21 Pieces of Advice That Will Get You Through a Marathon
Running a marathon is a real accomplishment, and for those of you with the Brighton or London marathons firmly etched in your diaries, the hard work is almost over. The toughest part of the whole experience is training—specifically that longest training run you do before tapering your runs ahead of race day. Running more than 20 miles with no crowds cheering you on, not a single water station to look forward to or people in fancy dress to distract you—well, it makes for a pretty miserable few hours. Unless you're one of those people who genuinely loves running. I was not, I promise you.
To help you with your pre-race jitters these last few weeks, we've set out all the non-training prep you need to buy, do and think leading up to the big day. I've run two sub-four-hour London marathons, and while I'm no Paula Radcliffe, I definitely have some tips I can share. Keep scrolling for my pre-marathon race prep advice.
I like to be overprepared rather than under for race day.
My first piece of advice—twin skin socks (I like Hilly's TwinSkin Anklet Running Sock, £8). The two layers of fabric rub together rather than rubbing against your feet, so you're less likely to suffer from blisters.
Ah, blisters. The second marathon I ran, it was raining hard and my socks got soggy. I got blisters at mile two and had to run the rest of the way with a dull pain. So in your bum bag (yes, incredibly '80s but necessary), pack some Compeed Blister Plasters (£7). Pre-race go over the entire surface of both feet with Compeed Anti-Blister Stick (£5) to prevent any chaffing.
Stock up on Imodium Melts (you never know, take my word for it) and paracetamol (avoid aspirin, ibuprofen and Nurofen when running).
On race day, pack your bag and include a banana and protein shake or any kind of food you think you'll be able to stomach at the end. Also, take a black sack or old hoodie with you. Once you put your valuables on the van that meets you at the end, you'll need something to keep you warm while you're waiting to head to the start line. A black sack works well, but any discarded clothing is bagged up, cleaned and sent to charity.
Take toilet roll with you for the start line. Before a race, I queue for the toilets, go, then queue again. It's partly nerves, but also I don't want to have to stop during the race; it can break your flow (ironically) and adds minutes to your time (if you're going for a time, that is). There is usually toilet roll in the portaloos, but if there isn't, you're in trouble.
My phone always runs out of battery since I use it to track my running pace and to listen to music, so think about getting a charging case to attach to your phone so you have spare juice.
From now until race day, make drinking water a priority. You want to sufficiently hydrate your body so on race day you don't need to take on copious amounts of water. You should only sip H20 throughout and not take it from every single water station. Also, by hydrating in the days leading up to the race, you'll need to drink less on the morning, which means you're less likely to need to stop for the loo en route.
Make sure to carb-load a few days beforehand. You need glycogen in your muscles for energy, and this will prevent you from hitting that wall. Aim for 8–10 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight in the three days before the race.
If you listen to music when you run and plan to on race day, work some new music into your playlist, and delete anything you're tired of. There is nothing worse than hearing that annoying track you used to like. Music can be a powerful motivator, so load up on plenty of strong tracks that you really love.
If you have friends and family lining the course, decide with them where they will stand so you know when to look out for them. My advice? You don't need anyone for the first half; after that, you'll want to see some friendly faces. There is nothing like encouragement from your nearest and dearest to spur you on.
Get your name printed on your T-shirt, front and back. It may seem a bit showy, but if the crowds can see your name, they will shout encouragement, and then it's like having the duration of the 26.2-mile course lined with friends!
During the race, try to have fun! You've worked hard for this; now enjoy it. Interact with crowd—I was high-fiving kids, waving, bouncing along to the music being played on the streets. It makes the hours go faster if you feed off the crowd rather than running with your head down and teeth gritted.
Okay, here's what not to do. You will no doubt get tons of good luck messages pre-race. Don't reply; you need to preserve that precious phone battery for once you cross the finish line. When it comes to finding friends and family post-race, there are alphabetised areas, so decide on the letter (first name or surname) where you will meet, head there and wait. You've run 26.2 miles—they can come find you!
Once you're home, get into a cold bath, preferably with ice (stock the freezer with bags of the stuff ahead of time). The cold will help take down any inflammation. Add in some Elemis Aching Muscle Super Soak (£37) to aid recovery.
I lost a couple of toenails the first year, so you may want to pre-book a pedicure for the week after as something to look forward to. You can do this using the Treatwell app. Book a massage too; if you can have one on the day or the following morning, it will really help relieve the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
It sounds corny, but visualise yourself crossing that finish line and crossing it with your head held high and feeling proud! It really helps to have that picture to conjure up along the route.
Split the race into manageable chunks. I thought of it like four 10K races rather than a daunting 26.2-miler! Knowing the time you want to be at each of those markers helps keep you on track if you're aiming for the PB.
It's okay to get a bit teary. I got quite emotional and delusional when I went through a tunnel toward the end, and Lucozade had lined it with massive light-up balloons emblazoned with inspiring messages. I remember wailing out loud (to no one in particular) "Lucozade is proud of me!"
And lastly, good luck. Whatever happens, you're awesome. Remember that.
While we don't recommend you buy new running kit for the marathon (you need to have trained in what you're wearing) that doesn't mean you can't treat yourself. Keep scrolling for three pieces of running kit on our wish lists.