Top 10 Marathon Tips

With the marathon season coming up, I thought I’d put some top tips together to help you get through the 26.2 miles that is the marathon. Some of it you’ll know already, and some of it might be new to you. Either way, I hope it will help you to run a good marathon and perhaps more importantly, recover well from it.

Here are my top 10 Marathon Tips:

1. Get to know the route / course

Find out what the elevation of the course is, where the hills are and where the water stations are.

To check out the elevation of the course, either find out from the event website or, go onto Garmin Connect and look up the marathon on the activity lists.

Go to: Explore
Click on Show Filters
Select Time Period as Last 365 Days
Enter the name of your event into Keyword: Lochaber Marathon
Enter the starting place of the event in the Starting Near field.
To filter even more, enter a range for the distance of the event (25 – 27).
Click Search.

If you can’t get garmin connect to give you the elevation chart, ask someone who’s done the event and recorded it on their garmin, or check the event website.

To find out where the water stations on the route are, go to the event website or entry information you received and find out there. Try and remember where the water stations are, so that when you really need one, you know where how far it will be for you to get to it!

2. Eat and drink lots (of water) in the week leading up to the marathon

You don’t need to specifically eat lots of healthy carb loaded food in the week before the marathon (known as carb loading), but I would recommend you aim to eat more in the week leading up to the marathon. It’s thought by many that the last meal before the marathon should be full of carbs, something like pasta, but recent research has suggested you should aim to increase your food intake for the week before your marathon.

Woohoo! More reason to eat what you want (even though you are more than likely tapering!) The more energy your muscles have stored in the week before your marathon, the more your body will be able to tap when it needs it most, and the more chance you have of not ‘hitting the dreaded wall.’

3. Plan a race strategy based on the pace or heart rate zone you will run in

Most people maybe have an overall time goal for a marathon, or split this down into pace targets for the route.

Running by a pace goal
For a 4 hour marathon:
Multiply 4 by 60 to get 240 minutes
Divide 240 by 26.2 to get your pace goal of 9.16 min miles.
To get the seconds for your pace goal multiply the numbers after the decimal place by 60 = 0.16 x 60 = 0.96.
So your minute mile pace target for a 4 hour marathon is 9:09 minute miles.
9 minute miles would get you finished in 3:55 if you wanted to be sure to get your time to be sub 4 hours.

(See here to get Runnersworld pace band.)

Running by a heart rate goal
I did it a little differently for my last long event, a 33 mile event: the D33. I based my run on my heart rate: kept it between 80-85% and allowed it to max at 95% at the end. (You can see my splits and HR per mile here).

Whatever you do when you are running a marathon, don’t start out too fast, pace yourself and make sure you aren’t running above 85% of your max heart rate (until the end).

I used this Heart Rate Zone calculator to work out my heart rate zones, then kept my heart rate between 80-85% for me for 5 hours, finally pushing my heart rate to 95% at the end. I managed a good negative split (running the first half in 9:09 min miles and the second half in 8:41 min miles)… and felt great through out and at the end. 🙂 It was a hot day and I was one of only a few (out of 192 runners) who managed a negative split!

Why don’t you try it: Keep your heart rate between 80-85% for the duration of the run, until the end decide how far you think you’ll be able to push it for and increase the pace (and your heart rate to 95%) to finish strongly.


Split the marathon distance down into easy to manage chunks
Another idea is to split the marathon down into 5 or 6 smaller runs…. depending on the route, you could do 5 x 5 miles, and 1 x 1.2 miles… or 6, 4, 3, 6, 4, 3.2. … oe 8,8,8,2.2 …. or 6,6,6,6, 2.2 You get the idea.

For my 33 mile run I did just there, I just thought about running 5 x 6 mile runs, with a wee 3 mile run at the end, which worked a treat! 😀

4. Get all of your gear and recovery stuff together in one bag for race day

If you are traveling to run your marathon, or even if you’re doing it in your local city or town, it’s a good idea to collect all of the gear you’ll need for race day, and keep it all together in one bag.

I use a boot bag or an over the shoulder bag and put all of my gear in it:

  • Race day clothes (trainers, shorts, tshirt, race number, pins, sweat band, socks, underwear, sunglasses),
  • Technology (garmin, ipod, camera, chargers, heart rate monitor),
  • Energy and food and other stuff (for pre race, during the race and post race recovery snacks / milkshakes, waterpack, gel belt, suncream).

Then if you are traveling abroad or to another city for the marathon, just pack the full gear bag into your suitcase, ready to be taken out when you get to your destination or hotel.

It’s a good idea to lay it out the night before so you aren’t stressing on the morning of the marathon.


5. On the day of the race, prepare for it (food, rest, hydration, visit the loo before the start)

Aim to get a good night’s sleep the night before the race (6-10 hours), hydrate well in the week before the event, and make sure you taper and rest adequately.

Before and during the marathon, try to avoid using anything new on race day (new gels, new trainers, or new drinks). Always try to use gear, energy and hydration types which you’ve used during training and which you know your body is ok with. You don’t want to get 20 miles in and have a problem with your bowels because you’ve tried a new energy source, or are wearing new trainers which you haven’t had the chance to wear in!

Use your weeks of training to get a pre long run routine. Eat porridge, drink a lucozade, take on caffeine if it works for you.

