it works, sometimes things go a bit sideways in regard to the technology missing a runners distance-specific split or not finding them on GPS for a set period of time.

All of this can lead the family and friends of a runner to freak out that their runner is off pace, injured or dropped out. So be sure to let your friends and family know that just because they don’t see you on the tracking app, doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad happened.

11. Post-Race Meeting Area

Most big marathons have a family and friends meeting area at the end of the race. As these areas are quite chaotic, make sure that if you’re meeting at the designated area, you denote exactly where in the meeting area you will be.

Also, if you’re having someone meet you after the race, have them bring you extra clothing and food/drink.

Often times, baggage check pick-up is not in an ideal location… and perhaps you want more than an apple and water after the race is over.

12. Getting To The Start

Just getting to the start line can be an adventure. For example, the New York City Marathon starts on Staten Island and as such, you’re going to need to know the bus pick-up locations and times.

13. Work On Your Mental Game

There is often so much focus on the physical aspect of training, that the mental component gets left out. However, when you’re feeling exhausted and mentally drained at mile 20, how will you get through it?

By working on your mental game during training, you lessen the chance of your thoughts negatively affecting you on race day.

14. Refocus

Come race day, you’ve invested months of training and likely a lot of money into the race. The reality is that a bad day can happen at any time, whether it be during training or on race day. You deserve to enjoy the day no matter what happens out there on the course. So if you’re finding that your legs just aren’t there on race day and you’re off your desired pace, refocus on high-fiving, enjoying the crowds, etc…

Remember, race day isn’t just about your performance but taking in everything that race day has to offer!

Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To learn more about our Running Coach Certification and to get a code for $50 off, click here!

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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