Race Day Preparation


“Pace yourself”… We’ve all been told this at some point in our running careers…

Pacing is all about how well you can distribute your body’s energy throughout the entire marathon. The main purpose of pacing is to ensure that you preserve enough energy needed to complete the race and finish strong.

Let’s see what this looks like in the bigger picture of a full marathon…

How Hard Is It To Finish a Marathon?

There is no denying it… when you get to wear that medal you receive after completing a marathon, you wear it with pride. 

It is a badge of honor, a sign to the rest of the world that you made it through a grueling long distance of 42.2 km or 26.2 miles!

Everyone’s marathon experience is unique. 

To be honest with you… It is hard to finish a marathon. There’s a reason why you need to follow a training program.

Pheidippides, the first-ever marathoner, raced 150 miles from Athens to Sparta before the Battle of Marathon, declaring “Nike!” (which translates as “Victory”), and then dropped dead from exhaustion.

It’s tough to finish a marathon mostly because of the duration you’re required to be running for. 

Other factors that contribute to making completing a marathon a challenge include dehydration, injuries, hyponatremia (over hydration), and what we will be discussing further… incorrect pacing. 

How Long Does It Take To Finish a marathon?

A marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.19 kilometers.

The global average time for a marathon stands at around 4 hours 21 minutes – with men’s average times at 4 hours 13 minutes, and women at 4 hours 42 minutes.

New runners do worry about not finishing before the time limit. Typically, marathon cutoff times are around six hours. 

For example, athletes who run the Boston Marathon have six hours to complete the course. That means you’d have to average a pace of just under 14 minutes per mile. For the NYC Marathon, the official end of the race is 7:25 p.m. Depending on your start time, this will allow for closer to eight hours to finish the race.

On the race website or registration page, you will be able to see the race cut-off time.

The Importance Of Pacing

There is evidence proving that the best way to pace yourself over any distance longer than 800m is to run an even or negative split – that is, running the second half at the same speed, or slightly faster, than the first.

Getting the pace right is a question of matching your expectations to your level of training.

You need to determine how fast your recovery runs should be, and what pace you can run your harder sessions. This is why following a training plan is so beneficial, the coaches determine your paces for you, therefore taking the guesswork out of your hands and into a professional’s. 

Each run adds an integral element to your week’s training and, when done right, can have serious benefits for your marathon.

Pacing during your marathon is important because if you go out too hard from the start line… which is very easy to do as one gets caught up in all the race excitement… you could injure yourself and have to run in pain for what could be hours. 

A Good Marathon Time For a Beginner

Whether it’s your first and you’ve just decided to take on this monster challenge, or you’re a seasoned marathoner…

According to Marathon Statistics 2019 Worldwide, including 19,614,975 marathon results in 32,335 races worldwide:

  • Participation in marathons grew by 49.43% in the ten years from 2008 to 2018.
  • The average marathon time worldwide is 4:29:53. 

It’s important to remember that a good marathon time for one runner is very different from a good marathon time for another runner…

Based on the marathon statistics study, a good marathon time for a beginner across all sexes and ages averages 3:48:20.

How To Calculate Your Marathon Pace

We believe this is something not enough people are asking about…

This is the rule of thumb way to calculating your marathon pace.

Typically to calculate it, I would use a 5km and a 10km and a half marathon time to try and determine if I’m improving as I’m running longer distances or if I’m getting better as I’m running longer and then I’ll make some slight tweaks.

Essentially, if you’re running 5km races fairly hard or you’ve got some decent 5km times, I think from a 5km to a 10km, you can be between 5 seconds (if you’re very conditioned) and 8 or 9 seconds per km slower, you’ll be able to hold for a 10km.

Then you will be in the region of eight to 12-13 seconds per km slower when you then move from that 10km to the 21km and then from the 21km to the marathon, you’re probably also looking around 8-10 minutes in a very conditioned person or somebody who gets relatively better as time goes by, you’re probably looking at about eight seconds per km slower, up to around 15 seconds per km.

Obviously, if you’re someone who struggles and gets slower as you run longer, then you’re probably looking at more along the lines of 16-17-18 seconds per km and you need to work on your aerobic capacity.

