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

It’s Race Week: An Action Plan For Your First Marathon ~

By Coach Denise Sauriol

Welcome to Race Week…almost time to start your engines!

Since we are still in taper mode, we are suffering from free-time-itis. We are running less (who didn’t want that at least once on long run morning?) but have way too much time to analyze, re-analyze and analyze race day.

Instead of chewing over what may or may not happen during your first marathon, you want to shift that energy into getting lots of rest, hydrating and avoiding anything that you haven’t done during your training.

You are precious cargo that we need to get to the start line healthy. So just say no, to sky diving, volleyball, go karting, other sports or any other exotic new thing that may interest you.

What To Do Before The Race

Here is your prep-test for your Marathon:

Enjoy The Marathon Expo

1. Reward yourself at the expo.

There is usually official marathon gear there and vendors that have really good deals. You signed up and committed yourself to something you once thought was crazy!! Hello self-drive!!!  So you deserve a reward.

Think of it as a reward for all of the early mornings and social invites you sacrificed during training. Plus when you wear something you earned instead of just bought for yourself you wear it with pride because there was some fight built into it.

Tip: Go to the expo 2 days before the race if you can because you want to be off your feet as much as possible the day before the marathon and they may run out of the gear you want by the second day.

If you can’t make packet pick up, make sure your friend or family has the correct documentation to pick up your packet.

2. Bring your race confirmation to the expo.

3. If you’re on the fence about a pace group, they usually have pacers at the expo to talk to, but:

Proceed with caution being in a pacing group, since they can’t guarantee that you will hit the time you’re looking for. You have trained really hard and you are putting a lot of trust in them. I have had good and bad results with them. I have learned that after 3 miles of running with them, if they are off pace by at least 15 seconds per mile, I drop off of the group and become my own pacer. I do also thank them. After all, they are sacrificing their marathon for others.

Also, ask them their take on aid stations. Do they stop at all of them? You will need to be prepared during the race for whatever their plan is.

Plan Your Race Strategy

1. If you’re a first time marathoner, your goal is simply to finish.

You have never put your mind and body through this before…so try not to put a time goal on your day. YOU JUST NEED TO PASS/FAIL. AN A+ FOR MY FELLOW TYPE A’S IS NOT required and you are still a marathoner when you complete the race.

2. Review your training log and look at how far you have come!

I am old school in that I like to log my workouts on a spiral notebook. Each page represents a week of training. I have highlighted breakthrough workouts and/or races. I especially take note of those. Unless we take the time to go back and look at our logs, we lose sight of how much we really did.

Other Ways To Improve Your Race Result During Race Week

There are other helpful things you can do during race week:

Massage/Foam Roll 

The more loose our legs are the better they will treat us race day. If you can, try to get a massage no later than 4 days before the marathon. It will also be good to keep up on foam rolling. You do have more free time thanks to the taper.


The old adage of garbage in/garbage out also applies for race fueling. You want to make sure you are hydrating properly this week and also putting good fuel in your take. For me, I drink a lot more water than normal and I drink more Gatorade.

I also start carbo loading 3 nights before the marathon and have protein on the 2nd and 3rd night and then the night before I just have plain pasta since protein is harder for your stomach to digest. I try at eat no later than 6 pm that night.  If it’s projected to be humid race day, I salt my food the days leading up to the race.

Prepare For Race Day Logistics

1. Know where the buses are (if applicable); know their cutoff times and know your corral cutoff times.

This is similar to making a flight on time. Do you want to be in the TSA line at the same time everyone else is boarding? No.

2. Plan to be early.

Depending on how big the race is, it may be very hard to get around since the whole area will be filled with volunteers, runners and their friends and family, so plan to be early.

3. Pre-designate where friends and family should be on the course.

Have as many friends and family at mile 18 on as you can get out there. That is when the marathon switches to being both physical AND mental. You get so much energy from seeing people close to your heart.  You will especially need this energy in the latter miles. The energy you receive from this support is crucial for some people.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, when they aren’t there it may be crushing, kind of like the feeling when you get from an unexpected breakup. So let them know you’re counting on their support.

Key: Have friends and family be on the “Runners Left” of the course (it’s easier for a runner to spot their friend/family then vice versa). Tell them to go to an actual mile marker since those are easy to spot for both the runner and the support crew.

Note: If available, let family and friends sign up for runner tracking so they can know when you’re coming and where you are on the course. If they don’t have runner tracking, sometimes they can get live results on race website.

Try not to sign up for this at the Expo-usually it’s quicker to sign up on the website while there are usually long lines at expo.

4. Pre-designate where friends and family should meet you after the race.

Most marathons have a family reunite area. They may want to have a big, recognizable balloon flying so you can see them, or pick a certain landmark or spot so you aren’t wandering around on tired legs trying to find them.

Get Nutrition And Gear Ready For Race Day

Here are a few ideas for race day prep–pick the ones that are right for you.

1. Pack your pre and post-race gear and nutrition ahead of time (See List).

2. If you run with music/podcasts, charge your device. Make new playlist if that sounds good.

3. If it’s a cold or rainy start, get throw away clothes for the start corral.

4. I save the mylar blanket from my previous marathons because I re-use them for the next cold start race corral. Cut a “V” neck into your throw away shirt, so it’s easy to remove when ready.

5. Bring a zip up shirt so it’s easy to remove if you’re still wearing it while running.

6. You can also use a large garbage bag to stay warm before the race and to run in during the early part of the race. They really work.

7. Put your name on the front of your shirt-and/or “1st marathon” on back of shirt. I use bright colored duct tape and a sharpie.  This is especially helpful in the latter miles of a race since you will get so much energy from hearing your name yelled out.

8. Is it your birthday? I wore a tiara during the Rock N Roll Phoenix Marathon and had HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DENISE on the front of my shirt. When runners said, “Happy Birthday,” I thanked them for coming to my party : )

9. If you wear a GPS watch and get frustrated when the watch tracks a mile before the course mile marker, then also wear an old school lap counter watch. I have a 50 Lap count timex watch that was only $25.

I start the wristwatch it along with my Garmin. Then when I physically pass a mile marker, I hit my timex to track the mile split. It logs the mile split and restarts the count of the next mile. So at the end of the race you can retrieve all of your mile splits, your average pace and total time

You can also you the stop watch on your phone.

Race Day Minus 1

1. Make sure to sleep in 2 mornings before the race (the day before race day.) No one really gets quality sleep the night before the race.

2. Stay off of your feet as much as you can the day before.

3. Layout your clothes.

4. Watch comedies or inspiring movies, like: Spirit of the Marathon, PBS Boston Marathon Challenge, Without Limits, Tommy Boy.

5. Try not to eat early in the evening.

Limit protein as your stomach will be working harder than it should be on race day to break down that protein.

Marathon Check List

(See photo below)


Running Coach Denise Sauriol coaches runners of all levels, both in person and virtually. She has raced everything from a 5K to an Ironman. 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

(Feature photo courtesy:

Next up: Race Day!


Check out these other articles you might like:

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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