Your First Marathon: Words From The Wise

Top marathon tips from RW forumites

Posted: 24 April 2009
by Catherine Lee


With so much to think about before your first marathon – what to wear, when to eat and how to pace yourself for starters – it’s no wonder your anxiety levels can soar during the build-up to race-day.

Who can you turn to for advice and reassurance? The RW forumites of course. They’ve hundreds of marathons-worth of experience between them, and we’ve picked their brains for these fail-safe tips to ensure your marathon debut goes as smoothly as possible.

From bum-bag necessities to perfectly timed pit stops, make sure you’ve every eventuality covered with these handy pointers.

The week before...

  • Prepare yourself mentally by rehearsing the last four or five miles in your head. If you can do this on the actual marathon course, so much the better. The advantage is that it becomes so familiar that once you reach this section you will feel that you’re home and dry. – Australopitcheus
  • Cut your toenails a good few days prior to the event. That way if you cut them too short and your toes are painful, they have time to heal. – Roobarb
  • For two days before the race avoid strong or spicy foods, and, if you can stick to what you have been eating during your training. Stick to carb loaded foods containing nothing acidic in any flavourings you use. – The Swindon One
  • Get a good night’s sleep two days before marathon day because it’s quite usual to worry the night before. It’s OK to have a glass of wine or two to settle the nerves without any adverse effects. – Selfish Git!!!
  • If you are staying in a hotel away from home - take your pillow with you. It might sound daft and you might feel silly, but you need all the help you can get to sleep the night before the race. – Minnie Two Bikes aka MTB
  • The day before the marathon, do nothing. Sit on your bum and watch TV with your feet up eating pasta (preferably cooked by your loved one). Think back over your training and visualise everything going perfectly the next day. – Acoustic Soda
  • Don't try to remember anything that's written in the pre-race information. If it’s important to you, write it down and take it with you. Your brain will cease to function normally (or maybe that's just me). – CumbriAndy

Kit Essentials

  • Put your name on your vest – I couldn't work out why everybody else had loads of support in the crowds who knew their name and I didn't! – FINgers
  • Take a loo roll in your kit bag to the Greenwich/Blackheath start area. There is little worse than queuing for the loo for 30 minutes then discovering there is no loo roll to help out with the pre-race nerves! – Pacha
  • If it's raining take a bum-bag. Fill it with the usual goodies, sweets, chocolate, pills etc but also some of those mini-ankle socks. Should you have to stop at 16 miles with blisters, you'll have some dry socks to put on, rather than wringing out the wet ones. – Iccle Jim
  • Pack a blister-plaster pack in your bum-bag, and a hat or bandana. The weather can change a lot in two to six hours and you’ll want to avoid getting a sunburnt/windburnt head. – RFJ
  • Don’t wear new shoes. I bought new trainers and ‘saved’ them especially for my big race. Ouch! Blisters and then some. – The one at the back
  • SPF cream is my main piece of advice. I wasn't expecting to get sunburnt on a not-particularly-sunny April day. – Beckylou
  • Put Vaseline on anything that might rub against anything else – there are a surprising number of moving parts when you start thinking about it. Good also for exposed flesh if it’s wet and cold – you don't want chapped lips and raw skin. – Eva Midsole
  • Apply a thin layer of Vaseline around your whole foot and between the toes. I didn't get a single blister. – Tmap
  • A couple of plasters over your nipples works heaps better than Vaseline (as long as you are not especially hairy!) – Nick L
  • Always carry a spare pair of shoelaces in your bum bag. If you got to the start line, readjusted your shoelaces and one snapped, it could be the difference between starting the race five minutes later, or not at all. – Malcolm Jeffrey

At the Start...

  • Be prepared for the mental ‘rush’ of the crowds, the noise, the colour and the excitement. Some runners find it vastly encouraging – first time round it just stunned me. – OuchOuch
  • When you get to the start zone, go to the loo. While queuing, get changed, warm up, eat breakfast etc. When you've been, join the queue again! You can never go to the loo too many times before the race! – Iccle Jim
  • Think about your legs. Keep off your feet as much as possible. Take an old shirt, jacket or bin bag, anything to sit on wherever you can. – Gatton 225
  • If you can ‘buddy up’ with someone at your pace it makes a big difference. I've now done four marathons and the two where I chattered happily away to someone for the bulk of the race seemed more comfortable. – amadeus

