I’m not a doctor… I don’t even play one on TV. I’m also not a professional athlete. That’s right, I just do this for fun. I’m an ordinary runner that has run a few marathons and some ultras. That does NOT make me the end all as to what to expect on race day, but I’m going to share “What to Expect on Marathon Day” based on my personal experiences and in conversations with those more talented than me.

This post is a shout out to Bonnie of bonnielangfitness.com as she gets ready to run her very first marathon. She pinged me for some tips and I thought it would be a great idea for a post.

Go get ’em B!

The night before

Take care of yourself and try to relax. You’ll walk around at the expo, but do your best to limit time spent on your feet. Keep your dinner simple and familiar. Things you know your body can digest normally. Bathroom issues can ruin race day.

Lay out what you’ll need the day before. Making sure you have everything you need in one place for race morning can help you feel more “prepared.” It’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about on race day.

Don’t be surprised if your excitement or anxiousness keeps you awake the night before, but get to bed early (even if it is just lying in bed) and get those feet off the ground. Sleep is good the night before, but the sleep 2-3 days before the marathon will fuel you, so don’t stress if the night before is restless.

Race morning

Breakfast should be familiar. You hopefully have perfected your morning routine from your long runs in training. Stick to familiar foods, “nothing new” is a good plan for race day.

You’ll have all your gear and supplies set up from the night before, so it’s just routine.

Miles 1-3

These are some of the most exciting miles. You are surrounded by fellow runners and everyone is ready to go and full of energy. Race goals and dreams are plentiful.

DO NOT get swept up in the excitement and go out to fast. Soak in the energy and use it as fuel, but keep the first miles comfortable and easy. You’re going to feel great and ramped up, but start out too fast and you’re in for a long day. If the first few miles are slow and comfortable, you are on the right track.

Miles 4-10

This is where the crowd should start to spread out. You are past the initial waves of runners and any congestion and you should start to settle into your pace. If you are sticking to the plan, you should feel great. Yay, go you!



Miles 11-16

You will have passed the halfway point and your race goal should be right on track, you may even be a little ahead of schedule. That’s okay, but stay focused and stick to the plan. You are going to feel really good and you might start thinking about speeding up and doing better than your initial race goal. That’s good feeling, but hold off on that idea. It’s still WAY too early.

Important Note: This should be the point where you feel your best. This is the distance of most of your training runs, so you’ll feel extremely comfortable and excited. Hold on to that energy. It’s a great feeling and embrace it. But don’t start changing your race plan. You still have over 10 miles to go and these coming up are the tough ones.

Miles 17-19

Here is where you will start to feel the energy take a tiny dip. You have been running for a few hours and how you feel here will help you approach the remaining miles. Some folks around you may be slowing down and feeling the results of starting out too fast. Lucky for you, you’ve stuck to the plan so you are moving forward consistently.

If you feel a little tired, that’s okay. It’s expected and your training has taught you to continue running strong. Trust in your training and keep moving forward.

If you are feeling great, that’s wonderful. BUT it’s still too early to throw the hammer and pick up the pace. Stick to the plan for a few more miles.

Miles 20-22

Everything up to this point has been a warm up (strange, but true). You are within reach of the last 6 miles and how you handled the first 20, determine how you will finish. Weird, but this is the “moment.”

You’ve heard runners talk about “the wall” and you may be experiencing it. It’s pushing past the point of exhaustion and overcoming the urge to stop. These are the wild card miles. You are close to the finish line, but still far enough away from feeling like you are almost done.

Focus on running one mile at a time. Pick out things in front of you as target points. Run to that tree. Ok. Check… Run to the mile marker. Ok. Check. Focus on your form and get through these miles. You may find strength in repeating a mantra or thinking about everyone that has helped you along the way. Think about your next blog post and how AMAZING it is going to be. Think about how EXCITED you’ll be to tweet out your shiny new PR.

Miles 23-25

If you are feeling great, GO. You’ve got 3-4 miles and you can do that in your sleep. Forget the previous miles and focus on running these next miles with what your mind and body will allow. Don’t start sprinting, still too far for that, but you can pick up the pace and start the countdown to the finish line.

If you are feeling exhausted and you are starting to struggle, it’s okay. These are the last of the tough miles… you are so close you can taste it, but you’ve got to keep moving forward. Think about your training and focus on channeling your “easy” runs of 3-5 miles. It’s just like that. You’ve got this. Keep. Moving. Forward.


Ok, this may be from a Half Marathon, but you'll feel THIS strong!

Ok, this may be from a Half Marathon, but you’ll feel THIS strong!

Mile 26

This is your victory lap. If you were feeling miserable and tired, all is forgotten on the final mile as your legs have new life and your mind can sense the finish line. Chances are this mile may feel “long,” but don’t be surprised if it is faster than your previous few miles. If your legs are feeling wonderful, this is the BEST mile as you know you have run a successful race and can push hard to the finish line. Pick a runner in front of you and focus on trying to catch up to them… maybe even pass them.


This is always funny. The longest .2 you have ever run, but the finish line crowd is all around you, runners and spectators are cheering you in. Soak in all the glory, as you have just finished a marathon. You can now stop running. But don’t do it RIGHT after crossing the finish line. You have to keep moving just a little bit to allow others to finish. Then you can drop to your knees and kiss the floor. (Not really recommended, but understandable.)

Some other things to keep in mind:

Hydration: Stick to what has worked for training. If all you drank was Gatorade, stick to Gatorade. If all you drank was Nuun, stick to Nuun. Not all electrolyte drinks are created equal and your stomach may not tolerate something new. Check the race website and see what the aid stations will provide. Always safe to bring your own or stick to water.

Fuel: Again, stick to what you used in training. As you can see, race day is the land of NOTHING NEW.

Clothes: Can you guess? That’s right, exactly what you used in training. No new shirts, shorts, tops, socks, shoes or anything different. This includes the race shirt they give you at the Expo. DO NOT WEAR THAT SHIRT DURING THE RACE = first sign of a rookie. Everything you wear on race day should have been road tested for at least 15 miles, and that is a fairly low number.

There you have it. Some things to expect on race day. This post was for those looking to run their first marathon, but the list also works for those running their 10th. Funny thing is that not all races are the same. Your first may go wonderful and I hope it does. Mine did not. But I finished and I look back at everything I overcame, physically and mentally and it taught me so much. I’m still learning and like most things, running is a constant evolution. Just when you think you know it all, a race will knock you on your butt… all you can do is learn from it and keep running.

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Feeling inspired to run?

Here is a link with coupon codes to races around the U.S.

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Your first marathon is something you will never forget.

Anything to add to the list?