Your First Marathon: Words From The Wise

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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.