Ready, steady… go

  • Start slow. You will feel lousy before the marathon because of tapering, then when you start you’ll suddenly feel wonderful. Your body hasn't really changed so don’t revise your target pace because you feel good at mile five, or 10 or 15. You can only make a sensible assessment from mile 18 onwards. – Skip
  • If you are doing run/walk, do it from the beginning (crowds permitting). – Nessie
  • Don't let the adrenaline take over, even if you’re running at a speed that is slower than you trained at. Overtaking people who have gone out too fast feels fantastic in the last few miles and can give you an energy boost if it starts getting painful towards the end. – Gavo
  • Break the race up into manageable chunks. For example, a five-mile run to a Lucozade station, a four-mile run to where your mates are spectating, another mile to a Lucozade station, and so on. When things got really tough I never had more than five miles to run before getting a boost. – 3Legs
  • I name each mile after someone I admire. No way am I going to give up in their patch... – Stickless
  • If it really starts to fall apart count your footsteps until you have recovered your rhythm. When it gets even tougher pick a landmark ahead and ensure that you run to it. As you get close, choose another target ahead. – Dubai Dave
  • If you're starting to struggle from mile 20 onwards, focusing on catching up or staying with the people in front of you can help keep your mind occupied and maintain your pace. – Newbie 1
  • Don’t get too hung up on time. By all means have a time plan, but also have plan B, C to Z for any odd surprises. – Plodding Hippo

Eating and drinking

  • If you’re travelling to stay locally overnight before the race, check the hotel you are staying in does early breakfasts, or go prepared by taking your own breakfast with you. – Happycat
  • Eat your last food two to three hours before the start of the race. Have your last drink one hour before the race and then go to the loo a couple of times in that last hour. This certainly stops me from needing to make a loo stop during the 26.2 miles. – ICRA
  • Familiarise yourself with where the energy drinks stations will be so you won’t need to go further without a drink than expected. – CumbriAndy
  • Drink before you start, then be especially wary after 14 miles or so. People get really obsessed about hydration and energy, wrongly believing that ‘the wall’ is essentially a failure to eat enough. Eat if you're hungry, drink if you're thirsty. – Tmap
  • Stick to what you normally do in training with regards to taking fluids during the race. Just because the FLM give water/energy drinks every mile does not mean you need it every mile. I was very sick at the end of my first FLM from taking on too much liquid. – Pacha
  • Work out your refuelling plan and stick to it. For my first marathon I had planned what I would eat and when, then trained to that. On the day, I was past halfway before I remembered my plan. Surprise surprise, by mile 20 I was shot... – amadeus
  • I took a drink at every single water station because I'd heard how easy it was to get dehydrated. Consequently, having a bladder the size of a pea, I was desperate for the toilet for the last five miles and being the shy wallflower that I am, wasn't going to go by the roadside! – Cath.
  • Only partially unscrew the lids on the Lucozade - it stops spillages and slows the flow, making it easier to drink. – SMD
  • Put your favourite post long-run snack in your bag and eat/drink it as soon as you pick your bag up. You may feel like something savoury after all the energy drinks. The sooner you can replace fluids and refuel the better. – Newbie 1

Cooling down...

  • When you are approach the finishing line check who is around you – they are also going to be in your finishing picture that you’ll show your family and friends, so best it doesn’t show you being beaten by someone twice your age or dressed as a Teletubby. – Skip
  • Arrange to meet a friend at the end. It can be a nightmare trying to get your stuff. I was eternally grateful to my dad for meeting me at the finish, carrying my stuff, praising me, and driving me home! – The one at the back
  • Don’t rely on being able to contact your nearest and dearest by mobile phone after the finish as you might have trouble getting a signal. Arrange to meet at one of the labelled trees in Horseguards Parade instead. Oh, and keep moving, however painful it feels. If you can hobble about a bit, rather than collapse in a heap (even if you go backwards down the stairs to the Underground) you'll feel much better the next day. – Running Rodent
  • If you can, have a cold bath afterwards, it feels horrible but definitely helps with the stiffness. – Newbie 1
  • Wear your medal until it annoys people. You’ve earnt it! – Iccle Jim
  • It's OK to cry afterwards, even if you are a bloke. It just means you’ve tried really hard and suffered great mental and physical stress in trying to achieve your target – Poacher
Got your own marathon tip to share? Then either post a message on the forum thread below or email us with your advice.

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Discuss this article

Hello everyone

I'm looking to put together an article for marathon first-timers and am hoping you guys could please lend a hand...

