Race Day Preparation Tips for First-time Marathoners

The Amica Marathon is happening in Newport on Oct. 16. Here's a firsthand account from a rookie runner, who just ran her first 26.2-mile race.

It’s marathon season: Chicago. Marine Corps. New York. Locally, the Amica Marathon in Newport is coming up on Oct. 16, and many runners are now tapering their training to prepare for the 26.2-mile race. But there are some things runners may not think about on race day that may throw a monkey wrench into all that preparation. It certainly happened to me.

I ran my first marathon this past weekend, the Smuttynose Rockfest in Hampton, New Hampshire. I started training for it back in May after being inspired by the Boston Marathon. Seeing all those people crossing the finish line—especially a troop of twenty service men and women in fatigues, weighted backpacks and boots running together—made me want to sign up for something that meant something. Initially it was just one of those things for my bucket list. Run one and then I’d be done. I wanted to set a goal for myself and achieve it. I didn’t care how long it would take, I just wanted to finish.

I trained for months, running shorter routes during the week, and I set off on epic jaunts on weekends. Every Saturday was a new personal best in terms of distance achieved. My longest run was twenty miles. I tested out my race day clothes to make sure they were comfortable. I tried pre-race meals of oatmeal, peanut butter and a banana. I bought new shoes, energy gels and a Fuelbelt to easily transport water.

But one thing I never did was run in the rain. So you can imagine my panic when the day before my race, I learned that heavy rain and wind was forecasted. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what to wear. I thought that running in wet clothing would cause painful blisters (and chafing) and that I would fail to finish. I was so pumped up the whole week leading up to the race, but once the rain came, I didn’t know if I could do it. I told myself I’d go for the half, and if I was in pain after finishing the half, I could stop. I didn’t want to be miserable.

But once the marathon began, I realized how good the rain felt. It kept me cool and hydrated. As I warmed up, I realized I wore too many layers; an Under Armour tank top, tech pullover and waterproof jacket was too much, and I ended up having to shed my pullover during the first mile. I tied it to a railing along the route so I could go back for it after the race. I stored my energy gels in my jacket pockets, but the pockets did not have zippers, and when I took off my pullover, all of my energy gels fell out onto the road and were trampled by oncoming traffic. Another tip: make sure you zipper up those babies. My second panic set in. How would I finish the race without those gels?

Luckily, the race coordinators were handing out gels around mile seven, so I was able to scoop up a couple to carry me through. By mile nine, the sun was back out, and I hit the bend along the ocean where waves crashed against the rocks. I knew I could do it. Yes, I was soaked, but I was comfortable. My feet were wet, but waterproof socks made a huge difference. I sailed through the halfway point swinging my arms like a windmill to demonstrate the “Phoebe run” from “Friends.” By mile nineteen, I was lifted by a runner’s high. My husband found me around that point and handed me some Powerade and jogged along with me for a few minutes for support. Then there was another energy gel station, so I picked up two more.

There were only seven miles left to go. Now it was just a normal jog in the park. I cheered on the runners around me and said thank you to every person handing me water or Gatorade along that final stretch. At mile twenty-four, my feet started cramping up because my toes were all scrunched up. I had to stop a couple times to do toe raises, but I kept running.

As soon as I saw the finish line in the distance, I felt no pain and carried myself right to the very end. Stepping across the line with a time of 04:02:40, they handed me my medal. I had earned it. It was my first marathon. And it definitely won’t be my last…


My tips:

  1. Be prepared for any type of weather.
  2. Wake up a few hours before the race to eat, so you can digest before your run. I woke at 6 a.m.; my race was at 9 a.m. I also ate a banana just before the gun.
  3. Find a bathroom before you get to the race, because the on-site bathrooms are always mobbed.
  4. Wear waterproof socks.
  5. Layers are good, but don’t wear too many.
  6. If the race has plenty of hydration stations, you won’t need a waterbelt.
  7. Bring energy gels, but make sure you zip them up in pockets or in a pouch.
  8. Stretch adequately before the race, including toe raises to prevent cramping.
  9. Walking through water stations isn’t a bad idea to make sure you get enough fluids and to avoid tripping over other runners.
  10. Watch out for cones! I saw one guy take a serious tumble (how he missed seeing the bright orange markers, I'm not sure).
  11. If you have long hair, consider braiding it. Combing your hair after a marathon is almost as challenging as the race itself.