42 Things to Know Before You Run a Marathon

Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment. It’s not just a physical challenge – but also a mental one. 42 kilometres is a long way to run. But what should you know before you accept the ultimate marathon challenge?

We’ve got the lowdown on 42 things you need to know before you run that 42k.

Let’s start from the top!

1. Run it By Your Doctor

doctor holding red stethoscope

If you’ve never run a marathon before, consider getting a health check-up. Do this before you sign up for a race. A marathon is a huge undertaking. You want to cover all your bases. For example, if you have a serious heart condition, running a marathon might not be the best fitness goal. In fact, it could seriously jeopardize your health. But there are a variety of options out there! So, if you can’t run a marathon, don’t give up. Keep trying. You’ll find an activity that works for you and your life – it just might not be running a marathon (and that’s okay!).

2. Sign Up for a Marathon Race

You’re in great health and shape. You’re ready to start training! But first, you need to sign up for a marathon race. Once you sign up, you’re committed. You have a date. You can now make a plan. Plus, this is the first actionable step toward actually running a whole 42 kilometres. And remember, the first step is always the hardest. Go for it – sign up.

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3. Tell Your Friends and Family

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Start telling people you’ve signed up. It holds you accountable. It means you have to follow through. If you want to go all out, consider posting on social media. It works wonders for accountability. It can also help you keep track of your training plan.

4. Consider a Running Buddy

Again, this one comes down to accountability. You can train together. You can even run the actual race together. Ask a friend or a family member to join you on your journey. Keep each other motivated. You’ve got this!

woman stands beside yellow Labrador retriever puppy at the park

5. Buy Long-Distance Running Shoes

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If you don’t already have running shoes, buy them. Make sure they are appropriate for running long distances. The right shoes make a huge difference. The wrong shoes can lead to injuries and pain. In turn, you might not be ready to run on race day. And don’t try out new shoes on race day. Doing so is setting yourself up for injuries – not to mention uncomfortable and painful blisters.

6. Find Comfy Socks

The last thing you want is a sock falling down your foot during your race. Purchase running socks. There are so many varieties out there. Consider testing a few different ones during training. Find your favorite type or brand – and wear it come race day.

7. Prepare for Long Runs to Take Up Half of Your Sundays

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A marathon is 42 kilometres – 42.195 if we’re being nitty gritty. It’s far. It takes hours to run that distance. The average person takes 4-5 hours to run a full marathon. So, get ready to dedicate most of your Sundays to training. Soon, you’ll be running for more than a couple hours at a time.

8. Train, Train, Train!

Come up with a game plan. How will you train? How many times a week will you run? Map it out. Bonus: There’s a lot of existing marathon training plans out there. If you are unsure how to train, look them up. Another thing to consider here is cross-training. Running 5x a week may do more harm than good. Throw in spinning or cardio work on the stairmaster or elliptical. It will pump up your cardio, without the risk of overtraining.

Patrick Sperling

9. Ramp Up Your Mileage Slowly

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Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t do too much, too soon. Again, you’ll risk injury and major setbacks. Slowly increase your mileage and duration. And only do this when you’re ready.

10. Read Up About Past Marathons

What can you expect? What is a good goal for you? How do people feel before, during, and after? Do your research – especially if you’ve never run a marathon before. You might find out tips and tricks you didn’t know you needed.

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11. Strength Train Regularly

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Mixing up running with other activities is crucial. Strength training 2-3x a week helps you build muscle. As previously mentioned, just running can wreak havoc on the body and can increase your risk of injury. Strength training increases your leg strength, without overdoing it. It can further help strengthen any weak muscles and improve your overall fitness.

12. Don’t Forget to Stretch

Perform dynamic stretches before you run. Think leg swings, lunges, and torso twists. Then, cool down with a combination of static and dynamic stretches after you run. Stretching lengthens the muscles. It acts as a counterbalance, and again – you guessed it – prevents injury.