Thinking back to how you felt after your first marathon experience - was there anything you wished you'd known beforehand? Did you kick yourself mid-race for forgetting something really obvious? Any fail-safe tips you've picked up since?

All pearls of wisdom and race-day anecdotes much appreciated, the more practical and useful the better.

There's a bunch I can use to get started in our 2005 marathon archive, but it'd be great to start a new discussion and get some fresh ideas!

Thanks in advance for your time,

Catherine RW
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:19

I did everything wrong for my first one

no fuel, longest run 8 miles, no suncream in thirty degree heat and a hangover-oh, and runners trots, which was the first time i had ever had them

but, i think the thing is not to get too hung up on time
It can ruin your race

in fact, that doesnt just apply to first marathons
as i keep saying, the marathon is an unpredicatble beasite which bites back
so, by all means have a time plan, but also have plan B, C -------Z for any odd surprises

and if its FLM-DONT spend too much time wandering round the expo
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:23

Don't do anything on race day that is different to what you have done in training. I took a drink at every single water station because I'd heard how easy it was to get dehydrated. Consequently, having a bladder the size of a pea, I was desperate for the toilet for the last 5 miles and being the shy wallflower that I am, wasn't going to go by the roadside. So I was hampered by the need for the loo! Other than that, as Ruth says, not to get too hung up on time..!!
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:25

I started my sprint finish coming out of Canary Wharf, convinced I was nearly at the finish and expecting to see Big Ben at any minute.

Poor sense of geography.

Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:27

I ran in a cotton t-shirt - not a modern wicking one ... sore nipples!
didn't have lycra shorts under my ordinary shorts - chafed thigh... sore!
only ran 16 miles max (twice) in training - could have done better!

other than that did pretty good!
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:30

I think the best single piece of advice is to apply a thin layer of vaseline around your whole foot and between the toes. I didn't even get a single blister in the London to Brighton thanks to that one.

Also, out of 5 London Marathons, I've had serious isotonic drink-induced stomach cramps in 3 of them (I'm a slow learner). Drink before you start, then be especially wary after 14 miles or so when your digestion can just pack in. People get really obsessed about hydration and energy, wrongly believing that "the wall" is essentially a failure to eat enough. Eat if you're hungry, drink if you're thirsty.

Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:35

Try using the sports drink that will be supplied in the race before you do the race, I didn't and at 8 miles was very ick!

Allow enough time to get to the start and join the loo queue!
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:37

In hindsight, when I consider how badly prepared I was (no real structure to my training, no real fuelling and no concept of pacing) it was amazing that I not only got round but was in such good shape that I was really disappointed to see the finish line!! Hope to rekindle that feeling next month!! ;o)

Agree with Cath and Hipps - don't do owt new on the day and go with the flow when it comes to time.
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:39

"Word to the Wise" For those who are treading the roads of London for the first time.
On race day just think legs. What! I hear you say. Think about it. You get out of bed, You have to travel to the start. You may well have had to take the train. You have to walk from the station to the start area. Now your nervous and you are walking around looking for friends or charity areas. You go to the loo, and stand in a queue. You have a coffee still standing you change and then at last you go to your start pen. What!!! sill 30 minutes to go and your still standing. Yippeee the gun goes of. Hang on you havent moved. It could take anything up to 10 minutes before you actualy cross the start line. THEN you have to run 26.2 So the moral of the story is keep off your feet as much as possible on race day. Take an old shirt,jacket,bin bag, anything to sit on wherever you can. If you dont you will wish you had. Trust me I learnt the hard way Good luck everyone ENJOY YOUR DAY.
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:40

Entering and running a marathon is a big commitment you need to be out running and training in all weathers so even before entering ask yourself are you ready to give up your Saturday nights out so you can do your LSRs on Sundays.

Also enter and run a few shorter races to practise race day before marathon day.

Posted: 21/03/2007 at 15:45

Vaseline up those nips last thing you want to do is look like a sniper has had a pot shot at you.
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 16:54

FLM last year I didnt take the taper or carbo loading seriously so ran a great 1st 1/2 and died at 19miles

Posted: 21/03/2007 at 17:10

Couple of band aids over your nips works heaps better than vaseline! (as long as you are not especially hairy!)
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 17:13

I only trained upto 17 miles and paid the price bigtime. On target for sub 3 at 19 miles and then hit the wall. Spent next 7 miles on and off getting massages from St Johns ambulance. Finished in 3:16.

