So you've made it to the start line, months of training all banked. All those early starts, late finishes and weekend long runs have all come down to this moment. So as the gun goes off, how are you going to get the most out of the next 3, 4, 5 or 6 hours?
These are my top tips to make race day an unforgettable experience, where you'll run with a smile on your face and be able to cross the finish line in the time you deserve!
So as usual, in no particular order.
1. Don't panic in the first mile - Unless you're on the elite start, there will be some congestion over the first mile or two. In London there is around 38,000 people all crossing the start line, it gets very busy! It's just one of those things you can't do much about, so stay calm and you'll soon be running free at the pace you feel comfortable with. If you're in a pace group, this will all be factored in, so stay with them and take those first few miles steady, take in the atmosphere... you're about to run a marathon!
2. Headphones and music - For many you'll have trained with music in all of your runs leading up to the event, it can act as a real motivator when times get tough and also remind you of all the miles you've covered in training to give you a much needed boost. I'd recommend getting some Aftershokz headphones as they have bone conduction technology which allows you to keep your ears open so you can still hear everything around you, while still enjoying your favourite beats! They are actually the only set of headphones that are allowed in a lot of races, due to the safety aspect…as they are approved by England Athletics. I've been using a pair for about a month now and have been really impressed. You'll still be able to take in all the atmosphere of race day, the cheers, the crowds, whilst staying safe and enjoying your music to motivate you to the end! Head over to my Instagram feed for how to win a pair yourself! If you want to find out more information on the headphones, have a look at their website https://aftershokz.co.uk/ or check them out on Instagram (@aftershokzuk), Twitter (@AfterShokzUK) or Facebook (@AftershokzUK)
3. Gels - There's no right or wrong amount of gels to have during the race, it's really dependant on the amount of time you're spending on the course. For me it's usually 4. I take them at 8km, 16km, 24km and 30km. Most gel brands recommend taking one every 30-40 minutes. Check what they have on the course beforehand and if you don't like it, then take your own that you've tested before. The gels I'm using are all natural, from Spring Energy. If you're looking for a means to carry them all then have a look at this one from SPIbelt for £14.99.
4. Drinking - Little and often is always the best advice. Plus avoid the start of the drinks stations, they'll always be super busy. Just run a few more meters down the road where they'll be plenty of supplies with no other runners around. It's always best to try and take a little liquid from every station and drink to thirst.
5. Break it down - Running 26.2 miles can seem overwhelming, so it's a great idea to break it down and visualise what you have to do. For me I break it into four 10km chunks and picture myself running my standard 10k route at home. Then the last 2km is just flat out. Some people like to just count up to the next milestone, so if you're at 10km, just count up to 20km and forget what happens after that. Then at 20km, count up to 30km... I've just got 10km to go to 30km!! Then the famous Parkrun to go at 37km. It's just my standard 5k Parkrun to go! That's easy!
6. Dedicate a mile to someone or something- I'm sure you can think of 26 important people or things in your life, with each one helping you in someway to achieving your marathon success. Why not dedicate the first mile to your mum, the second to your best friend, the third to your gran, etc. Thinking of these inspirational people going round will give you that extra motivation to get to the next mile.
7. Count to 100 - For some of the more elite runners, maybe chasing Good for Age times, one tactic that was made famous by Paula Radcliffe, is to count to 100 in your head. It really helps you zone out, forget where you are and simply focus on the task in hand. When you get to 100, start again and again.
8. Stick to your goal - It's more than likely that you'll feel good and fresh during the first 10k, that's great! But don't get carried away in thinking you can run faster than your goal pace, as this will usually come back to bite you in the second half. Stick to your goal pace, keep it steady, trust the training you've done and you'll be great!
9. It will be hard - Let's not try and gloss over it, running a marathon is very hard and for some it will be painful, but of course it's all forgotten about when you cross the finish line, medal round your neck and smile on your face. If you are struggling, it's fine to have some walking breaks and stretch out a bit. Pick a point in the distance and walk to that, if you can run again then break back into a jog, then walk if you feel tired again. There is no shame, no disrespect or anything if you have to walk, it's all part of your strategy to get the race finished!
10. Make a plan with your supporters - There will be thousands of people all around the course, so it's a good idea to make a plan as to where your friends and family will be. Ask them to take a big balloon, a bright sign or something you can see from a distance. It will be far easier to spot them! But remember supporting is almost as stressful as running, if you miss them, don't worry, you might have simply been on a different side of the road, or they might have been caught in crowds.
11. Don't rely on your GPS - Unless you are in the elites and can stick to the exact racing 'blue' line, you're probably going to run an extra few hundred meters, just from not hitting the apex at the corners. This is why many Strava GPS entries will show over distance. Also in many major cities the tall buildings will interfere with the GPS signals and can throw off the data, this nearly always happens running through Canary Wharf in the London marathon. Back ups can be pacing bands, so you know what time you should be at every mile, then compare that to your watch. Have a look at Xempo if you're interested, or you can make your own! Or better still run with a pacing group, as that way you'll be assured of hitting your goal time.
12. Finally embrace the day, you're creating amazing memories for you and those around you. Thank the volunteers as you go round the course, their smile back will give you a boost, give a little 'you're running well' shout out to those around you, high 5 the children in the crowd and take it all in. You'll be amazing!
Some of the above will no doubt make you think this is going to be so difficult, but in overcoming that difficulty you'll achieve something that hardly anyone can say they've done.. you'll have run a marathon!
I'm sure the smile on your face as you cross the finish line will be from ear to ear, it always is.
You'll hug the volunteer placing the medal round your neck, probably cry a bit as the photographers take your photo and jump around and dance when you see your friends and family afterwards.
It will be an unforgettable day, all the best and good luck!