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13. Consider Joining a Running Club

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Joining a running club keeps you motivated and accountable. It also gives that sense of community. You can further learn from other runners. These groups are great for setting your pace and sticking to your plan. If running in a group really isn’t your thing, think about getting a running watch or device, like a Garmin watch, to help you set your pace and track your progress.

14. Your Body is Going to Change

You might lose weight. You might not. You will get more hungry with intense training. Your body will want to replace those calories. However, you will definitely build lean muscle. And you will likely feel stronger – at least your legs will.

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15. Your Toenails Might Fall Off

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Seriously. Running places repeated micro-trauma on the toenails. They add up. And yes, eventually your toenails might fall off. Don’t panic. They’ll grow back.

16. Prepare for Your Confidence to Flip-Flop

Some days you’ll be ultra-motivated. Other days – not so much. You’re going to experience some ups and downs. It’s completely normal. But just know that the proper training and safety measures will get you there. You can and you will run this marathon! Believe in yourself.

person on mountain cliff

17. You Might Chafe

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Running is a repetitive motion. With long distances comes the inevitable chafing. Your thighs will rub together. Special lubricant applied to your inner thighs before you run can help solve this problem. Another solution? Longer shorts or running leggings that prevent skin-on-skin contact.

18. Blisters Are Inevitable

Again, anything in high doses has its downfalls. And so does running. Your feet might blister, especially if you are trying out new shoes during your training. Purchase blister bandages. They can help add cushion so it’s not as painful.

19. Know that Issues Might Happen

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Perfection is an unattainable goal. It might rain on your training days. Heck, it might even rain on your race day. You might have to skip 1 training day due to a family emergency or event. You may experience an injury. These things happen. Remain positive. And when you get a chance, hop right back on the horse! Gradually ease back into your training with your goal in mind.

20. But Also Know That Rain Isn’t So Bad

If it rains, consider the bright side. It’s refreshing. It’ll cool you down. Don’t get worked up about it. Also, consider keeping an eye on the weather so it doesn’t come as a surprise.

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21. Start Dropping Your Unhealthy Habits Now to Prime Yourself for Race Day

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Use your marathon training as motivation to quit other healthy habits. If you’re a smoker, drop it before race day. If you eat fast food, consider opting for healthy alternatives. Aim to nourish your body. That way, you’ll feel your best come race day.

22. Use Your Playlist to Motivate You

It’s easy to argue that running on its own is boring. In fact, for many people it’s excruciately so. If you don’t already, run to music. Set up a running playlist. Plug your earbuds in and just go. Bonus: Certain beats can also help set your pace!

flat-lay photo of headphones, MIDI keyboard, and speaker on black surface

23. Get Familiar with the Route

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Assuming the race is in your hometown, try out the route before race day. Are there any hills? You’ll want to make sure you are training properly. If there are a couple of big hills involved, you might want to throw in some hill training. Do a quick drive around or run through the route. Checking it out will also help calm your nerves come race time.

24. Plan a Nutritious Pre-Run Snack

The perfect pre-run snack involves carbs and a little bit of protein. You want something that’ll digest easily, and that will give you the energy you need. A few great pre-race snacks include peanut butter on whole wheat toast, a banana and peanut butter, a bagel and nut butter, yogurt, a fruit and nut bar, or other protein and nutrient bars. Bananas are a great go-to for many runners, because they are easy to digest and because they have lots of nutrients and electrolytes.

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25. Eat a Pre-Run Dinner

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Eat a healthy dinner the night before your race. Choose something that will fuel your race. Go for carbs, like spaghetti – many runners have found this works great for them. But don’t stuff yourself to the point of being overfull. You want to be hungry when you wake up to eat that pre-race snack. If you aren’t sure, try a dinner out the night before a long training run. You’ll have it figured out before race time.

26. But Carb-load Correctly

Practice carb-loading a couple of months before your race. Aim to eat more carbs and less protein and fat for 2-3 days leading up to a long run. A week before your race, you can also start loading the carbs on. Slowly start introducing high-carb snacks, then kick it up a notch 48-72 hours before your race.

