“No one fucks with someone who runs 26.2 miles for fun”

We’re closing in on spring marathon season. Whether Boston this month or a local race next, you’re all in at this point. You’re tough and you’re tired. Your metabolism is high and you’re hungry all the time. You’re so excited and so exhausted. All in all, you’re a badass.

Hopefully your training has gone well. But all that time you’ve been putting in to weekly mileage goals, calculating long run splits, counting carbs and protein – have you stopped to think about executing on race day?

Marathon training is so consuming, many of us lose sight as to why we’re actually doing it. Now, it’s time to focus on what to do when you step up to the start line on race day.

Closing out this marathon-focused, three-part mini series on the blog: How to navigate, enjoy, or just get through those 26.2 miles of a marathon (with Parts 1 and 2 included).

The Start Line

What to expect
People. Everywhere. From fellow athletes and pace leaders to race officials and spectators, the area will be full of people.

How to train for it
On days that are tough, visualize this moment. Remind yourself of the pride and excitement you’ll feel stepping up to the start line with your fellow athletes.

What to do on race day 


Find us. We’ve got your back.

Find your correct spot. Unless your name is Meb, Shalane, or something equally elite, don’t line up at the front of the pack. You’re going to piss off those racing for a win or top finish, and throw off your entire pace within the first mile. Instead, locate the pace leader that’s nearest your goal finish time or the one that matches your pace. You don’t have to line up with them but at least use it as a guide to know where you should be.

Mile Markers 1-4

What to expect
The crowd will be thick and adrenaline high. You’ll be excited and may feel tempted to push your pace to get around people or, simply because you feel great.

How to train for it
Do plenty of easy practice runs to hone in on your comfort pace. This pace will be what you strive to stick to throughout the miles – not so easy that it throws off your stride, yet not too fast you risk emptying your tank too early.


Up early, out in the cold just for you – volunteers are the best.

What to do on race day
Thank the volunteers and spectators whenever you get the chance. As the miles go by and you get fatigued or in a zone, you may become numb to the outside world so take the time to show your gratitude now. These people deserve it.

And that temptation to push your pace and race, obstacle course-style, around other runners? Resist. Run at the pace you’ve trained to run at or maybe just a little bit faster.

Mile Markers 5-8

What to expect
You should feel good and strong, likely having settled into a comfort pace. The crowd, while thinner now, will still be fairly close together.

And if you’re running a race that has a four-person relay, you’ll hit the first relay exchange point in this mileage block. Expect a ton of spectators (feed off their energy), possibly some minor congestion (runners will be switching in and out), and a sudden burst of faster runners around you (the newbs that just hit the course).

How to train for it
Practice your early hydration strategy during long runs. These miles are when you’re going to need your first pit stop or two for water or sports drink. Get used to, both the concept of running slowly while drinking (expect spills and liquid up your nose) and the feeling of having a little liquid in your belly while running.

What to do on race day
Because the pack will still be close and you’ll encounter a relay checkpoint, remain aware of your surroundings and keep in tune with your pace so you stay on track. If you haven’t yet stopped at an aid station, it’s a good idea to down a couple sips of water or sports drink in this mileage block.

Mile Markers 9-13

What to expect
It’s unlikely fatigue will have set in yet. Those of you who have run a half marathon will likely notice how much better you feel now, compared to how you feel at this point in a half marathon. You should feel mentally good that you trained hard and are poised to hit the second half of your race, and physically up to the task.

How to train for it
Try to incorporate a few 9, 10, and 11-mile runs into your training plan, outside of your long runs. I can’t tell you how big a confidence booster it is when you can hammer out 10 miles on a Monday night – especially considering that was a “long” run for you only a few weeks ago.

Lifting Heavy Weights

Love your muscles, grow your muscles.

Another thing you should incorporate into your training is weight lifting. Specifically, upper-body focused lifting. Think about your body when you run. Shoulders back and strong, core tight, arms pumping – your upper body plays a big role in sustaining long distances. Conversely, a weak upper body might be shoulders hunched, core not engaged, and arms simply stabilized – not ideal for continuing another 13 miles.

Those of you shaking your heads and saying, “I don’t have time or energy for that, I’m training for a marathon!” believe me, I feel you. The more you run, the harder and more frustrating lifting can be. But I’m only talking 20-30 minutes one or two times a week. That’s enough to give you the benefits and doable to incorporate into your busy schedule.

What to do on race day
While most runners won’t feel fatigued yet, if you do, consider taking an energy gel pit stop. Keep it quick though, you don’t want to fall out of your rhythm too much this early on. Also, resist the urge to stop and stretch this early, as it could actually cause your muscles to feel sore or stiffen up too soon.

Mile Markers 14-16

What to expect
Mentally, this is a good place as you’ll know you’re more than halfway there. That said, slight fatigue may start to set in your legs, glutes, even upper body, especially if the weather is significantly different than what you’ve trained in. Upside, you’ve likely seen some really great running signs by this point – and there are more to come!

