Marathon Race Day Strategy: 6 Ways to Make Months of Hard Training Count!

marathon race day strategy

Months of hard training, turning to hours of misery because you don't have a marathon race day strategy...

Sadly, it's an all too common story.​

The biggies are obviously the race tactics themselves.

Having the right marathon pacing, fuelling and hydration strategies is absolutely critical over 26.2 miles

Minor oversights can still, however, rob you of the marathon success you deserve.

Fortunately, simple precautions can be taken.

5 Marathon Day Disasters!

Below are the five most common marathon race complaints, and what you can do to avoid them.

First, watch this short video clip on how to best equip yourself for marathon day:​

Ok, let's now cover those five precautions you can take for the race itself...

1. Blisters and Chafing​ can ruin your best-laid race day plans

marathon day blisters and chafing

Both of these common complaints result from repetitive friction when wearing badly fitting kit.

Let's talk about blistering first…

Sadly, not the PB smashing pace you were running at in your fitful dreams the night before!

Instead, it's that 'minor' wound on your foot that quickly escalates to become a painful problem as your marathon day wears on.

They typically occur around the heel and ball of your foot.

Your skin gets pinched by repetitive friction from ill-fitting shoes or badly chosen socks!

marathon running blister
foot blisters

Prevent by selecting suitable kit and applying vaseline to the susceptible areas.

What if you do have a blister to contend with in the week leading up to marathon day?

Keep the area clean and cover it with a cushioned gel blister plaster, and let it heal.

If it's large enough to need popping, use a sterilised needle and apply a bandage to the affected area.

Chafing is irritation, soreness and possibly bleeding around the nipples or inner thighs.

Again, it results from repetitive friction 

Typical causes are wet, loose fitting, or badly designed clothing.

A common culprit is that oversized, cotton race-promo tee-shirt...

It seemed like a good idea until you started sweating!

Wear light, well-fitting, race-specific garments designed to wick away moisture.

To be extra safe, protect those vulnerable areas with fabric plasters or vaseline.

2. Black Toenails will add massively to the normal discomfort you feel during the marathon

marathon day black toenails

Frictional pressure between the toenail and an ill-fitting shoe can cause bleeding under the nail.

The blackening of the nail is due to the blood pooling in the nail bed.

The end result is a throbbing pain that can make running difficult.

Cut your toenails regularly.

Take care also when selecting your shoes that you don't reject a well-fitting comfortable pair for a less suitable stylish model!

Make allowances for your feet swelling during runs. Ideally, shop for your shoes later in the day.

Finally, make sure the top of your thumb can press down easily between your big toe and the front of the shoe. 

running shoe fit

3. Stomach Problems are a much-feared consequence of getting race fuelling badly wrong

marathon day stomach upset

​Stomach problems can be a marathon show stopper if you don't carefully plan your pre-race meals.

Avoid eating high-fat or high-fibre foods within 24 hours of your marathon...

Or any meal within 1-2 hours of the start time.

Otherwise, you run the risk of feeling nauseous and getting stomach cramps.

This is because these foods slide around in your gut and hamper fluid absorption.

marathon runner stomach problem

Have meals instead that have been thoroughly tested before your long runs and practice races.

Low blood sugar levels and dehydration can also trigger symptoms in the later stages of the marathon.

Another good reason to maintain your fuel intake and keep drinking little and often.

4. Muscle Cramp can painfully rob you of marathon glory on the later stages 

marathon day muscle cramp

Your running muscles are already working overtime on marathon day.

The last thing you need then, typically in the later stages when you're tired, is painful cramping.

Ironically, at the time you most want to stop, this is caused by involuntary over-contraction!

Muscle cramping is a big risk if you're not prepared for temperature extremes or rapid changes in temperature.

Hydration then becomes even more crucial.

Insufficient water intake, particularly in hot conditions, is an obvious hazard.

Less obvious, perhaps, is the cramping that occurs from drinking too much water.

This dilutes levels of muscle cell electrolytes to the point where processing of nerve signals is inhibited.

marathon hydration

The solution to this is to adapt your hydration strategy to the conditions.

Plain water was fine on many of your training runs.

In longer runs like the marathon though, you have to replace the electrolytes you lose from sweating.

The rate will obviously increase in hotter conditions.

You can also reduce the risk of marathon cramps before race day...

  • Stay properly hydrated
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet
  • Include enough sodium, potassium and magnesium, and,
  • Regularly stretch and massage your running muscles

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention stitch...

The cramping in the abdomen that has been cursed many marathon training schedules!


Forget the old adage about 'a stitch in time'...

The uncomfortable truth for marathon runners is 'a stitch at the wrong time can add 9'!

Click to Tweet

While the causes are not fully understood, you can avoid it by...

5. Heat Problems will slow you down and can even be a serious health risk

marathon day overheating

Dehydration can also lead to heat exhaustion.

This is when too many body salts are lost through sweating.

Symptoms are headache, dizziness, clammy skin and confusion.

It can lead to heatstroke in extreme cases...

A medical emergency due to the body's thermoregulation system breaking down altogether.

heatstroke in race

Sunburn is more common.

This is easily prevented by using high-factor sunscreen or sun block, a protective cap and sunglasses.

Anything Else in the Marathon Race Day Strategy?

So, these are the 5 most common marathon day mistakes you want to avoid... 

But this marathon race day strategy would not be complete by ignoring the elephant in the room!

So, now you're clearer on how to avoid any of these potential show stoppers, the logical next step is to learn how to race more effectively. 

Which is why I also have an awesome free download for you... 26 Proven Mile-by-Mile Race Tactics to Finally Get Your Marathon Time Breakthrough! 

I hope you found the tactics in this post useful and make sure you review the Race Tactics Checklist before the start gun fires!

Please leave any comments you have below. 


  • Wee Shuggy

    Reply Reply 4th March 2016

    These five risks are true…. over hydrating is a particularly unusual risk often overlooked. Drinking enough is frequently emphasised but drinking too much is not as often mentioned.

    I’d add to the blisters and chaffing section the need to undertake some practice runs in the kit you’ll be using for race day.

    Are there any other risks that people have experience of?

    • Dave Bird

      Reply Reply 25th April 2016

      Yes, I’ve seen many a runner doing three or four easy miles on a cool day glugging down a huge bottle of water as if their life depended on it!! The need to practice all aspects of the race day experience is also so true, both in training and in lower key races.

  • Anonymous

    Reply Reply 25th April 2016

    Golden Rule : Don’t wear anything new on race day and don’t eat or try any new energy Gu / gel on race day

    • Dave Bird

      Reply Reply 25th April 2016

      Very true… I recommend you do all your experimenting on your long runs early in your campaign so there are no nasty surprises on marathon day!

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