Seven Essential Marathon Tips and Tricks

What if you have to pee? Are your long runs long enough? Read on.

Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon photo by Jamie Ducharme

Preparing for a marathon isn’t all about running. If you’ve never attempted 26.2, you’re probably full of questions—and, more than likely, a bit nervous. Luckily, Coach Dan Fitzgerald has been around the block once or twice himself. Here, a collection of assorted marathon advice:

1. Invest in a few pairs—plural—of shoes.

You’re going to be putting a lot of mileage on your sneakers over the next 20 weeks, so having two or three pairs is vital. It’d also be wise to let a professional guide your selection. “Your shoe should have the right blend of cushion and support for your unique needs,” Fitzgerald says. The team at Heartbreak Hill can help you select the perfect pair, as can professionals at Marathon Sports, True Runner, and other local run shops.

2. You don’t need to run 26.2 miles before the big day.

Believe it or not, capping your long runs at 20 or 22 miles is enough, Fitzgerald says. “Your best marathon is the result of weeks and weeks of work done over the entirety of the training program,” he says. It is not based on any single run.” By the time April 17 rolls around, your body will be able to handle the whole distance. Trust.

3. Adopt cross-training.

Running is, of course, the best way to prepare for race day, but your runs will do more for you if you pair them with other forms of fitness. Fitzgerald recommends yoga and stretching, in particular. “Yoga is a great way to get your body moving and do something restorative the day after a long run,” he says. “Incorporate this early to receive the benefits throughout the program.”

Conveniently, Fitzgerald’s wife, popular yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco, created a series of at-home yoga flows for Runner’s World. You can find them here.

4. Don’t forget mental training.

Hear this: You’re going to have bad runs.

Training for the marathon is a 20-week affair, and it’s bound to have ups and downs. “It would be great if all of your runs were spectacular, but they won’t be,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s the cumulative training, the entire body of work, that builds a marathoner. There is not one particular run that needs to be perfect.”

Let yourself off the hook if you have a bad day, or if you need to walk during an outing. It’s okay.

5. Find a hydration balance on Marathon Monday.

Proper hydration starts before race day,” Fitzgerald says. “Be sure that you are not in deficit leading into the big day.” Have water with each meal and carry a bottle for when thirst strikes.

That said, it is possible to hydrate too much. Use common sense. “Don’t guzzle gallons of extra water. We don’t want to flush your system,” Fitzgerald says. “Avoid long stretches without water [too]. It’s all about preparedness.”

Keep in mind there’s water and Gatorade along the race course, so you don’t need to chug beforehand.

6. If you have to pee, don’t panic.

You know you were wondering. Hit the bathroom as much as you have to before the race, Fitzgerald says, and don’t worry if nature calls while you’re on the course. “As you walk from Athlete’s Village to the starting line, there are more Port-a-Potties,” Fitzgerald promises. “And, if you have to stop on the course, there are plenty of Port-a-Potties out there, too.”

7. Bring snacks.

No matter how well you’ve trained, your body’s going to need some help to accomplish this feat. Stash easily-digestible snacks, such as GU, bananas, or Clif bars, and eat them along the course. “[Fueling] is different for all runners, and it’s up to you to test your body’s reaction to all of the different offerings,” Fitzgerald says. “Just remember to start early and stay consistent.”