10 last-minute marathon mistakes I wish I’d avoided

Do as I say, not as I did.

I’ve just completed the Newport Marathon, and am in that strange period where I’m both pleased with what I’ve done and starting to feel a bit jealous of those undertaking the London Marathon this weekend.

While I’ve done the 26.2-mile (42km) tour around the capital a couple of times (and don’t feel the need to do it again), there’s something about the excitement, the buzz and the sheer recognition of undertaking the race that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the UK.
Gareth Beavis running across a bridge in marathonCredit: Marathon Photos
Gareth Beavis (centre) during last weekend’s Newport marathon

I mean, come on – how many other marathons around the world do people host parties for?

But if you’re running it, and are anything like me, you’ll be fretting that you’ve not thought of everything you need for the big day on Sunday.

While I hope that you’ve already got everything sorted, tested and packed neatly in your long-prepared race bag, for many of us there’s always that nagging feeling there’s something you might have forgotten.

I’ve done a few marathons and, while the race last weekend went well, I still made mistakes at nearly every point. Mistakes that made everything more difficult than it should have been, leaving me with too much panic pre-race, sore feet and a disgusting amount of chafing.

So here are my tips on what to prepare (and what temptations to avoid) if you’re gearing up for a marathon on Sunday. All of these items are still available with next day delivery, or can be bought at the Marathon Expo when you pick up your race number. Or save this article for future reference if you’re just thinking about doing your first 26.2-mile distance.



One of my key pieces of advice is a simple one, and something you’ll probably have heard before: don’t monkey around with new ideas ahead of the race.

If you’ve got this far through your training and not been experimenting with energy gels (which are essentially a sticky, sugary syrup, sometimes with added electrolytes to replace lost minerals) then don’t do it now. It’s a recipe for giving yourself stomach ‘issues’ during the race.

However, if you’re thinking of trying them in the future or have been practising with them in your longer runs, then grab yourself a box or two now.

If you’re thinking of starting, I’m a big fan of Science in Sport (SIS) gels – they’ve always worked for me, have good flavours and can be bought with caffeine to help your mental focus.

However, it’ll be Lucozade Sport Dual-Fuel gels in the London marathon, so stick with those and get yourself a few in preparation. You might be planning to rely on the ones being given out in the race, so you have fewer things to carry. That makes sense, but buying a few ahead of time allows you to stick a few in a belt and gives you an option if you decide you want to run past the water station and stay in a rhythm.

Saying that…

24 x Lucozade Dual-Fuel gels – £16.95 (Amazon)
7 x SIS gels – £7.49 (Amazon)
A flipbelt on a runner with a passport sticking outCredit: Flipbelt

Gel / running belt

I could have put this in the section below of things never to buy immediately before a marathon, but if you’ve decided to take gels for energy and don’t have a plan for storing them, then now is the time to get it sorted.

You could try something like the SIS belt, but this can bounce about a little, or the gel corners can scratch your arm or thigh if they’re not slipped in at the correct angle.

My tip is a Flipbelt – they’re simply bloomin’ marvellous. Like a very small miniskirt around your waist, it sits so comfortably either under or over your t-shirt or vest.

I stuffed six gels in there over the marathon and, while they do require a touch of dexterity to get out, once you familiarise yourself with the location of the holes, it’s simple.

Plus you get one of the very best running belts out there – it fits on nicely, you can get a slimline water bottle to slot in and there’s even a little clasp for keys. If you go for the zipped version, it is a little more expensive, but it can also hold things like passports or medical devices when travelling too, so it’s got a few more uses.

One of the key things in my arsenal – thoroughly recommended.

Flipbelt Classic – £32 (Amazon)
Flipbelt Zipper – £39 (Amazon)

Body Glide

If I could go back in time and tell myself to just buy five sticks of Body Glide from the moment I stuck on my first pair of trainers, I would do that.

I know, I could go back and stop all kinds of events from happening, but this one feels very important – the amount of chafing I suffered before someone opened my eyes to this stuff is something I’d very much like to forget.

You can use things like Vaseline, but Body Glide comes in a small stick and works by twisting the bottom (like a wide Pritt Stick) to allow you to rub the protective balm in key areas – it’s so easy (and mess-free) to apply.

It’s never let me down – if you’ve not considered your anti-chafing solution, this is the stuff to get. Trust me – your post-race shower will be a completely different experience as a result.

BodyGlide Body 22g – £11.99 (XMiles)
Kitbrix bags linked togetherCredit: Kitbrix

A new bag

You’re about to do a marathon, so now’s the time to reward yourself for all that training- and a new kit bag is a great choice.

The KitBrix is one that my pal recommended to me recently – as a GB triathlete, he needs bags for lots of different active things. KitBrix are robust, easy to carry and you can buy a few of them and zip them together if you want extra space for damp kit, a cycle helmet… or just a section filled with ice and your favourite drink.

They’re not the cheapest, retailing for around £80, but Amazon has a promotion to save money if you buy two or more.

KitBrix bag – £79.99 (Amazon, discounts for bulk buy)

Porridge and other great snacks

Whether you want to take them before or after the run, having a good range of carb-heavy snacks is a great idea for fuelling or recovery.

I’m a big fan of a couple of bananas and a pot (or two) of Sainsbury’s porridge in a cup – it’s nice, cheap and does the job if all you’ve got is a kettle in your budget hotel room, because someone forgot to book anything until the last minute…

(Oh, and bring your own big spoon. You’re welcome).

