What to expect on Marathon race day

You have worked hard to get this far, and race day is finally here, so what should you expect on Marathon race day? I have written about running marathons previously, but that was aimed to build confidence to make running a marathon feel more achievable – “so you want to run a marathon“. This blog looks more specifically about what to expect on Marathon day, with some tips to make things run smoothly and stress free.

The day you have been waiting for… it’s here, enjoy it

The Expo:

Before you get to race day you need to get your race number. Some will be posted out to you, but many bigger events have an expo, and expo’s at events such as London Marathon are a big part of the race experience. There are pro’s and con’s of the expo, but either way just go and enjoy it for what it is. You can find some good deals, and even if you are just window shopping it can be interesting to see what’s out there.

If you are going to a large expo like London then try to get there as early as you can. This isn’t always possible, but you will enjoy the experience much more if you can get there earlier. The day before race day it can get really busy, and the last thing you want to be doing the day before a marathon is being on your feet all day.

The day before:

Time to take the weight off and rest 

The day before you need to try to rest. As mentioned above the expo can take a lot of energy so avoid doing too much. You want to be conserving your energy to enable you to be at your best on race day. Up until this point the chances are that you have been worrying and panicking. Have you done enough, is this niggle an injury, I wish I had done more… STOP… what is done is done, there is nothing you can do now, so try and relax.

There is nothing more you can do now, so just relax

There are a number of things you can do the day before to keep your mind occupied, and also help prepare you for race day:

Pack your kit:

A typical #flatlay

You need to get your kit together and it feels far better to do this prior to race morning. It can cause a lot of stress running around on race morning not being able to find your desired kit. So avoid this and spend time in advance of race day getting your stuff together. You may want to write a list so you don’t forget all your basics. What do you want to wear, what will you need such as bib, Vaseline, accessories, nutrition. Don’t forget what you will need for after the event either.

Plan your journey route and timings:

Don’t struggle on race morning, plan ahead

Check how you are getting to the race start. Remember there may be restrictions on race day, so plan your route and timings carefully. Don’t leave it to last minute (as I often do) as it causes unnecessary stress, especially if something goes wrong. Often roads are closed for the event so public transport is the best way, and for London Marathon you get free travel on race day.

Plan your post race meeting point:

Don’t leave planning to when you are tired, plan ahead

It can be very difficult knowing where to go at the end of a race, so plan this ahead. Where will you be meeting loved ones? Remember when you finish, especially a large marathon, it will be very busy and spectators won’t necessarily be able to get to the same places as runners. Many events now have spectators meeting points so you can plan. Have a plan B in case your race doesn’t go as well as you expect, or if they miss you going by. It is a good idea to either carry a mobile or have it on your finish bag. But be warned at London Marathon the phone traffic is so intense that you may struggle to get through.

Plan breakfast:

What will fuel your day?

What do you usually use to fuel your runs? I am a banana and porridge sort of guy for race day. You don’t want to wake up on race morning not having your preferred breakfast. So plan ahead, make sure you have everything you need and get it all ready before race day.

Enjoy some carbs:

All the carbs

Now this isn’t a green light to completely over do it, but the days leading up to race day its a good idea to stock up your carb levels. Also make sure you keep yourself hydrated. I always look for high carb meals before a big race and for me this is usually a pizza or lots of pasta.

Race Day


Race day Morning:

So exciting, it’s finally here. I bet you are up really early, you set extra alarms to make sure you get up, and you hardly slept at all. Don’t stress if you haven’t slept well – sleep well in the days before race day. You will likely be nervous before the race which will likely effect your sleep. Get up, have your breakfast and get ready, and go and have fun.

Use the loo before you leave:

You will need one of these

You may not feel like it, but the next toilet you see will look like this, and will have huge queues to get in. Don’t worry if you wake up with a dodgy tummy, it’s race day nerves and is very common. Again stay hydrated, and try not to worry. You may find that it’s difficult to eat as you don’t feel like it, but try to have something.

Remember a bit of warm clothing:

What will you use to keep you warm

Make sure you are wrapped up warm as the early morning may be cold in just your race kit. You can pack your kit into your bag before the race, so I have my planned post marathon clothes on before I start. But what about when you have put your kit bag in? There are a number of things you can do to keep warm. Many take old clothes and discard them at the start. Many events collect these and give these to a charity shop. Many runners will collect clothes from a charity shop beforehand so they have something warm they don’t mind throwing away.