See how I prepare here:
Rituals & preparations for long runs / races

Running Long


6. Get a mantra or two so that your brain can keep your body going when it gets tough

Having a mantra… a phrase you say to yourself when you are running can also help. It can also help if you think of someone who inspires you, a training partner or family member who you know believes in you, and will be proud of you when you finish your 26.2 miles!

  • You can do it
  • Run Strong
  • Stay Strong
  • This is easy
  • Just run
  • Relax
  • Keep going

7. Take on enough energy and water during the marathon

During your training for the marathon it is important to get to know the types and amount of energy that you need to keep you running for 3+ hours. Energy gels, jelly babies, water, sports drinks, isotonic drinks, energy bars… for more information on energy and recovery nutrition see here.

I use SIS caffeine gels, and have one roughly every 45 minutes to an hour or every 5 – 6 miles.

For my last race I had 6 gels in 5 hours… at miles: 6, 12, 16.5, 22, 26, 30. Notice I had them closer together towards the end as it was warm and I felt like I needed them more then.

When I run longer than 13 miles, I always run with a water pack with about 1.5 – 2 litres of water on my back, but you can rely on water stations too. Just remember not to drink too much water as that can be dangerous too!

Oh and if you drink a large amount in the morning before the marathon, make sure you do a pee before the marathon starts, or you’ll end up having to stop for a pee at mile 5 like I had to in my long event! (oops…that little mistake added on 2 needless minutes).

8. Don’t get carried away trying to catch other people (keep to your own race strategy)

Stick to your race strategy and try not to get carried away trying to chase other runners. Run your own race and try to enjoy it.

Keep an eye on your heart rate or your pace and make sure you don’t over do it, ‘hit the wall’ or run out of steam.


9. After the race, recover! (See here for recovery products)

As soon as you finish:
Keep moving, walk slowly and think about how all of your body feels. Try not to sit down yet.
Drink water and a milkshake immediately after. (I’d recommend For Goodness Shakes or a Mars Bar milkshake)
Stretch all your muscles well.
Put on warm clothes if possible.

Within 30 – 120 mins:
Eat something (like Muller Rice or a banana, bagel and nutella, or peanut butter: carb and protein rich).
Shower and if you feel tired or dehydrated, make sure you continue to eat or drink.

After 60-120 mins:
Rest. If possible lie down (and sleep, or not) for 2-4 hours.
Your body recovers best when you sleep, so take some time out to let your body repair.
(You could have your lunch or a meal before your rest….)

After your rest:
Eat a good meal of meat and veg, high in carbs and protein (or what ever you want! you’ve earned it!)
My usual recovery meal is medium fillet steak with a poached egg on it, with chips and veg. Expensive, but well worth it!
Drink plenty and maybe have another milkshake if you want.


10. In the week after the marathon: rest!

The Competitive Runners Handbook recommends that for each mile you run long in an event like a marathon, you should take one day to recover. So after running 26.2 miles of a marathon, it recommends that you should take 26 days off training to recover!

Sometimes it suggests it’s a good idea to do an easy short run the day after the marathon, or maybe leave it a few days before trying.

Ideally I’d suggest you take about a week – 1 month of recovery time after running a marathon. You’ll have been training for quite a few months and it will do your body good to take the time out. Everyone is different though and the more marathons and long runs you do, the more you’ll know how much rest and recovery time you need.

I know that as along as I prepare correctly for long events, and do all of the preparation steps (eat, hydrate, sleep, rest) I usually don’t feel too sore the next day or week. 😀 For more see: Avoiding Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

Me after my first official marathon… my legs were very sore as I think I’d pushed it a little and it was a hot day!

More links with marathon and running tips

See the links below for more information on how I prepare for and recovery after a long run / marathon:

Rituals & preparations for long runs / races
Things I’ve learned from running the marathon…
Running Long
Specificity of Training
Preparing for a long run...
Marathon tips
Q: Running long and thoughts on runs
Are you trying to run faster?

Tomorrows recovery drink preparation
Make your own smoothies

Wiped out after my long run
Two very different HANGOVERS

And just as a little warning for you… I got this from the BBC News website today…. 🙂

Who says exercise is good for you??! 😉


Potential dangers

Death – Running a marathon or half-marathon can be fatal. One of the worst recent death tolls was in the 2005 Great North Run, where four people died. Cardiac arrests are frequently the cause, but hyponatraemia, brought on by drinking too much water, has also been blamed. Dehydration – the body loses fluid through sweating and breathing. An above average runner doing a three-hour marathon could expect to lose 3-5 kilograms of weight. For every kilogram you lose, you need to drink 1.5 litres of water to replace it. Sweat also contains salt (mainly sodium and potassium) so up your salt intake. Injury – Knees, calves, shins, ankles, hips and heels are all susceptible to being damaged from constant pounding, while muscles experience micro-damage. Runners need to factor in plenty of post marathon rest time because injuries can also occur after the event. Cramp – This occurs when fatigue and dehydration cause the muscle to tighten up and become incredibly sore. People have had to pull out of races for cramp before.

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3 Responses to Top 10 Marathon Tips

  1. Pingback: GSR Half Marathon Top 10 Tips | Lorn Pearson Trains…

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