Marathon Training: Your Cheat Sheet to Prep for a Successful Race Day

My high school coach, Jim McCoach (Yes that was his name, Coach McCoach. No doubt he was born to be a coach) would always say right before a big race, “The work is in the bank guys. You can only hurt your chances now so don’t do anything stupid.”

Coach McCoach was spot on. There’s no last-minute cramming in running. Either you’ve put in the work or you haven’t. Now, it’s time to assess your fitness level and set a realistic goal. And if training has gone accordingly, its time to enjoy the benefits of all the months, weeks and hours of hard work you’ve put in preparing for the big day.

Your best chance to ensure success on race day is to continue with what has worked, resist the desire to do more and follow these tips.

Don’t Experiment on Race Day. Race day is never the day to experiment with anything new; food, shoes, warm-up, etc.

  • Pre-Race Meal: Two things you should have nailed down at this point are what to eat and when to eat it. Do not deviate from your plan. If you haven’t nailed this down yet, you’re not completely dead in the water. Try and mimic the exact time frame of the marathon start. For example, the Philadelphia Marathon starts at 7:00 a.m. and you know you’ll be getting up at 4:30 race day, which is a 2.5-hour time difference. This weekend eat exactly 2.5 hours prior to your run. See how it goes. If it works stick with it.
  • Shoes: Never wear brand new shoes for the first time in a race. If you want new shoes for race day buy them TODAY and log some miles in them before the race.

Reduce Race-Day Stress with Proper Preparation. Marathon race day is stressful enough so anything you can do to lower stress the morning before the race is best. Visit the Philadelphia Marathon’s webpage and make note of important information about the race. If you’re new to the race, this is even more important. A few things you want take note of:

  • Look to answers these questions: How are you going to get to the start? Where will you park? How long will it take to get to the starting line? Is there a bag check? Where is it and when does it close? What starting corral am I in and what time will it start? Always allow for extra time. You will encounter unexpected delays.
  • Pre-Pack. Just as you would for a vacation, lay out and pack everything you need the night before the race. Lay out your race-day outfit and shoes including pinning your bib on your shirt and securing your timing chip. If you’re planning on checking a bag, put everything you need in it: extra clothes, bottle of water, food, etc.

Have a Race Plan. Whatever your goal may be — to simply finish, run the entire race or run a personal record — you must have a plan to get you there. Look at the course map. Where are key mile markers? Depending on your goal, memorize these markers, such as the halfway point. What is goal pace? Break the course into smaller sections like I’ve outlined here.

Additional Tips:

  • Take note of the weather and plan accordingly. Be sure to look at the weather of race morning. If it’s cold, wear clothing you are willing to throw away at the starting line. This is huge. There’s nothing worse than standing around for hours freezing cold. Wear a long sleeve shirt and pants you can take off right before the race starts. On the flip side, if it’s going to be hot or humid adjust your goal.
  • Have a meeting spot after the race for family and friends. In the larger races it can be near impossible to find someone amidst the spectators and participants. Don’t set yourself up to wander around in search of your friends after running a freakin’ marathon.
  • Do Brunch. There’s nothing better then eating a huge brunch after a race. Eat as much and whatever you want. No guilt. You earned it.


    Cory Smith is a Philadelphia based running coach; founder of Run Your Personal Best, a private running-coaching business; head cross country coach at Penn State Brandywine; and an American Cancer Society DetermiNation running coach. He is a USA Track and Field-certified coach and a 4:03 miler. As a student athlete at Villanova, Cory was an NCAA Division One Regional and National Championship qualifier. Contact Cory at Read all of Cory’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

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