13 Smart Race Day Tips to Nail Your Marathon PR

Oh, the marathon. What a beautiful and heartbreaking beast that we all strive to tame. There are so many variables in a marathon that can work for or against you. With it being such a long way, there is a lot of room for error. That’s where these race day tips come in

These race day tips are helpful for the marathon—but also relevant for any distance where you will push yourself and step aboard the pain train.

These race day tips help you mentally and physically prepare for when the going gets tough. They also give you tricks to distract from the discomfort, fight off negative thoughts, and save energy.

These race day tips will help you run your best on race day. So, let’s go!

Related: How to Avoid Hitting the Wall in the Marathon

13 Race Day Tips for Your Marathon

  1. Go out below race pace.

Nail your marathon or race with these race day tips. Pin them for later!

The number one mistake made by runners in a race is going out too fast. It’s hard to keep yourself contained because of the race day excitement.

But don’t fall into the trap. Otherwise, you risk burning through your glycogen stores and energy way before you’ve completed 26.2 miles (or hitting your lactate threshold).

Related: What is RPE in Running?

Tell yourself to stay in control. Remind yourself that running 26.2 miles is a long way.

Aim to run the first 2 miles or so at 10-30 seconds below race pace. Don’t worry, you will be able to make up the time later in the race if you pace yourself.

Stay patient!

  1. Pick up in the middle and settle in.

There are several ways to pace a marathon: go for an even pace, negative split (run progressively faster) or run 20 miles easy and then race the last 10k.

No matter the racing strategy you choose, be sure to run the middle part of the race in a rate of perceived exertion level of 5. This means you can speak in short sentences but not sing a song.

The middle miles should feel challenging but not impossible. Settle into your own pace and rhythm.

Related: How to Train Your Gut for Marathon Fueling

  1. Kick it at the end.

Anywhere in the last 6 or so miles of the marathon is when you want to start progressively picking up the pace. This is when you want to move to a hard effort (an RPE of 7 then progress to 10 in the final mile).

In the last half mile, really start pushing and then sprint for the last .2.

At this point, you can probably see the finish line and clock. If you’re close to your time goal, use this as motivation to get that PR!

Related: The Science of Strides: & How They Make You Faster 

  1. Fuel early and often.

Studies show that runners who fuel early and often in a race have a better performance. This is your best strategy in avoiding the dreaded wall aka bonking.

For a marathon, take an energy gel at the start line. Then start taking them at least every 30 minutes with water. Sip an energy drink in between.

Related: Marathon Fueling 101: What Runners Should Eat

Hydration is also key to keeping your blood bringing oxygen to your working muscles. So, take in water at every water stop or more if you can!

Not nailing your fueling and hydration plan could be the difference between a DNF and a PR!

Oh, and pro tip–make sure you can easily rip open your gel packets while running!

Related: How to Pick the Best Energy Gel for You

  1. Run your own race.

I can’t emphasize this point enough—run your own race. A marathon is a very long race and not the time to try on other people’s paces for time.

Run the pace you trained for, not someone else’s. Stay in your lane. Remain confident and patient with your race plan.

Towards the end when you’re letting it all hang out, you can pick a runner and try to stay with them as motivation. That is a great strategy!

But up until that point, run your OWN race.

  1. Break it up.

Share these race day tips to help others nail their PR!

Thinking about running 26.2 miles, or whatever your race distance, can be very daunting. So. break the race into chunks. As noted, some people like to view it as a 20-mile-long run followed by a 10k race

I personally break the marathon into familiar distance chunks: a 10-mile run, followed by an 8-mile run, another 2 mile, then the 10k.

A popular saying about running is to “run the mile you’re in.” This is beautiful advice for the marathon (and life). If you’re really struggling, try to stay focused on the here and now. Don’t worry about the miles left, just try to finish the mile you’re in.

  1. Run the tangents.

Don’t forget one of your first math mantras in grade school: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In other words, run the tangents on every turn in a race.

Study the course before you line up to know what to expect. Run smart staying to the side you are turning on as much as possible.

Some marathons have a lot of turns, making it hard to memorize every direction you’re going to go in. Keep looking ahead to anticipate your next move.

