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Your First Marathon: Race Day! How To Achieve Marathon Success

How To Prepare For And Run Your First Marathon ~

By Coach Denise Sauriol

Race day is finally here! You have done your homework for months, now welcome to your final exam!

Except with this final, you just have to pass, you don’t have to get an A. And guess what? If you happen to fail by somehow not making it to the finish line, just remember what my grandmother said: “There will always be another bus.”

Having just run a marathon last weekend, I’ve been thinking about how to run a marathon with minimal anxiety and smart tactics.

In our last session, we talked about how to prepare for your race in the week leading up to the race. 

Here I’m sharing some of my tricks of the trade for passing your final -we’ll call this an allowable cheat sheet!

By the way, it is normal to be nervous. Even though I’ve run 64 marathons so far, I still get nervous…and EXCITED! You will likely experience every emotion on race day…fear, excitement, rockstar-ness, pain, doubt, excitement, empowerment, etc.  No matter how the day goes, you are going to learn a little about your limits — and a lot about your strengths. RUN ON!

Here are some key points to achieving personal success keep on race day.

Race Morning: Same Ole, Same Ole

  • Do nothing new on race day, especially regarding diet, gear, shoes, etc.
  • Depending on the weather race morning, bring throw away clothes, garbage bag, Mylar blanket and/or gloves to keep warm while in start corral. If you don’t have gloves, an old school tip is to use socks on your hands to remove and toss if you get hot.
  • Cut a “V” neck into your throw away shirt, so it’s easy to remove when ready.
  • Allow yourself enough time to get to your start corral. Remember you are not just maneuvering through runners, but also volunteers, race staff and family and friends.
  • Do an easy 10 minute warm up jog before getting to your corral if you tend to have digestive issues before your races. This should help take care of that.
  • Take a picture of you in your gear or just your gear and send to friends/family so they know what to look for on the race route.
  • If you wear a GPS watch, wear a lap counter wristwatch AND a GPS…most of the time my GPS doesn’t hit miles at same time, so then you don’t know your true pace. On race day, I rely on an old faithful Timex to track my mile splits manually.


On Your Mark-Get Set-Go!

The most important piece of advice is to start out running slow.  It should actually feel somewhat slow to you.

You have been tapering for 3 weeks and you are like a horse in the gate ready to run. Once the gun goes off it is so easy to get caught up into the crowds and the excitement. Not to mention that your legs are fresh and rested.

Just remember though, the race doesn’t really start until mile 18 to the finish. I have started out too fast and felt like a rockstar checking off the early miles. Then I pay for that in the latter miles. Now, I consciously tell myself to slow down and let people pass me on the front end.

After all, I am really doing an 18 mile warm up before my race starts!

Running With A Pace Group?

If you are running with a pace group, just know that they may or may not hit your time goal.

They do the best they can but sometimes they may not hit the goal. I have learned from experience that I need to break away from the pace group if the first 4 to 5 miles are approximately 10-15 or more seconds off per mile.

If possible, inquire about the probability of pacers hitting their time goal at the race expo. You may be able to tell from their experience and their confidence how well they may be able to keep accurate pacing.

But if you feel like you could use the support of a pacing group no matter what, feel free to stay and enjoy the group experience.

Tips In Using Aid Stations

If this is your first marathon, don’t skip any water or fluids unless you’ve trained that way and are comfortable with it.

That being said, if you’re feeling really good near the end of the race, you may choose to skip the last aid station just to keep going until the finish.

Where to go: When you run into an aid station, head for the end of the tables, since it’s less crowded there.

What to drink: Alternate between water and Gatorade. Too much water can lead to hyponatremia and too much Gatorade can lead to a not so settled stomach.

If you know you need more fluids on the run, you can carry a throw away bottle for the first few aid stations, or however long you like. However, if you haven’t trained for that, it may not be worth the energy of carrying a bottle.

Walking–A Secret Weapon For Success

Walking through aid stations:  I also add 30 second walk breaks (yes, I even do this at THE Boston Marathon) even in the beginning miles when I feel so strong that I don’t want to walk.

You don’t have to walk at the aid station, but it’s a convenient time for a walk break.

It’s better to walk when you want to than when you have to. It’s also a lot harder mentally and physically to restart walking in the later miles if you haven’t been walking all along through the aid stations.

I have found that for me, when I ran nonstop, my knees would eventually lock up from being in continual motion. By adding the walk breaks I am minimizing the probability of my knees and muscles locking up. You may or may not be the same.

