Image by Chris Brown, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

10 Basic Tips for Marathon Race Day

The Marathon season is here. If you need tips to get you started, you’ve come to the right place. When is the London Marathon? The London Marathon is Sunday, April 13, 2014.

Tips to Run your First Marathon

1) Stick to what you know

Don’t turn up in a brand spanking new pair of trainers, shorts or sports bra. Don’t overdress for your race. Do be warm and dry when you start, but ensure you don’t overheat during your race due to clothing. This tip also applies to food and drink. Stay hydrated, but don’t drink too much! If you’ve never eaten jelly babies, energy bars or gels, orange/lemon segments or bananas whilst running, then in most cases it is best to not have these as you just don’t know how your body might react.

2) Watch your running step

This is particularly important to the first mile when the road is littered with discarded items such as plastic bottles and clothing, to drinks stations, where people move erratically - and to the last few miles when people change pace, spectators scream and even run with you. It’s quite a challenge to run in such close proximity to other people, so you always need to keep your wits about you. Try to stick your hand out, like an indicator, if you intend to move sideways – and always check before you pull out in front of someone or stop.

3) Follow the shortest course

Although you may be sharing the course with thousands of other runners, you can still use the course to your advantage. In many of the major marathons, there will be a line on the ground that measures the exact race distance. Follow the course line wherever possible to ensure you are taking the most direct route to the finish line! But, if it’s a very hot day, stick to the shadier parts of the course, rather than following the line, come what may. It’s more of a serious problem to overheat than it is to run an extra quarter of a mile. If it’s very windy out there, tuck in close behind a group of runners, so that they act as a windshield for you!

4) Do a “body scan” during the race

Look for any signs of unnecessary tension or tightness, any muscles that could do with a stretch, and any joints that could do with loosening up. Try to smile as it is very hard to be tense and smile at the same time. I suggest doing a body scan every 30 minutes, to ensure you are as relaxed as possible and not wasting valuable energy.

5) Talk to yourself and think while you run

Give yourself a bit of a pep talk as you go along. Tell yourself how well you’re doing and stay present in your running. Tell yourself how strong you are. You may want to have a mantra, which you can repeat to yourself with ease as you are running. Just tell yourself you are running well, even if you are not! Think positive, stay focused, don’t drift off, and don’t get sidetracked. Control your mind so you are more able to be able to deal with any issues along the race you will possibly need to be able to deal with any time, food, drink, or clothing adjustments.

6) Keep decent posture and keep your head up while running

As you get tired, you may find that you are spending most of the time looking at your feet rather than up at the road ahead. This not only throws your spine out of alignment – putting you at risk of back pain and neck or shoulder tension – it can also make your spirits flag, as you aren’t making eye contact with the crowd or other runners. Stay positive, keep your head up to help your mind set! Keeping your head up also gives you a much more confident stance, better posture, it often assists in better lung function (oxygen uptake) and it sends a positive message to your subconscious mind. Try to keep up your stride length and race pace as long as possible, and don’t start your marathon too quickly.

7) Break the marathon distance down into manageable chunks

When you set off, don't think about the marathon being over 26 miles (42km) long. Break the distance down into manageable ‘chunks’ instead. Focus on 'biting off' each chunk as it comes. Once you reach the end of a chunk, congratulate yourself, take a drink at set times and then focus on the next chunk. This makes the distance feel a lot more achievable.

8) Resist the urge for a toilet break

Unless you habitually have to stop during training runs to go to the loo, resist the urge to stop and relieve yourself, at least for a while. It’s most likely nerves – so the chances are, if you ignore it, it will go away. Clearly, if the urge to answer the call of nature doesn't fade, then take the time you need.

9) Get some race support

No matter how independent you are, it helps to have some supporters out there on the course. Whether it's a charity that you are running for or for friends, family, or work colleagues – try to get as many spectators out there as possible on the big day. Be very specific about where you want them to be. Remember to tell them not just at what point on the course (for example right by the marker at the halfway point), but also at which side of the road. Also, tell them as accurately as possible at what time you expect to get to that point on the course. And the advice about putting your name on the front of your t-shirt might be old hat, but it still holds true – it really does make a difference, so do it! Hearing your name called, even by someone you hardly know or even don’t know, is hugely heartening when your spirits are beginning to flag and your legs feel heavy!

10) Enjoy the race!

Even if you are keen on breaking three, four or five hours in this race, for 95% of us please don’t keep your mind focused on your finish time throughout. Instead, try to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

These 10 basic tips will help you, whether it is your first marathon or your seventh. Be mindful of what you can do to ease the stress on your muscles and your mind.

Good Luck!

- Roel