How to Prepare for a Marathon (+ Your Ultimate Marathon Checklist)

Preparation for a marathon is crucial for race day success. The key is sticking to foods you trained with, packing ahead of time for everything on race day, studying race day logistics, and preparing for the weather. Get a complete marathon checklist below!

Whitney Heins at carmel marathon finish
Runners should leave nothing up to chance when preparing for a marathon.

You spend months training for a marathon and now it’s the final days ahead of the big race. You are experiencing taper tantrums and confusion, and you need help getting ready. I am here for you! This article walks you through how to prepare for a marathon, complete with an ultimate marathon checklist and marathon packing list.

Related: How Do You Taper for a Marathon?

During my last marathon in 2019, it was bitterly cold (in the teens). I had packed a tank and shorts to run in with arm sleeves. I thought this would be enough. I’d be moving so fast, I assumed I’d warm up. Then I started to doubt myself and bought all the cheap cold gear I could find at the expo.

I was cold and uncomfortable throughout the entire marathon. (And you don’t want to be any more uncomfortable in a marathon than you have to be.)

Prepare for a marathon
Runners should think through all race day scenarios before lining up for their marathons.

I made a huge error in judgment by ignoring the reality of what I had already known. I get cold. And running in the teens and 20s is cold—no matter how fast you are running.  

Race day isn’t that much different. Don’t assume anything going into a race.

Related: What to Running Wear in Cold Weather

I’m here to help you avoid this scenario so you can figure out all the little things to prepare for a marathon. (Note: This article is written for those traveling to a race. If you’re running a hometown marathon, obviously omit the tips about travel).

So, let’s roll!

How do you prepare for a marathon?

Assuming you have spent 4 to 6 months training for your marathon, follow these steps to prepare for race day:

Related: Free Marathon Training Plan and Tips

  • Leave little up to chance. This means you need to do your research and pack for all the possibilities that may arise.
  • Use your imagination. You need to visualize the entire process from what you will eat, what you will wear before and after, and how you will get to the start line.
  • See the future. You should forecast how you will feel before, during, and after the race. Pack to meet your needs.

What should I wear for my marathon?

I like Rabbit gear for my marathon clothing.

Wear NOTHING new for your marathon. Today is not the day to try out new shoes or a special race outfit. If you buy specific racing shoes or a special race day outfit, TRY IT IN YOUR TRAINING FIRST.

It’s smart to do your peak long run in your marathon clothing and racing shoes to make sure there are no issues. Too many runners have sabotaged their training because they didn’t realize their racing shoes gave them blisters or their new running shorts chaffed their nether region.

Related: Marathon Fueling 101: What Runners Should Eat

Pick light, breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics. Wear clothes designed for running. And before you put it on, apply anti-chafing balm everywhere: all over your feet and wherever seams touch.

I also recommend sports bras and shorts with pockets to hold your gu. My favorite marathon clothing is Rabbit.

What to eat the night before a marathon?

Do NOT eat anything new or unfamiliar the night before your marathon. Once again, this is not the time to get out of your comfort zone (you will do that on race day!).

So, stick with something plain, simple, and that you’ve tested in your training leading up to marathon race day.

Related: 26 Pro Marathon Training Tips for Race Day Success

Eat a meal with simple carbs, little oil and grease, and some fiber. Your plate will look like half carbohydrates, a quarter protein, and a quarter vegetables.

Reminder: The most carb-heavy meal is not the dinner before your marathon but the lunch. Get all the carb-loading tips and a carb loading plan here.

What should I bring to my marathon?

Think of packing for your marathon in three stages: before, during, and after.

Before: Focus on what you will eat and drink. Think about what tools you need to get your legs ready such a foam roller or Epsom salt. Consider what will get your mind ready such as running books or a training log. Finally, plan for what you will wear to warm-up and stand at the start line. 

During: Focus on your race day outfit including what will keep you warm or cool. Pack anti-chafing balm and/or sunscreen. Pack those energy gels and hydration. Bring extra safety pins just in case the race doesn’t have them.

After: For after your marathon, comfort and recovery are the name of the game. Bring tools that will help you recover like Epsom salt. Pack hydration and food like energy bars, cookies, and chips to help replenish your protein and glycogen.

Finally, pack comfy clothes like sweats and Oofos sandals.