Sainsbury’s Porridge Pot – 50p

Recovery powder mixer

While it’s tempting to think only about getting through the marathon, and not care about what happens afterwards, planning your post-race recovery will make the whole experience so much better.

Pack a full change of clothes, both warm and cool, and some nice waterproofs too – you’ll be so happy to slide into them afterwards and will be prepared whatever the weather.

And while your stomach will probably feel too full of sugary gels and energy drinks to think about adding anything else in, you really should get some more carbohydrate and protein in your body as soon as you can from the finish.

My treat to myself previously was this ProMixx shaker – a battery-powered spinner at the bottom allows you to fill the beaker with water ahead of time, add in some recovery powder that you’ve stored in the self-contained unit (I like SIS Rego, but there are many great options out there to try out) and just press a button for instant mixing.

Sure, an electric mixer is overkill when you can just buy a manual shaker for a fraction of the cost, but I love hearing the whirring, seeing the little whirlpool appear, shaking the powder in and having a grit-free drink.

Promixx Pro Shaker Bottle – £34.99 (Amazon)

Charity shop clothing or a bin bag

Staying warm pre-race is important, but you don’t want to be carrying a jumper with you for the next few hours.

There are two good choices: cut holes in a bin bag to wear, before ripping it off when the starting klaxon goes (simple, but not very environmentally friendly).

A better bet is to head to a charity shop beforehand, buy something warm and then throw it on the side of the road before the start or throughout the London Marathon route. Don’t worry about littering: the London Marathon organisers (and those at a pleasingly increasing number of other runs) work with charities to collect discarded clothing for reuse or recycling.

Plus you get the fun of trying to find the most disgusting thing to wear – I bought a Lithuanian university brown sweater a few years back, and I could sense the shop assistant was ecstatic to see the back of it.

Things not to buy

Look, full disclosure: I did either buy or try to buy these things in the week before the marathon – but it’s not a good idea and I’ll explain why.
If this is your first marathon, pretty soon you’ll suddenly convince yourself that you need to live like an elite athlete.
This is known as ‘mara-noia’ and will see you suddenly drinking electrolyte drinks around the clock, consuming beetroot shots for the first time in your life and generally treating your stomach in an entirely new way at a time when you should be happily filling it with stodgy white carbohydrates.
You’ll also want to replace or buy all new gear – resist this urge and do not make the mistakes I made.
Garmin HRM Pro Plus chest strapCredit: Garmin / Amazon

New heart rate monitor

I didn’t actually buy this, but on the drive down to Wales I found myself Googling the name of the hotel (from the passenger seat) and seeing if Amazon would do same-day delivery to the location.
Thankfully, it wasn’t possible – as it turned out, I didn’t really need it as the watch I use (and love), the Fenix 7X Solar, worked just fine for heart rate monitoring during the race and saved me the £87 I was about to spend on the Garmin HRM Pro-Plus.
That said, I’ve already decided I want to do another marathon this year, and I find a chest strap more accurate compared to just drawing the data from the wrist – but I think I’ll try the cheaper Garmin HRM-Dual, which has a detachable unit for easier washing, is quite comfortable (according to another running friend) and is half the price at £45.
Garmin HRM-Dual – £45.95 (Amazon)

New trainers

I convinced myself that my trainers were wearing out too much and causing me some foot pain, and therefore I needed to replace them as otherwise it could scupper the marathon.
So I bit the bullet and bought some new trainers – Mizuno Wave Rebellion, as it turns out. They were beautiful and comfortable but I only had time to do a single run in them beforehand – and it was such a good run that I decided to try them in the full race.
Spoiler: they did not stop the hurting. In fact, they probably made it slightly worse as I hadn’t broken them in – my only slice of ‘luck’ was that they didn’t also chafe my skin while it felt like I was running on spiky gravel for the last five miles.
(If you do decide to buy new trainers, support your local running shop. They’re full of experts and, as our excellent piece on the best beginner’s running gear shows, they’ll often help you analyse how you run and find the perfect pair for you).

Any new clothes

Look, just wearing any running clothes is a good thing – I once did the London Marathon at roughly the same pace as a man wearing only his underwear, and it was not a pleasant experience.
And speaking of clothing-based horrors – I experienced awful chafing after this marathon because I bought and used a new, untested top. So foolish.
So, if you’re thinking of buying something fancy and new to run in this close to the race, please do not. There are plenty of things that could make it an uncomfortable experience.
Labels. Chafing. Poor fit. Realising the colours are summer in style, and your skin looks best next to autumnal tones.
Nobody needs that worry on race day, and even if you think you can still wash and dry it in time, you might forget and be dragging moist clothing out of your bag come Sunday morning.
Find something that has served you well in training, and trust in it – I wish I had (or remembered to use Body Glide in the right places).
Gareth Beavis

Written by Gareth Beavis he/him


Gareth was previously Global Editor in Chief of TechRadar, one of the world’s largest and most prominent technology websites, and has appeared as a technology and fitness expert on the TV and radio for the BBC, ITV, Al Jazeera, Sky and many other outlets, as well as chairing panels on the world’s new and exciting tech. A veteran journalist with a career spanning three decades, Gareth has reviewed every iPhone (bar the very first) and Apple Watch launched, as well as reviewing hundreds of other smartphones and fitness gadgets.

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