marathon tips

Whether you’re taking on your first—or fifteenth—marathon this fall, the beautiful thing about running 26.2 miles is something new always happens (oh, I’ve never had a blister on my small toe–what’s that all about?) and, as a result, you have the opportunity to learn something as well.

That said, there are definitely helpful and universal marathon tips that benefit all levels of runners. Today, Train Like a Mother Coach Elizabeth Waterstraat, as part of our 10 Things to Know series, chimes in with an even 10 marathon tips she wishes her athletes—and you—would take into account as you get ready for 26.2 glorious miles.

#1: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The best fitness is built by doing what you can with what you have on every given day. Some days this might mean scaling back your goal pace or taking more walk breaks. A few missed runs due to life, illness, or aches are part of the normal flow of a training plan. As you come into the final weeks of training, don’t sweat what you haven’t done. Focus on what you have done—and continue to show up every day to make the most of it.

#2: Realize the toughest competitor exists inside your own head.
 Your internal conversation can be positive or negative, self-deprecating or motivational. Along your training cycle, do a few runs solo. Be sure to leave the music at home, get quiet and listen. Navigate the inner conversations that pop up, especially during a long run; learn to talk yourself through the low moments, get familiar with how you sound, feel, and what you think as you pass the miles.

#3: Let yourself feel fit and fresh.
Around one to two weeks prior to the marathon, you’ll taper: a process by which you reduce training load to bring freshness back into body and mind. Any fitness you lose in this process is worth the feeling of being mentally and physically ready to tackle race day. It’s normal to feel a little out of sorts during taper: expect it, accept it. Stay in a rhythm of workouts; lower the volume but maintain some intensity.

Grab these 10 race-prep questions as a PDF to complete—and add to your important running papers pile.

#4: Plan to race and race your plan.
Take time early in race week to think through your race from the days prior through the finish line. I have used these ten questions with my athletes for years, and continually get positive feedback from them completing them.

Create a schedule to follow including travel, registration, warm up, etc. Know the comforts and foods you need in the 48 hours prior to the race to feel your best. Once at the race, have the courage and patience to follow your plan.

#5: Expect anything, prepare for everything.
As you mentally run through marathon race day, spend some time considering some potential speed bumps. What if it rains? What if you get a cramp? Let’s face it: when you’re stressed, it’s hard to think clearly. Creating a what-if-and-solution map frees you up to respond while still moving forward.

#6: You cannot finish on willpower alone.
Perhaps one of the most important marathon tips: It takes lots of energy to finish a marathon. Willpower alone won’t cut it! Be sure to have a fuel and hydration plan that has been tested and refined in training. This includes a pre-race day meal plan, race day breakfast as well as what you eat and drink during the race.

[[Not sure how to fuel?
We’ve got a plan for that: Nutrition for Running: Half Marathon + Marathon.]]

#7: Walking is a strategy, not a weakness.
Walking briskly through aid stations is a smart strategy to ensure you get in what you need, let go of some heat and reset good form. Giving yourself permission to briefly walk during a rough patch is an effective mental reset. Be sure to walk with purpose, keeping your steps brisk and quickly getting back to running.

#8: Don’t chase—or expect—the perfect race.
There’s no such thing as perfect preparation: only excellent adaption. Expect to adapt and overcome many, many times on race day. Rough patches, unexpected weather, low moments, negative thoughts – these are all normal parts of the marathon experience. Keep moving forward and trust that a good mile is just ahead.

#9: It’ll be over before you know it. (Truly!)
By the time you get to the 20 mile mark you only have 10K to go. While many struggle at this point, try to savor it. Rare are the opportunities in life where we get to be fully immersed in something we love without interruption for a long period of time. Gratitude and joy for these opportunities go a long way.

#10: Stretch out the finish line.
Crossing the finish line will be a brief moment after 26.19 miles. Stretch it out. As you approach it, tell yourself, “Drop in, be present.” Get sensory: feel, see, listen, smell. Be there, now. Let time slow down and soak it all in. Capture this moment as a mental snapshot to revisit for many years to come.

What marathon tips are your favorite?
Let us know in the comments!

[[Looking for more marathon tips? Check out 26.2 Tips for 26.2 Miles.]]