Race Day Tips for Your First Marathon

September 6, 2022

HI! I’m Molly.

Here to encourage you on your own bold pursuit of intentional living as I live out my own. I’m passionate about running, spending time doing what I love and cheering others on to approach running with joy.

Your first marathon is coming up! Congratulations – you’ve put in all the hard work and now you get to enjoy race day. Here are some race day tips for your first marathon.

I know at this point the nerves are HIGH! It is so crazy that we train 5-6 months for something that lasts only several hours. No matter how many races I run, I get nervous. It’s totally normal and it’s a good sign, it means you care! Before I go into more practical tips, my first tip (and maybe most important, too) is to have fun!!! I know you hear that all the time, but I mean it. You’re probably putting a lot of pressure on yourself and sometimes, that can take away from having fun. OR you’re so nervous and that can also take away from the fun. So, please, promise me you will have fun. You did not train this hard or for this long to not have fun!

St. George Marathon, 2017

Now – onto some more tangibles. Here are race day tips for your first marathon:

1. Nothing new on race day

NOTHING! Stick to the same breakfast you’ve been having before your long runs, the same socks, same warm-ups, same shoes, same everything. Race day is not the day to do something different. You never know how your body might react to something new and you don’t want to throw off or ruin the race because you did something different.

2. Stay humble 

I think the real reason people aren’t able to start out slow is because they’re too prideful. I said what I said! Yes, there’s lots of energy and it’s exciting, but it’s also difficult to feel like you’re “falling behind” or you’re “slow” at the beginning when everyone else around you is going fast. Stay humble, swallow that pride and don’t start out too fast. I promise you will need that speed and energy for later. It’s a long race after all!! ;) 

Marine Corps Marathon, 2018

3. Get there early 

Depending on the size of your race, it might be hard to find parking and there also might not be a lot of port-a-potties for all the runners. I recommend getting there an hour early so you’re not stressing about anything and have ample time to find your corral, get situated, go to the bathroom and do your stretches. Any earlier and you might start to get a little too anxious in my opinion! 

4. Use anti-chafe more places than you’d think

Ok we’re going there for this one. Yes, use it for your inner thighs and use it under your arms where it might rub against your sides. But also, use it within your sports bra and your butt cheeks lol. I had a race where I chafed in the latter spot and NEVER again will I not put body glide there. Call me weird for this....but you will also probably thank me later haha!

Austin Marathon, 2022

5. Don’t overdress

Figuring out your race day outfit can be tough. You’re likely going to be overthinking a lot (or at least I did during my first) and thinking through allll the different things you might need to wear depending on the weather. Think back to what you’ve worn during training and what the weather was then. Something that’s always helpful for me is if the race is in the 40-60s, I’ll get clothes at a thrift store to wear at the starting line, such as sweatpants and a hoodie, and wear them as we stand there so I’m not cold. Once the race starts, I take them off (it's perfectly fine to toss them to the side and leave them. Most marathons have team members to come pick them up and then donate these items) and typically wear my usual shorts and short-sleeve top (or if it’s in the 40s, I do shorts and long sleeve top). You WILL sweat a lot and definitely factor in how long you will be in the sun, too! You do not want to be too hot in your outfit! 

6. Break up the race mentally 

My last tip that should help you get through such a long distance is how you approach the race mentally. Depending on how far you went during training, the marathon will be anywhere from 4-8 more miles than what you KNOW you can do. It’s only just a bit further than what you’ve already done! Just think of this as another long run, but this time you luckily have so many other runners doing it with you to keep you motivated. Once you’re running, break it up however you want. Maybe you’re going to think of it as four different six mile runs and then a two mile push at the end. Or maybe it’s two ten mile runs plus a six mile cool down. Break up 26.2 miles mentally into smaller chunks and reset after each of these “distances” is achieved. Focus on running ONLY that smaller distance – don’t focus on how far you have to go or else it will get daunting. Sometimes it’s even helpful to listen to completely different things for all these different “distances” to help you really reset afterwards, too. 

I want to emphasize (again) that you trained so long for this! You got this!! Soak up every minute!! Don't forget to head into this race with a couple different goals identified (A, B and C goals) so that no matter how you perform, ultimately you're happy at the end because you accomplished one of these goals!

A few other items that might help you on race day (that won’t hurt you if you’ve never tried!):

  • I love using this spi belt over my other spi belt because it has two pouches and I can keep my phone in one pouch and my gels in the other. SO handy
  • Obviously bodyglide. You’re going to want this!
  • This is my favorite sunscreen, I use it daily and during my runs! Please don’t forget to apply SPF!!
  • These mini vaseline travel sizes are perfect for sticking one in your spi belt. My lips always get so chapped and I wish I had one with me! I prefer having my own vs. stopping at the medical tent because sometimes that can take awhile. There are people usually along the route with vaseline, but sometimes my lips have been so chapped I need it more often than that. 
  • These headphones are so great because they lie outside your ear so you can still hear everything going on around you – perfect for race day :) 
  • You will probably want to take off your race shoes right after the race – these will be perfect for right after and super affordable too (way more affordable than the name brand ones you see!)

Still training and curious what my favorite accessories are? Check out this post

Good luck running your first marathon! I believe in you and know that all your hard work is going to pay off!

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