Marathon on-the-day tips to get you over the finish line

Be as prepared as possible for marathon day success.

Months of blood, sweat and tears stand with you at the starting line of a marathon.

The training is complete, and now all that lies between you and your moment of glory is 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometres). To make sure you’re as ready as you can be to take on – and complete – the challenge, I spoke with top 20 London marathon finisher and running coach Jo Wilkinson for her marathon day tips.

We also have a top tip that three-time London marathon winner Paula Radcliffe used when competing, along with my own insights as a marathon runner and run leader.

Senior lady enjoying the atmosphere while running a marathonCredit: Shutterstock/Roomanald
Prepare yourself for marathon day success

1. Use dissociation

When you start running, you’ll likely be laser focused. However, as the miles tick by, you might find yourself thinking about what you’re doing and how hard your body is working – specifically which parts hurt the most.

It can be easy to become overwhelmed, so take some opportunities to let your mind wander. Wilkinson explains: “There’s a lot of thinking time in a marathon, and it’s useful if you’ve got some [non-running] things to think about lined up in advance, for when you hit challenging points.”

Having a running mantra can also help, she says. “I like to chant ‘relentless forward motion’ repeatedly in my head, which helps keeps me going.”

However, if you’re running to achieve a certain time, don’t dissociate so much that you slow down. “Take yourself out of the moment for a little while, but keep the balance of focus too.”

2. Remember to refuel

Wilkinson highlights that fuel is of the utmost importance during a marathon, and without it you’ll likely struggle. Glycogen – the stored form of glucose – is the fuel your body uses when distance running; if you run out, your body will slow down. So you’re going to need to top up your energy stores along the way.

Glycogen stores are replenished by consuming carbohydrates. Good sources to consume along the marathon route include energy gels, bananas and dried fruit. Performance nutrition brand Science in Sport recommends taking 6090g (2-3oz) of carbs every hour to keep your energy levels topped up.  

So, keep an eye on the time and make sure you’re eating consistently throughout the race. If you don’t, you’re more than likely going to struggle and “hit the wall”.

Wilkinson also shares a tip for keeping your spirits up while fueling. “I work with a psychologist and runner called Josie Perry, and she asks her friends and family to write messages on labels that she sticks onto her gels. When she pulls one out, she can read something positive, which helps keep her going.”

It’s a great little extra boost, particularly if you don’t have anyone cheering you on around on the course.

Bunch of bananas with a bowl of sliced ones in frontCredit: Shutterstock/Paulo Vilela
Bananas are a great source of marathon fuel

3. Do some maths

This marathon day tip has helped a three-time London marathon winner – so there must be something in it.

Back in 2021, Paula Radcliffe told the Metro: “I used to do simple things like counting in my head up to 100 and then starting again – I knew that roughly three times to 100 was a mile, so I was breaking it down into manageable segments.

“It’s anything just to keep your mind focused and on that simple thing of placing one foot in front of the other, and a rhythm in your breathing that really helps.”

Wilkinson has also used a counting technique when running. “Counting is really effective. I’m a bit of a math geek, so I like to do calculations and work out my average pace and finishing time as I run. Figuring out calculations distracts me from thinking about how I feel at that time, but at the same time, keeps me focused on what the end goal is – usually to finish in a certain time.”

She says anything that fills those moments can be helpful to push you along. It could be a good time to see how much (or how little) of your times tables you can remember.

Colourful math equation number blocksCredit: Shutterstock/Vitalis83
Doing maths could be a useful marathon day tip

4. Don’t be afraid to walk

No matter how hard you’ve trained, covering 26.2miles non-stop is a feat and you’re no less of a marathon runner if you walk for parts of it. Running is about living in the moment and enjoying yourself, so do what you want to do. If you’ve got to the end and you haven’t enjoyed it, what’s the point?

On both of my marathons I’ve taken the opportunity to slow down, walk, eat a chocolate bar, then run again. I’ve stopped to take selfies with animals (including horses and rhinos), and to pick up other competitors’ litter – gaining an unopened pineapple energy gel in the process, so I was very happy.

Wilkinson agrees that walking is not the end of the world. “Make an active decision that you’ll have walking breaks if you need to or want to,” she advises. “Even if you’re going for a time and it’s going to pot, you can use walking to help you stay on track.

“I coach a lot of ‘masters’ runners (runners aged 40-plus – some of the fastest runners I coach are in their 50s), and when I start working with them lots of them say they want to finish it without walking. But I ask them to think about resetting that goal slightly. What they actually want to do is get to the end.” She says that walking is something that can give you enough time to get yourself back together when you’re exhausted mentally and physically.

“Don’t be so fixated on not walking, because it can be quite helpful, even if you want to finish in a certain time. You might find that walking enables you to continue running at the same pace again. Whereas if you continue to run, you could find yourself getting slower and slower.”

She adds: “Take the time to have a drink or take a gel. It will be more beneficial to you than missing those things because you think you’ve got to carry on running.”

You’re still in forward motion and you have control: that’s a positive thing.

5. Visualise your glory

One way or another you’re going to get through it and get that medal at the end (plus some free goodies, hopefully). Conquering a marathon is an epic achievement that you can brag about forever. You’ll be praised, admired and looked at as an inspiration.

To help get you there, Wilkinson advises visualising the moment you’ll cross the finish line and getting it firmly fixed in your mind as something that’s exciting. “Remind yourself that you’re going to feel amazing when you finish, and remember the saying, ‘pain is temporary, glory is forever’.”

The night before your marathon, think about how amazing it is to be a part of a monumental moment. “My coach always told me to go out and walk around the streets of London the night before, to take in the lights and sounds of the city and remind myself how incredible it was to be there.”

Taking on a marathon is always hard, whoever you are. But you’ve trained for it, you’ll cross that finish line. It’ll be an unforgettable experience, so soak it all up and relish it. You’ve got this.

Man celebrating finishing a marathon run arms in the airCredit: Shutterstock/michaelheim
Celebrate your marathon achievement

Jo Wilkinson is a British Athletics Coach and former elite athlete. She finished in the top 20 of the London Marathon and has competed for Great Britain and England in track, road and cross-country events.

Wilkinson coaches several England Athletics masters runners from 5km to marathon events. She’s the England Athletics Regional Coach lead for Endurance in the southeast and Talent Event Lead coach on the England Athletics Junior Talent Programme with aspiring young athletes.

Rebecca Frew

Written by Rebecca Frew she/her

Updated:

Becky Frew has written various articles for newspapers and magazines focusing on fitness, is a qualified run leader, and a certified sleep talker trainer who loves to help advise people how they can nod off easier. When she is not writing or reading about fitness, she is at hot pod yoga, bounce class, training for an ultra-marathon or booking anything with a medal and free food at the end.

  • instagram