How to Execute a Flawless Marathon Race

Mark Kennedy
Founder of None to Run
January 24, 2023


New York Marathon
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Guest post by Jason Fitzgerald.Training for a marathon is no walk in the park. Planning – and actually doing – months of long runs, high mileage weeks, and tempo runs is just as challenging as the marathon itself.And if all goes well, you’ll be ready to run a new personal best on race day.But what about the other things that contribute to a successful marathon? How do you execute a flawless race once you’re already trained?There are many sound principles to follow and today I want to highlight three strategies to help you execute a successful marathon. Instead of the common “double-knot your shoelaces” advice, I want to dive deeper into the tactics that make marathoning as low-stress as possible.(Keep reading to find out about our giveaway...)

No Surprises!

Many coaches advise marathoners to run about 18-22 miles during training so the sheer distance of the marathon isn’t a surprise to your body. This is common practice – and a very good one.But there are far more details that you should practice before race day so there are absolutely no surprises. During your long runs, you should mimic exactly what you’ll do on race day:

  • Wake up at the same time as you would the day of the marathon
  • Practice the same carbo-loading strategy – both your breakfast and during the long run
  • Wear the same shoes, shorts, and top – make sure there is no friction or blisters
  • Run a similar surface (i.e., if your marathon is on the road, don’t do all of your long runs on trails)

Experimenting with new shoes or a fancy new gel is fun – but those experiments should be reserved for training, not race day. The race itself is a logical extension of your training, so make sure your preparation is well planned as well.This goes not only for the execution of the race, but also the logistics of being in a marathon. Make sure your bag is packed the night before. Plan all transportation to the starting area and back to your hotel ahead of time. Lay out your clothes and breakfast before you go to bed. Bring extra clothes in case it’s cold. Set two alarm clocks the night before just in case.Leave nothing to chance – you’ve trained too hard for this day to miss the start because you can’t get a cab.

Study the Course like a Cartographer

Every marathon has a unique course and it’s your job to know it well. Without knowing the course, you’re doomed to make mistakes in your strategy that could lead to a much slower time than you’re capable of running.Each course has certain characteristics that you should ask yourself about:

  • Where are the major hills and downhill sections?
  • Does the course lend itself to going out faster or slower?
  • Are there hairpin turns? How many water stops?
  • Are there long stretches of lonely roads with no spectators?

Some courses – like the Boston Marathon – have hills late in the race and require a more conservative race strategy. Others are flat and fast, like Chicago, and can be run more aggressively.Other courses have constant turns and you’ll need to ensure you run the tangents as best as possible. And of course, try to avoid the camber (the slope toward the curb) of one side of the road for too long. Otherwise, you’re essentially running like you have a leg length discrepancy!

Be Confident (but not foolish)


Jason Fitzgerald Headshot
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Many races have been wasted because runners haven’t believed in their training. If you’ve done the work, you’re ready. It’s worthy of repeating: the race is just a logical extension of your training.Have you completed your long runs and goal workouts? Did you stay healthy and prevent overuse injuries? Are you tapered and feeling good? Well then, there’s nothing to fear! Believe in your abilities – you’ve already proven them during weeks and months of training.While I appreciate a confident (dare I say, cocky?) runner, you can’t be foolish on race day and throw away your chances of marathon success. Because while a race – particularly a marathon – can’t be won in the first few minutes, it can be lost.Running your first mile significantly faster than your goal pace is a sure recipe for disaster, especially if the beginning of the race is extremely hilly. You’ll burn through extra fuel that your body will desperately need later and subject your legs to excess pounding from an aggressive early pace.A conservative marathon start is usually always a good idea. It will help you warm up properly and ease into the right pace.Like the old saying goes, “If you feel good during a marathon, just wait.”These strategies are about more than just training – this detailed preparation is how committed runners stay focused on their marathon. I’ve been guilty of under-planning myself and it always resulted in more stress than is reasonable on marathon day.Do yourself a favor – execute the details so you can relax and let the training carry you to a new personal best.Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner, USATF-certified coach, and the founder of Strength Running. Get his latest coaching advice and free injury prevention course here.Kindle Book Giveaway!Leave a comment below with your best marathon-day racing strategy or tip, you you will be eligible to win 1 of 5 copies of Jason's Kindle book, 101 Simple Ways to be a Better Runner: A Short Guide to Running Faster, Preventing Injuries, and Feeling Great. If you have never run a marathon, tell us what your ultimate running goal is!You must leave your comment by Monday, May 6, 3013 to be eligible to win. Good luck!