Survival Tips for Your First Marathon

Featured Article, Fitness, News and Advice
on October 11, 2013
race day survival guide

Running a marathon is intimidating enough, but running your first marathon? That takes the cake. There are so many questions: How will I feel? What do I eat? What do I wear? That’s where we can help. We spoke to several female bloggers who survived their first marathons and went on to run their second, third, fifth, even tenth marathons. They offered their top tips for conquering 26.2 miles—and having a blast every step of the way.

1. Believe in yourself.
“Your first marathon is an indescribable rush,” says blogger Brook Kreder, 36, of Brooks First Marathon. “It’s normal to think what am I doing? Why am I here? Am I crazy? Everything you’ve done has led you to his moment, so trust your training. You will finish!”

 RELATED: Becoming a Marathon Runner

2. Don’t worry about sleep.
…the night before, that is. Everyone feels some nervous anticipation before the big day, and that often means it’s difficult to sleep the night before. If you get a sub-par night’s rest, don’t worry! Know that it’s completely normal, and your race likely won’t be affected. Just try to get more shut-eye during the week leading up to the event (go to bed earlier, sleep in if you can) so you’re well-rested.

3. Bring throw-away clothes.
Fall marathons can be chilly at the start, so you’ll want to wear an extra layer. You’ll heat up as you run, though, and you won’t want to run with that sweatshirt tied around your waist. Beth Risdon, 46, blogger at Shut Up And Run heads to a thrift store to buy sweats and a zip up sweatshirt that can be tossed aside a few minutes into the race. These are usually picked up and donated to charity.

4. Eat the right dinner.
Contrary to popular misconception, you don’t have to pile on the heavy pasta meal the night before a big race. Eating a greater percentage of your calories from carbs for a pre-race meal is a good idea, but 43-year-old Julie Weiss of Marathon Goddess suggests eating a similar meal to one you’d eat before your long runs. “Suddenly changing it up can make you wake up feeling all bloated and gassy from a ton of carbs—not how you want to feel before a race!”

5. Don’t try anything new.
A good rule of thumb: Do everything exactly the same as you did before your long runs. In other words, as tempting as it may be, don’t try out a new outfit—the material could be chafing or tags could be irritating. It’s best to wear what you already know is comfortable. Also, stick with the same breakfast you normally eat before a long run. Now is not the time to see if you can stomach a cup of coffee instead of a sports drink. It’s not a bad idea to try out what you’ll eat or drink during the race while on several training runs, too.

6. Pace yourself.
With all the excitement at the starting line, it’s easy to let the adrenaline get the best of you and go out too fast. Meggan Franks, 30, of Mom Against the Marathon ( suggests starting the race 10 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace. “If you go out too fast, you’ll pay for it later!” she says. Avoid hitting the dreaded “wall,” slow down, and bank your energy for when you really need it during those last few miles.

7. Find a place to meet.
Your friends and family will want to congratulate you, so before the race, designate a specific spot to meet after you cross the finish line. The crowds are huge at marathons, so this ensures that you’ll be able to find them quickly and easily for hugs and high-fives—and, of course, a celebratory meal.

8. Be prepared.
A few days before the race, make a list of things to do on race morning, says blogger Kerrie Turcic, 35, of Mom vs. Marathon. “On race morning, it will probably be 4 a.m., and you’ll be a big ball of nerves. The list will help you focus and not forget anything important,” she says. Risdon also gets ready the night before. She lays out her clothes, pins on her bib and checks the weather.

9. Set other goals.
It’s great to set a goal before your first marathon. For many people, that’s a certain time goal they want to achieve. But there are many factors you have little control over on race day—like the weather, crowds at the start or flare-ups of knee pain—that can affect your performance. Setting other goals (like simply finishing, not walking or feeling strong throughout) or setting several time goals (an “ideal” time you’d like to achieve, a more realistic time you’d still be happy with) can prevent feeling disappointment and make you feel like you rocked the race, no matter what.

10. Enjoy!
You’ve worked so hard to prepare for the race: sacrificing Saturday mornings for long runs, waking up early to squeeze in a pre-work run and dealing with all of the aches and pains along the way. When the big day arrives, you deserve to have fun. Don’t forget to take a step back, enjoy the race and celebrate your accomplishment.