Running a fall marathon? Here are 26.2 tips to help you finish.

A little planning and preparation goes a long way in the marathon. Here’s our best advice, collected from runners who have been there.

(Illustrations by Fran Caballero for The Washington Post)
7 min

Fall marathon season is here, and we’re here to help. We’ve collected advice from readers who know the secrets to a successful marathon. Here’s what they said.


Learn the course in advance

Get to know the course before you try running it. Many prerace expos include sessions explaining the course or you can look over the course map or ask race officials about the tough spots. Learn where the hills are going to be so you aren’t surprised. You should also know about street closures and parking so you can get to the race on time.

“Even better, drive the course if you can,” wrote reader Charlotte Blue. “You definitely want to know the terrain.”


Personalize your bib

Write out your name on your bib if it isn’t already on it. That way it’s more likely that the spectators cheering along the course will shout your name.


Plan your race day outfit

Don’t wear anything that you haven’t tried on before. “This is no time to test out a new pair of running shorts,” shared one reader.


Break in your shoes

Spend some time running in your shoes long before race day. “Don’t wear new, tight shoes! Your feet will swell up during the run and those new shoes will feel like a torture technique,” said a reader, kenzo.


Use anti-chafing products

Plenty of readers shared stories about chafing, a painful condition that occurs when body parts (like thighs) rub against each other or when clothing-on-skin friction occurs. Vaseline and anti-chafing products like Body Glide can help. “Protect your nipples,” NatsDude wrote. “Make sure you’ve worn your race day shirt for your long runs to know if it rubs anywhere.”


Create a race plan

Go into the race with an idea what to expect. Visualize your race. Some runners write out their pace chart on their bibs or arms as reminders.

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Leave your headphones at home

Many races discourage runners from wearing headphones so that they can hear announcements and remain aware of their surroundings. But there’s another reason to leave them at home. “Marathon day is the culmination of months of training, so enjoy all of the sights and sounds,” Girolamo Savonarola wrote. “There is usually plenty of stimulation on the route.”


Plan your breakfast

As with your outfit, test out beforehand what kind of pre-long-run meal works well for you. “Get to know what light breakfast your body can tolerate before a long run and eat that marathon morning,” dogbone1 wrote.


Go straight to the port-a-potty

Find out where the port-a-potty is and wait in line. “When you come out of the [port-a-potty], get back in line,” wrote one reader. “Repeat as many times as possible.”


Find the right starting corral

Many marathons separate participants at the start by expected finish time. Position yourself in the correct corral or the “first couple of miles could go off kilter,” RudyFds wrote.


Bring a snack

Getting to the start line may take some time and energy. You may even be waiting at the starting area for a while. If that’s the case, “bring something small to eat,” MRPost wrote.


Wear disposable layers

If it’s cold, you may want to wear something disposable to the start line. Some runners wear a trash bag with a hole cut out. One reader recommended “gown/drapery-length bags” from the dry cleaners. “It will keep you toasty without the bulk,” CatMaxDeux wrote.


Pay extra attention to your pace at the start

The beginning of the race can be exciting, so it’s especially important to focus on your pace. Don’t go out too fast.


Watch out for obstacles in the crowd

The start can be crowded, and there may be hidden obstacles like curbs in the way. Be careful.


It’s okay to walk

Some marathoners use the run-walk-run method popularized by Olympian Jeff Galloway with success. Others need to walk periodically during the race to get through it. Both are okay. “Be realistic about walking,” NatsDude wrote. “Better to start walking prior to total exhaustion.”


Keep conversations short

The marathon is a long race. Long conversations with fellow runners may be draining, so keep them short. “You can smile,” RM Wyatt wrote.


Walk through water stations

If you need water, consider walking through the water stations. “Walking through a water stop makes it more likely you’ll get a good drink of water versus trying to drink it on the run,” CLEfanman wrote.


Stay hydrated but don’t overhydrate

Drink water as needed. “Mouths can get very dry and need a swill of water. That isn’t the same as thirst,” Fortyrunner wrote. “Too much drinking will cause bloating.”


Consume electrolytes

Runners lose electrolytes through sweating and should be conscious about replacing them throughout a marathon. Electrolytes can be replenished through an electrolyte drink mix, gels or bananas.


Think of 20 miles as your halfway point

Amateur runners and Olympian Meb Keflezighi agree on at least one thing: 20 miles is the true halfway point of a marathon. Expect the last 10K to be tough. “The best advice I ever got was that” a marathon is only a 10k “race, but it starts after mile 20; so plan accordingly,” MadMax37 wrote.


Focus on yourself

“Don’t get sucked [into] other people’s pace,” WPNH2019 wrote. “I cannot tell you how many runners passed me by mile 10 only for me to pass them from mile 15 and onwards. Stick with the stuff that got you to this point.”


Pay attention to your breathing

“Remaining aware of your breathing helps in all phases of the race, and grounds your awareness in the core feature of your body, rather than the transient pain,” Your Neighbour wrote. “Its regularity is a kind of constant backdrop against which the fatigue and pain vary.”


Be aware of the sweeper bus

Big city marathons require a cutoff point in which streets will reopen to traffic. Know how much time you have before sweep buses arrive. The Marine Corps Marathon requires that all participants maintain at least a 14-minute-per-mile pace. For the NYC Marathon, sweep buses will follow the marathon route at a 6½-hour marathon pace, which converts to approximately a 15-minute-per-mile pace.


Plan for finish line support

Find out where you need to go after you cross the finish line. Having a friend near the finish is helpful, especially if you’re struggling to walk. Carry your phone with you so you can keep your support crew updated on where you are.


Soak in your surroundings

Running a marathon is a great way to see a city. Listen to the roaring cheers from the spectators. Look at the sights along the route.


Appreciate the journey

With every step, be mindful of what you are accomplishing. Remind yourself that most people have never run 26.2 miles. “Not many can do what you are doing,” CatManDeux wrote. “And it’s fleeting.”

And here’s tip number 26.2: Sign up for your next marathon. Once the pain wears off, you’ll find that you’ll want to do it all over again.

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