For your first marathon, it’s probably better to walk 30 seconds through each aid station.  This is especially true if you have extreme heat/humidity — the hotter the temps, the longer the walk break!

Side-note: At the aid stations, thank the volunteers! They have been up longer than us supporting our habit. High Five those kids! You just might inspire them. High Five a Spectator – They all are out there helping us achieve our goal – How self-less!!


It’s All Mental

You will get to a point where the race will switch from all physical to physical and mental.

That is when you need to change the radio station in your head to get rid of the static.

Here are some tricks of the trade or what some runners do when the head game gets too much:

–count your steps, just focusing on each step and nothing else.

–use or find a mantra or saying that works for you and just let that repeat in your head.

–focus on a runner ahead or nearby and let them be your rabbit/pacer…just allow yourself to think of nothing but going along at the pace of the rabbit.

–remind yourself of why you started this whole journey and know that your ability to keep going is stronger than the suck of wanting to walk, stop or quit.

–when someone passes you, compliment them or tell them good job-use it as inspiration to keep going.

–use what I call the Gratitude Alphabet. I go through the alphabet and a name a person(s), experience(s), or thing(s) that I am grateful for, for each letter of the alphabet. When I get stuck on a letter, I start all over at A. Before you know it, you forget about the static and you also are in a state of gratitude, which is a great place to be.

–remember that you’re also running for all those who can’t run; and if you’ve been injured, you’re grateful to be running again.

Make Peace With Mother Nature

One thing that we can’t control on race day is the weather. So my advice is to just take what the day brings us.

If the weather provides not so ideal conditions — heat, humidity, sideways rain…I remind myself that everyone else is not liking this either. When it’s rainy, I also tell myself that I would rather run in rain than humidity and heat…have I told you yet that the marathon is more mental than physical??

EXTREME HEAT/HUMIDTY — The main thing with running through these conditions is to listen to your body and throw your watch out the window. We need to just focus on getting the miles in regardless of pace, even if you have to add a minute walk to each mile. I slow my pace down tremendously when it’s so hot and humid.

If you know it’s going to be hot and humid, ask friends and family to meet  you out on the course with icecubes in ziplock bags and your electrolyte drinks or gels.

Extra Support For Your Race

1. Have as many of your friends and family supporters out on the course at mile 18 on as you can.

You get so much energy from seeing people close to your heart, you will especially need this energy in the latter miles. Designate where they should meet you–see my earlier tips for race planning here.

2.  Remember to HAVE FUN!  This is our discretionary free time–we paid money for this!

As best you can, relax. Don’t burn so much energy focusing on the time versus just doing what you can do and taking in what the day gives you.

Especially for first timers, your goal should be to finish. You have never put your mind and body through this before, so try not to put a time goal on your day.


Mile 27: Tips For After Your Race

How about that finish line??!

I have to say it is hard to replicate your emotions when you cross your first 26.2 finish line. So take it all in.

–Walk as much as you can after you finish and don’t sit down until you get home. Your muscles will tighten up and walking will be challenging! If they offer post-race massages, reward yourself with one– the masseuses will know better than to go deep and it will help with recovery.

–Get some 4:1 carb to protein in your body within 20 minutes of finishing. Chocolate milk is a favorite of a lot of people, including me.

–Try an ice bath, as it will help with muscle inflammation/pain in the next day or two (or seven).

–Keep your Mylar blanket(s) that you’ll get or grab extra post-race. These are great to re-use for your future cold race morning start lines.

Note for Type A runners: If you didn’t run your ideal race, don’t beat yourself up. You still JUST RAN A MARATHON!! Plus, you are at your peak physical training level. If you really, really want to, you could run another marathon at least 3-4 weeks out and try it again.

To all first-timers: Welcome to the world of Marathoning! You just ate status quo for breakfast, baby!!!

Running Coach Denise Sauriol coaches runners of all levels, both in person and virtually. She has raced everything from a 5K to an Ironman and logged at least 64 marathons. The running bug caught Denise in 4th grade and the coaching bug caught her in 2007. She can be reached at Follow her and her clients on facebook at at

Photos courtesy of:


Check out these other articles you might like:

Your First Marathon: What To Do The Week Before Your Marathon

The Marathon Long Run: Should You Go More Than 20 Miles?

Top 10 Signs You Have The Marathon Taper Crazies

Coaching Tips And Tricks For A Successful Marathon Taper

8 Kick-Butt Running Quotes To Carry You To The Finish Line

5 Mistakes Morning Runners Make


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