10 tips to help you complete a marathon

So you’ve put in the months of training, completed your long runs, got your gear sorted, and now it’s just the actual matter of getting to race day and running those 26.2 miles, but you’re still not sure how you will get through it.

Most runners will do an 18-20 mile long run in the few weeks before tapering to the marathon date, and this is a great opportunity to get an idea of how their race will unfold, getting hydration and fueling correct, working out if any clothings rubs, and most importantly mentally preparing for spending hours on their feet. For some, this will be a breeze, but for most it will still be a tough run and put a seed of doubt in our heads. How can I run even further? How will I be able to complete the distance?

These thoughts will enter you head at some point, most likely when you start running past your ‘longest run’ distance and into the unknown so we’ve spoken to fellow runners of varying abilities to get their views.

1. You can do this!

The first thing you need to know is that you can do this. Even if you don’t cross the line in the time you wanted, or have a few wobbles during the race, you are physically able to do this.

The only issue is mentally. During any long run, especially a marathon, your mind will be telling you to stop. This is completely natural as it wants to protect you, but you’re stronger than that and so here are our tips for helping you complete your marathon.

2. Don’t have a target time

You’re allowed to have an idea of the time you’d like to finish but your first priority should be to finish the race, and then second priority is your time.

By making finishing your number one priority, you are lowering the pressure on yourself, and appreciating that completing a marathon is an amazing achievement that many people will never do.

Running in a marathon

3. Be mindful

Remember you’ve done the hard work and try to think of all the hard work you’ve done that will enable you to complete the race. Think about your running journey and how far you’ve progressed. Be proud of yourself.

4. Follow a pacer

Most of the major marathons will have ‘pacers’, runners who will be officially completing the races in a set time, and will be labelled so that other runners can follow them.

Having someone to fixate on will sometimes ensure you keep moving and also allow you to ignore trying to work out your own pacing.

5. Enjoy the crowd

If you’re at a large marathon then there will be crowds cheering you on so enjoy it and soak up the atmosphere. It’s easy to keep your head down and try and power through but look around and see all those smiling faces. It really will help, plus the buzz that children get as you tap their ‘power up’ signs really will give you a boost.

If you do want some music to help you through then use bone conduction headphones as you will still be able to hear the crowd and chat to fellow runners.

6. Break it down

Break the 26.2 miles into manageable chunks you can tick off. Don’t count every km as there are a lot of them but instead break them up into 5km blocks for example, or think about completing the first 10km, and then about completing the half marathon distance, and work from there.

Break your marathon down into parts.

7. Don’t be afraid to have a walk

If your run isn’t going to plan then don’t be afraid to have a break, compose yourself, regain some energy and then get running again. In fact some people will deliberately run/walk their way around the course so you won’t be the only one.

Every step you take will be a step closer to completing the marathon.

8. Find a distraction

If you’re not enjoying yourself and finding it tough then it’s so easy for your mind to focus on any aches or pains or start having negative thoughts. The funny thing is that our brains can only really concentrate on one thing at a time, so find a distraction.

  • Do some maths in your head
  • Pick something to count, like runners wearing hats etc.
  • Play the alphabet game of trying to spot letters on signs, shops, tops etc
  • Count to the highest number you can
  • Plan your Christmas dinner and work out all the timings

9. Have a mantra

A mantra is a short motivational phrase you can repeat to yourself when you’re struggling. Examples include ‘You can do this!’, ‘Think Strong, Be Strong Finish Strong’, and ‘Dig Deeper’. Find something that works for you and when it’s tough start repeating it to yourself. Sometimes throwing in the odd expletive can help too!

10. Think about how good it will feel when you finish

Think about crossing that line, getting your medal, and being able to say you’ve run a marathon. You’d got this!

London Marathon runners
Adem Djemil
I only started running at the age of 37, completing the Couch to 5k course, and since then I've been hooked, running 4 times a week and even completing several marathons and an ultra!