Don’t cut other people off by do try to position yourself so that you are on the inside of a turn.

What you don’t want is to finish your marathon and have your GPS tell you that you ran well over 26.2 miles! 

  1. Put your name on your bib.

Having someone cheer your name as you run your marathon can give you a huge mental boost—more than you would expect.

Many marathons have the option to put your name on your race bib. Do it if you can! If not write it on your arm or display it on your shirt somehow. It can definitely help keep you going when the going gets tough!

I like to use nicknames to trick myself that the crowd is there for ME because they know ME. So, I use WHIT on my race bibs. Makes me feel like the whole line of spectators are my personal friends and family cheering me on!

Related: 9 Mental Training Tips from Sports Psychologists for Runners

  1. Practice grabbing water cups.

Grabbing water cups while you’re running can be pretty tricky and a big time and energy waste!

The water stops are crowded so you’re navigating around people. And then, you’re trying to grab something slippery without splashing it or dropping it. And then down it while running at a faster pace. It is hard!

Set up a table on your street, run past, and practice grabbing the cups! I know it sounds silly but think about it this way—this practice could save you minutes off your marathon time!

Related: 26 Pro Tips for Running a Marathon

  1. Make a friend.

It sounds counterintuitive but when you’re struggling in the later miles of the marathon, start talking to people. It may seem like striking up a conversation is wasting precious energy, but it can give you an energy boost!

Tell them they are doing a good job. Then ask simple questions like: have they run this marathon before? Have they run a marathon before? Are they from the area, etc.?

This will help distract you from the discomfort and give you a mental shot of confidence.

Some people may not be up for chatting. That’s okay. Read the room. And try another runner if you can!

  1. Feed off the crowd.

Nail your marathon or race with these race day tips. Pin them for later!

The empowerment you can get from zoning away from your pain and into the crowd is remarkable and could be a gamechanger for your mood and mind.

So, when you enter the pain cave, look out to the sidelines for the people cheering for you. Feed off their energy and let it carry you towards the finish.

If you are running a smaller marathon without a lot of spectators, think about something else. Studies show dissociative thoughts can help you push past pain. So, make the grocery list.  Plan your vacation. I like to think through my next article or social media post.

Related: 7 Ways to Recover Faster from a Marathon

  1. Have a mantra.

Before you get to the start line, come up with your mantra, a short simple saying that makes you feel strong. Make it be something you truly believe about yourself.

Research reveals that people who repeat mantras to themselves have decreased brain activity that increases focus and relaxation.

American marathon record holder and mother runner Keira D’Amato shared her mantras in an Instagram post:

– This is hard. So am I. 
– Today my goal is xxx. I’m reaching my goal today. I deserve this.
– Ha, body, you think this pain is gonna slow me down?!?
– Just finish, hit my goal, and then I never have to run again
– I’m not throwing away my shot.
– Coming up short sucks. Today I’m not coming up short.

  1. Remember your why.

Your why is the reason you wanted to run a marathon in the first place: It is what kept you motivated to keep training through the challenges life threw at you. It is what motivated you to get up early, navigate busy schedules to get the miles in, and make healthy choices.

Your why could be connected to your health, or your kids, or just because running makes you feel AWESOME. Marinate on the reason why you run and have it at your fingertips so that it can push you when your body is screaming at you to stop.

It always surprises me how after all the work I put in, I feel so vulnerable to giving up in the last 8 miles or so of the marathon. I think of excuses as to why I didn’t run the way I wanted or why it would be okay to drop out.

But then I reconnect to my why and I keep going. For my last marathon where I ran with a torn hamstring and wanted to DNF, I thought of what I would tell my daughter. I couldn’t bear explaining to Eleanor that I quit. So, I kept going.

I didn’t get my Olympic Trials Qualifying time, but I did get a personal record.

Related: Lessons Learned from My Hamstring Injury

During a marathon, you’ll go through a rollercoaster ride of feelings and emotions. Let them come and go, but keep moving forward! (Get more tips from my friend Lisa over at Mile by Mile here.) 

I’d love to help you with your marathon goals! Check out my coaching services for more information.


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