Related: The Scientific Benefits of the Long Run

Your Ultimate Marathon Checklist

Okay, let’s get to your ultimate marathon checklist and marathon packing list to help you prepare for your next big race.

Months Before Your Marathon

  • Pick your race.
  • Buy your flights.
  • Register for your hotel close to the start line with a bathtub if you like Epsom salt or ice baths.
  • Research the area.
  • Make reservations for your pre-race meals.
  • Try out your race day outfit, racing shoes, fueling, hydration, and fueling on your long runs!
  • Research what nutrition and drinks they will be handing out and at what miles. Plan your fueling and practice with those products if you are going to use them!

One Week Before Your Marathon

Pin this marathon checklist to prepare for your marathon for later!
  • Start packing! (See your marathon packing list below).
  • Check the weather and include race day running gear for all possible elements.
  • Double-check the race info such as where the expo is, course in relation to your hotel, hotel and flight registration, and race course information.
  • Review your race strategy if you have one.
  • Look at your months of training to reinforce you have worked hard and are ready!
  • Begin eating more carbs and drink more fluids.
  • SLEEP!
  • Don’t freak out over taper tantrums. Most people feel terrible taper week.

Related: 7 Tips to Recover Faster from Your Marathon

One Day Before Your Marathon

  • Check the weather again.
  • Get to the expo.
  • Layout all your race day clothes.
  • Pin on your bib.
  • Get all your fueling and hydration needs ready.
  • Foam roll, do an Epsom salt soak, dynamic stretch, and rest those legs!
  • Make sure you know how to get to the start line in the morning and back to the hotel from the finish line.
  • Scout out the bathrooms near the start line.
  • Review the course or drive it if you have time.
  • Ask the hotel for a late check-out!
  • Prep your drop bag if you are going to use one.
  • Layout your throwaway clothes if you need them before or during the race.
  • Identify a meeting spot with your loved ones after the race.
  • Think about where you want or what you want to eat after the race. (Pizza in the hotel room is my favorite!).
  • Keep pushing electrolytes and carbs!
  • Practice some visualization and choose your mantra for the race.
  • Get to bed early but don’t stress if you don’t sleep enough.

Race Day Morning

  • Wake up 2-3 hours before your marathon start time and eat a carb-heavy breakfast like a bagel or oatmeal.
  • Drink those electrolytes!
  • Drink coffee if you typically do and bear in mind it takes about one hour for caffeine to kick in.
  • Try to relax! Foam roll, review that training and race plan.
  • Listen to pump-up music.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get dressed, go to the bathroom, and get to the start line.
  • Don’t forget the vaseline or anti-chaffing balm!
  • Write your mantra on your arm.
  • Stow away all your energy gels and hydration.
  • Pack your drop back.
  • Take an energy gel at the start line (if you’ve practiced with that) to top of glycogen stores.
  • Remember, the hay is in the barn!

Your Ultimate Marathon Packing List

Pin this marathon checklist and packing list to prepare for a marathon for later!

Here is your marathon packing list for your destination marathon. If you’re running a hometown race, skip the travel items (obviously).

  • Race confirmation
  • Hotel registration (get a room with a tub!)
  • Restaurant reservations
  • Late check-out 
  • Expo/bib pick-up information and directions
  • Course map with water stops (make sure you know what nutrition they will be supplying)
  • Recovery tools like a foam roller, massage gun, and Epsom salt
  • Safety pins
  • Water bottles for before and during the race
  • Energy gels and electrolyte tablets
  • Food you typically eat including food and drink for pre-race breakfast
  • Sharpie to write a mantra on your arm
  • Race day clothes including singlet, arm sleeves, headband, hat, sunglasses, shorts, socks or compression socks, running belt.
  • Racing shoes
  • Post-race comfy clothes and shoes like Oofos
  • Playlist to pump you up
  • Running book to motivate you
  • Phone charger
  • Watch charger
  • Extra cash, credit cards, ID, plane tickets
  • Toiletries
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Anti-chafing stick or Vaseline
  • GPS watch
  • Orthotics if you use them
  • Earplugs
  • A book about running to pump you up!
  • Hot hands and throwaway clothes if it is cold
  • Towel or blanket for post-race comfort
  • Compression socks for recovery
  • Post-race snacks and electrolyte drinks

Now, it’s go time!

If you want guidance with your marathon and other running goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:



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