You will often see runners in race blankets after an event as they are given these to keep warm. Get one to keep warm before the race, I hardly ever use mine after the event but keep them for pre race. If you haven’t got one a bin liner does the same job, just cut some holes for your head and arms and you are good to go.

Before the start:

Get to the race village early:

The race village is part of the experience, so take it all in. But this isn’t the reason to get there early. Allow for delays, delays in travel with blocked roads or packed tubes. Allow for queue to get to the toilet, and the bag drop. Everything will take longer than you think, so give yourself plenty of time and beat the rush.

Bag drop at London 

Bag drop:

If you haven’t done this before then don’t worry it’s pretty simple. You will usually put your bag in to correspond with your race number. Many events will give you a bag to use, and if they do you must use this bag and attach your number to the bag. Others give you a label to attach to your own bag. Just give your bag to the baggage truck or tent and then collect it when you return.

London race starts / colours:

What colour are you?

At London there are three different race starts. Make sure you go to the right start. The blue and green merge pretty quickly and the red merges after about 3 miles. We all do the same distance, it’s just a way to get more people started. There are a number of clues to what colour you are. First of all your actual number indicates your start colour, so if you know you are number 10000 for example, you will be blue. The main split of colours is Blue for ballot and Red for charity. You then have GFA split between the various starts depending on age group and gender, and the Green is the celebrity start. They split people this way to maximise the number of runners. Many people don’t like the number of places that go to GFA, the truth is these don’t make a difference to the number of ballot places. They fill gaps in the field that would otherwise be sparse. If you had more ballot/Charity runners then the congestion would get worse.

Once you get your number the actual number is the colour of your start, and the drawstring for your bag is also the colour of your start. Once you get to the race village you will only be allowed in if you have the correct colour bib.

It is easy to find your start, there are huge blimps in the sky the colour of your start. Once you get off the train/tube just follow the blimp, and the huge crowds.

Finding your Pacer:

Come and find me

Pacers are at events to help you hit your target time, so how do you find them? Well mostly the flag gives us away and we are pretty easy to find. But we are based in pens according to predicted times. So if you want to run with the 4 hour Pacer then out this as your predicted time when you enter. You should be put in the same pen. If you aren’t don’t worry, just work up to us gradually.

Keep a smile on your face 

A word of warning. We run according to chip time, so if you don’t start with us we will be running to a different time. So ask the Pacer how long they have been running so you can work out any difference. In London there are pacers at each colour, so if you are running in blue start with a sub4 Pacer and a red 3:45 Pacer runs past, don’t worry. This just means the blue start got away earlier. There is no harm in running with a Pacer from a different start, just make sure you know how long they have been running so you don’t miss your target.

The main event:

Running in a pack 

It’s finally here, most of all if you only remember one thing out of this blog then remember this, HAVE FUN.

The key to a good race is keeping a steady pace you are comfortable with. Don’t start too fast. For a first marathon I would suggest being more cautious. Once you have done one the general rule for pace is asking a question: can I sustain this pace until the end? If the answer is no then slow down, if the answer is yes then can you speed up? If the answer is maybe then it sounds about right. You need to be able to sustain until the end but often you are capable of than you think.

Yes… YOU can do it

Getting your Pace right:

I often have people ask how fast they should go, and they answer is always “how fast have you trained for” you must have a target time in mind. An achievable target. I get some saying they will start slower and speed up, or they will run faster and know they will slow later. If you get the pace right you should be able to sustain until the end with a possible strong finish. If you have trained for x time why start slower or faster? It just doesn’t make sense.

Is it ok to walk? Of course it is, run your own race and do the best you can. For me now if I walk it means something has gone seriously wrong (but it still happens). If you are newer to running then it’s even more likely you will walk. For some it’s part of the strategy, walking for a minute every 5-10 mins. Whatever you do try doing what you practice in training. Walking because its strategy is good, if you are walking at end because you are tired means you will be slowing right down. That is fine, but it will be hard.

Have fun

Have fun and run with a smile. You will have a wonderful experience so enjoy every moment. Appreciate your surroundings. How often do you get to run around a city with closed roads. Appreciate the spectators and all the crowd support. Appreciate the buzz you will feel and the energy from all the other runners, the marshals who keep you safe; provide encouragement and give you nutrition. Appreciate everyone around you. Just go and run a marathon, you have got this.

18 thoughts on “What to expect on Marathon race day

  1. Really liked how calming this is – London will be my first marathon – I’ve shared this in the LMT2018 group on facebook, I think the pacing info will be useful for a lot of us, particularly when people are trying to find a pacer to run with. Thanks!


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