Well done making it to the start line of a marathon! It’s not easy putting in the hours of training, through dark, wind and rain, and surviving injury-free. If you haven’t done a large race of 30,000+ runners before, it can be handy to know what to expect on the day. That way you don’t have to worry about where to put your bag and how to meet your family – you can just focus on the main aim of getting round the course in the way or time you want. So this is a guide to what to expect at the start and finish logistics of the race. (For how to prepare beforehand, see 10 top tips to prepare you for a race)
Breakfast: This should be what you usually eat. (Having said that, we all like to know what everyone else has – for me it’s museli with yoghurt, honey and banana!)
Kit: Put on the kit that you’ve laid out the night before. Pick up the kit bag that you also prepared the night before, and that you’re going to hand in at the start. No need to panic as you’ve got this all ready to go. A tip I’ve developed over the years is to use a rucksack as this is easy to carry. If there’s a more awkward official bag (like at London), you can put this inside your rucksack til you load it on the lorry.
Loo strategy: You know your body. Most people go often on race day, so take the opportunities when you can between getting up and getting to the start.
Travel: Again, you’ve planned this, so you feel calm as you hop on your train/ bus to the start, knowing you’ve left lots of time between arriving and the start gun (I suggest an hour minimum).
Arriving at the start: You start to feel a real buzz as thousands of excited and nervous runners converge on a field that would otherwise be deserted at this time of day. Lots of people want to chat and share tips and goals. Join in if it makes you feel relaxed. Just smile politely if you’d rather focus alone – they’ll easily find someone else to talk to!
Suss out the start area: You’ve already looked at maps of the start, and know the start time. Now’s the time to check it out on the ground. Check where the loos are and where to leave your bags so you can get straight to them when you need.
Warm up: This one’s quite individual. If you’ll be running or run/walking at a pace that’s quite manageable for you, then you can use the first few miles of the event as a warm up. If you’re going to shoot off at speed, then you’ll need a bit of a warm up. Either way, going through some of your normal stretches and pre-run routine can be another handy way of calming your nerves, making you feel like it’s just another run.
Food and drink: Keep sipping water or energy drink as you feel like before the start, and top up with more food if you need (I usually have an energy bar). It’s good to stop eating and drinking about 45 mins before the start so that your body can absorb this. You’ll then have your plan for what to eat and drink during the race.
Loos again! There never seem to be enough! A tip some people use is to go, then just go straight to the back of the queue! Most larger events usually have them along the course too.
Bag on the bus: You may be called to get in your start pen as early as 30 minutes before the start, so don’t leave it too late to drop off your bag.
Get to the start! You’ll have a start pen or zone number. Get yourself there and relax. You’ve done everything you can. You’re ready to run!
[Quick pause while you run your marathon…]
Finish: Congratulations! However your run went, you’ve made it and pushed yourself to do something that many think is out of their reach.
Keep moving: If you can! If you can’t, medical people will appear and help you! But if you can, keep walking/ shuffling forwards, which will help stop your muscles seizing up from the shock of stopping after 26.2 miles.
Medal: Usually just after crossing the line, you go straight on to collect your medal with pride.
Timing chip: If you’ve got a chip on your shoe, there will be people to take it off. Don’t worry if you’re stiff, they’ll be used to it!
Bag: There will probably be a lot of other runners collecting their bag at the same time! So get over to the bag area as soon as you can.
Recover: I’d recommend changing into your warm clothes here. It can take time to get out and meet your family, leaving you to get cold. It’s also not easy changing when you’re tired, and even more difficult when your family and friends are asking you how it all went! Eat the food and drink you’ve put into your bag. Ideally this contains carbs and protein. I have a recovery bar and a chocolate protein shake. Enjoy a quick massage if it’s on offer.
Meet up: Keep moving to the place you’ve arranged to meet friends and family. Enjoy your well-deserved glory!
Why not congratulate a runner you know by sending them a card, or mark your individual success and memories with a bespoke Art Of Your Success painting? Running a marathon is a fantastic achievement that you’ll probably always remember. We’d love to hear how it went in the comments below.