How to train for it
Practice eating an energy gel, blocks, or something of that nature on your long runs as this will likely be the point you’ll want your first boost. Be sure you have water along, as all energy products go down and sit in your stomach much better with water. Plus, it’s just a good reason to make sure you’re replenishing fluid and staying hydrated.

What to do on race day
If you haven’t yet, take that energy gel pit stop. Again, keep it quick so you don’t lose your rhythm or give your muscles a chance to stiffen up. Then get back out there. You should feel good and a boost of energy post-gel!

Mile Markers 17-19

What to expect
I’m gonna give you the bad news first – these three miles are often the most mentally-tough ones of the race. You’re far enough in now that you’ll be feeling some fatigue, yet you feel so far from the finish line.

The good news, though, is if you haven’t yet had any issues with stomach trouble, you’re likely not going to as long as you stay properly hydrated. High-fives for successfully avoiding the port-a-potties!

How to train for it
Schedule at least one long run that exceeds 19 miles. If you’re run a marathon or two, you may even consider two that hit the 20-mile mark.


Those big legs & butt will be your BFF on hills & in the late miles.

And, I’m going to hit you with one more lifting task – this time, for your legs. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks famously said, “The legs feed the wolf,” referring to the intense conditioning he imposed on his players (I’m not sure of the factual nature of these words; this may have been a quote written into the movie for entertainment value but I still love it). Basically, stronger legs are going to be your friend as you head into your final miles, and running alone won’t get your legs to their full potential.

Be the best conditioned you can be by incorporating one dedicated leg workout into your week – again, I’m talking just 20-30 minutes, focused on quality moves like squats, single-leg deadlifts, and glute work.

What to do on race day
At this point, your mental game needs to get strong. Remind yourself the miles you have left is a single-digit number. Hooray! Remember how quickly mile-marker 9 came today? That’s the most you have left to go. You’ve trained for this distance, you can go further.

Mile Markers 20-26

What to expect
You’ll feel tired. You may find yourself wondering why you signed up to do this. You may be tempted to walk or stop altogether.

How to train for it
Towards the end of training and during your biggest long runs, start pushing your pace in the final four miles. Practicing a strategy of digging deep and pushing those last miles vs. slogging through and mentally cursing them will pay off.

What to do on race day
Remember when I told you your mental game needs to get strong in miles 17-19? It’s going to get you through these miles even more so than your legs. Yes, the mental game is THAT important in finishing a marathon.

Because these miles can be so daunting, mentally and physically, there’s a strategy that many people (including yours truly) have used on race day. Assign something to every mile. Something you’re running for; something that can keep you going. I’ll share my examples to show you what I mean.

I’ve dedicated mile 21 to my friends Megan and Sue’s mothers who passed away from cancer. Thinking of them and all the other people trying to beat the disease made me feel strong and like I could do it.

I’ve dedicated miles 22 and 23 to people who wish they could run but can’t. Either they’re too afraid to try, or they’re injured and wish they could be running. Thinking of them has made me feel grateful that I get to run marathons.

I’ve dedicated miles 24 and 25 to my biggest supporters. My parents, family, and friends who have encouraged me and who I know are mentally cheering me to the finish line in that moment. And, obviously, the most important person and one who has sacrificed the most for me to be there, Chris. Thinking of them always makes me feel determined and like I can’t let them down.

And I always dedicate mile 26 – and the 0.2 – to myself. Because, ultimately, I run for me.

The Finish Line

What to expect
Emotions and extremes. You may cry, you may laugh; you may feel a burst of energy or like you’re going to pass out. Either way, you can’t help but feel pride. I don’t care if it’s your first marathon or tenth. It’s an incredible accomplishment that comes with an incredible feeling.

How to train for it
Likewise with the start line, on days that are tough, visualize this moment. After long runs, practice your immediate recovery strategy so you can implement it on race day. Whether it’s a pared-down version of stretches, putting your legs up against a wall, eating – it will all help you navigate the post-race area and ensure your recovery gets off to a good start. Also, always go for a short walk a couple hours after a long run; it will help your legs recover.


Meet up with friends & take obligatory post-race pics.

What to do on race day
Enjoy your victory! Happily accept your medal, walk the route that takes you through photos, water, snacks, and the meeting area. Be sure to take water. Enjoy a snack right away, if your stomach is up for it – if not, at least take something to-go. Do a quick stretch and keep moving so your legs don’t cramp and stiffen too badly.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, force yourself to get up and go for quick walks. It may seem like resting all day after a marathon is the best strategy but it’s the opposite. Keep moving! Also, if at all possible, avoid stairs. If you must, take no shame in using the handrail.

There you have it – what to expect from a marathon, how to train for a marathon, and how to run a marathon.

Good luck to all who have a spring marathon coming up! If you’re running Fargo Marathon next month, my lovely Twin Cities Pacers team will be out there with you; me, personally, leading the 4:20 finish pace group. Hope to see you out there.

Is there anything in this series I didn’t cover that you need to know? Leave a comment tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.


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