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27. You Will Crave Food During Your Race

Oreo cookie sandwiches dessert in short-stem glass

Running 4 hours will empty your energy stores. Don’t be surprised if you start craving food part way through it all. If you’ve noticed this as a problem during training, think about bringing gel packs with you. They’ll keep your cravings at bay and give you that little bit of energy you need – without indigestion.

28. Don’t Take it Too Seriously

…Especially if it’s your first marathon. Aim to finish the race – that’s it, that’s all.

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29. And Have Fun!

long-coated brown animal

Yes, some days will be more tough than others. But enjoy this time. Find new music to keep you motivated. Join that running group to make new friends. Wave at the people cheering you on come race day. Give that kid on the curb a high-five as you fly by. Have fun with it!

30. Get a Massage

It’s all about counterbalance! You’ll be sore. Your muscles will be tight. It’s guaranteed. Get a massage a week or more before race day and book one for after your race. Massage can help increase blood flow and promote recovery. It can also help you relax before and after your race. After all, you deserve it.

Therapeutic Massage Edmonton | Sherwood Park

31. Rest Up!

man lying on black concrete top road near green leafed plants

Your rest days matter. In fact, they are just as important as your training days. It gives your body the necessary time to recover and heal. Listen to your body. And plan for rest days. You need ‘em!

32. Invest in Water You Can Wear

Again, running 42 kilometres is long. And while there are normally water stops along the way, consider investing in a water bottle belt or a handheld option. You can then refresh and rehydrate at any point you need to along the route.

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33. Buy Electrolytes for Your Water

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You lose a lot of electrolytes through sweat. When running a marathon, you sweat a lot. Go for electrolyte packs that you can mix in your water or a half-gatorade, half-water mix.

34. It’s Okay to Walk

You know your body best. If at any point during training or the race itself you need to slow it down, do it. There’s no shame in taking a walk break when you need it. You can even use this as a strategy per se. If there is a giant hill, walk and conserve your energy. That way you can ascend the hill faster and kick it up into high gear close to the finish line. If it’s your first marathon, consider doing a walk-run combination. A lot of people do it. And don’t worry about people passing you. It happens. Focus on your race and that finish line.

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35. Stick to Your Plan

The hype. The adrenaline. It can get to people on race day. You know those people. They burn it all in the first few kilometres, leaving nothing left for the remaining 30-40 kilometres. Take it slow out of the gate. Don’t try anything new on race day. Stick to your plan. Go your own pace.

36. Lube Up!

Do this especially if chafing is a problem. Find a product or solution that works for you. Test these out before race day.

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37. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate

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Your body is 60% water. Water is lost through sweat, urine, and even through the air we breath. Make sure you hydrate before, during, and after your race. Remember to bring that water bottle belt with you. And don’t worry – most races have porta potties along the route just in case!

38. Recruit Cheerleaders For Race Day

Who is going to cheer you on? Those last few kilometres are going to be tough. But it can definitely be made easier with friends or family there to support you. Recruit a few buddies to cheer you on. They can also join you for that post-race celebration meal.

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39. Plan Your Post-race Celebration

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If you plan a post-race meal or post-race beer, you’ll be pushing to get to that finish line. Plan something to look forward to afterwards! Plus, you deserve a celebration. Not just anyone can run 42 kilometres.

40. Mental Preparation is Key

Training is great for this. Get into the right state of mind. Practice positive self-talk. Focus on that finish line. Yes, you can!

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41. Relax & Unwind

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Consider taking a rest day or 2 before the big race day. If you must run, go a for a light jog – and keep it at a short distance. Get ready! Your race is coming up!

42. Believe In Yourself & You’re Halfway There!

Believing in yourself is half the battle. Keep saying you can. You know you can. This is what you’ve been training for. You made it to race day. That means half the fight is over. You are now at the ultimate test. Get out there and kill it!

We’ll see you at the finish line!

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