Top tips: 1. Have your name on your vest, this will give you 3 mins, crowd are bloomin awesome. First words I said after I'd finished was....that crowd are f*****in brilliant.
2. Yes...vaseline evrywhere and plasters on the nips.
3. Dont chug too much fluids. I found water every 3 then Lucozade every 5 worked.
4. I spent first few miles high fiving kids...enjoy your run.
5. Get into a rhythym and you will go into neutral. Before you know it the miles will have dropped off.
6. Focus on your goal but dont get obsessed with it. Youve made the start line...well done.
7. Do train , if you can upto 20 miles.
8. When you have finished you will cry like a baby...let it flow and turn to the person next to you and shake their hand. You have finished your marathon. Well done !
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 19:28

1. Pack 1 or screw tops for lucuzade pouches, it save you getting yukky fingers.......

2. Sort out your socks (not cotton) and trainers (make sure you have at least 50 -100m done in your trainers and at least 1 long run, pref 2. Sock likewise.

3. Also in your bum bag, other than the screw caps, a blister pack.

4. If you are like me and losing hair a hat or bandana, the weather can change a lot in 1-6 hours and a sun burnt / wind burnt head is not nice.

5. Enjoy it, if you are not going to hit your target time (or are) just relax and enjoy the atmosphere...... its not every day you have 1 million people cheering YOU on..... yes YOU......

Take care
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 19:47

1 should say pack 1 or 2 screw tops......
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 19:47

SPF cream is my main piece of advice: I did all the training etc and thought I was very well-prepared but really wasn't expecting to get sunburnt on a not-particularly-sunny April day!
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 19:59

One piece of advice I was given prior to my first marathon was to cut my toenails a good few days prior to the event. That way if I cut them too short and my toes were painful, they had time to heal. Good tip for me...........
Posted: 21/03/2007 at 23:56

Be (kinda) prepared for the mental 'rush' of the crowds, the noise, the colour and the encouragement. Some runners find its vastly encouraging (which I did second time round) first time round it just stunned/ distracted me.

O and along embankment Big Ben doesn't seem to get any closer.
Posted: 22/03/2007 at 21:48

Thanks for all this advice - just the sort of thing I was after!

If you think of anything else, please post again or drop me a line - the article's a work in progress atm!

Thanks again

Catherine :o)
Posted: 26/03/2007 at 09:37

Avoid all dairy products 24 hours before the race. Will prevent possible stomach problems!!!

Eat your last food 2-3 hours before the start of the race. Have your last drink 1 hour before race and then pee a couple of times in that last hour. This certainly helps me from needing to make a loo stop during the 26.2 miles.
Posted: 26/03/2007 at 09:54

If you find yourself running with the leaders, slow down!
Posted: 26/03/2007 at 13:24

Even though I read all the advise about running a marathon,  followed a training plan and set what I thought was a realistic time it still hurt.  

Don't get hung up on a time.  I did and perhaps thats why I still went too fast (although in line with my target) and my legs fatigued badly at 30k.

Take the first one very easy and just complete the distance.  I thought I knew better 

Posted: 31/10/2011 at 10:56

Hi!! I would love some advice.  I used to be reasonably fit and have run 4 marathons.   The last one was in 2009.  Sonce then my fitness has declined and I am now over wieght.  I am so fustrated that i have let myself decline so much.  I have decided to try and do a marathon in June.  This gives me 6 motnhs to lose wieght and get fitter.  I am not looking for any time records.  Just to get round it by running.

Any ideas where to start re training plans??  Right now I cant run 20 minutes but as soon as I fall in love again (with running) i know there is no stopping me.

please help!

Posted: 02/12/2011 at 21:15

Enjoy it, stick to the line and take flip flops,I was so jealous of those taking there trainers off at the end and putting on flip flops, 

Posted: 04/04/2014 at 19:10

Have Wet Wipes for the end, as it'll probably be a while before you can find somewhere to wash.

and clean socks for after, too (I'm not sure I'd feel safe in flip flops, so I take old comfy trainers instead), and something warm - an emergency blanket (if you get one) isn't as nice as a soft jumper or hoodie

... and something really nice to eat (Snickers for me) and perhaps a recovery shake.

Posted: 04/04/2014 at 21:15

The first was my best!

I did it slowly and I had plenty of energy left by the end. That was my first and last marathon when I didn't care about my time and I just enjoyed it.

Only thing that I did wrong and I learnt - however cold the weather seems to be in the morning, a single running vest is sufficient.

Posted: 04/04/2014 at 21:23

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