That’s kind of how you can set on, if for example, you only had a 5km time, you could kind of progress it along.

Bearing in mind that the shorter the distance you’re using to predict, the more guessing is going on in-between steps.

The best place to guess from is your best half marathon and then somewhere in the region of 8K’s if you’re extremely fit and get better with distance and about 15 seconds per km would be your normal drift off.

Having these calculations on what you should be running your marathon is important. Yes, there’s a bit of variation if you don’t have a 21km time if you’re working it on your 5km time, but having these things and making sure that you stick to them is important if you’re going to achieve the marathon goal you set out to achieve.

What you need to do is, if the two halves of the race are fairly similar in terms of profile and if you’re not dealing with extreme environments, like very cold or extremely hot, then you want to approach a marathon in a fairly even-paced time.

Aiming to be at halfway no more than one and a half to two minutes faster in the first half than you intend to run the entire race and that is why it’s important to stick to your plan because at the beginning of the marathon you can feel extremely fresh and feel like it’s your day and you push it hard and then all of a sudden somewhere between 21km or 13 miles and 16 miles or 25km, that’s when you start to feel, oh-oh, I’ve overdone it and you’ve still got quite a lot of race left to go.

The thing with a marathon is that there is always going to be a part where you “hit the wall”. For most people that tends to be at 24-26kms and so the goal is to train the aerobic system well enough to keep pushing that “wall” later in the race…

In a marathon, the last three miles or 5km are telling and we can lose 30 seconds to a minute per km easily if our legs have taken a hammering.

You can never put enough time in the bag by going out too hard to save more than you’ll lose in the second half.

You’ll always lose more in the second half than intended if you go out with that sort of strategy.

That’s why It’s important to get the pacing right.

Marathon Pacing Strategy

Marathon pacing is probably one of the hardest things to get right. But when you do nail it, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

So, what’s the secret to a perfectly paced marathon?

A marathon is not just a matter of doubling your 21km time…

First and foremost, the word patience, realistic goal setting, and pacing – are the things that play a role in the day.

It doesn’t help that you can run a 90-minute 21-kilometer, and then aim to achieve a sub-3-hour marathon… you will slow down as you progress.

Or your starting speed will have to be slower as well. So set a realistic goal, that’s the first box that you need to be ticking.

The second one is to work out an accurate pacing chart. Those on the Coach Parry platform get personalized help to calculate their pacing strategy. For the bigger races, we can make this race/route specific too.

… and then be patient, stick to that pacing chart.

It’s like a roadmap, if you’re going to follow the directions, you’re eventually going to get to your destination. And that’s what’s most important. People are impatient, they feel great, but they make the mistake of feeling great in the beginning, they overpower it a bit and then they pay for it in the end.

Once you realize that you’ve gone out too hard, it’s too late!

Positive Splits, Negative Splits, Even Splits

We’re big fans of negative splits. More often than not, if your training was good, you had a good taper leading up to the event, and you have a realistic goal in place, the chances of you doing an even split and possibly going negative towards the end are quite high. 

A negative split would be a cherry on the top, and an even split would be a perfectly executed race plan.

This is because if you start a race too hard and you lose speed towards the end, that’s when the process starts to control you. 

But if you start slightly slower, more conservative and you control the process all the way, I can guarantee you, the time lost by starting a slight bit slower compared to starting a bit too fast and then losing control of that process usually from about 36 kilometers, depending on how hard you went out. 

EVERYTHING You Need To Run A Sub 4 Hour Marathon

We can survive for as long as a month in a moderate climate without food…

We would struggle to stay alive for longer than two days in desert conditions without water.

It’s safe to say that after oxygen, water is a close second on the list of essentials for life.

Failing to prepare an adequate hydration strategy before race day can lead to unwanted consequences. Dehydration can cause a decrease in your aerobic energy capacity, which will reduce your exercise endurance and muscle strength.

What about when you decide to run 26.2 miles…

How much is too much…

What happens if you don’t drink enough…

Let’s have a look.

How To Hydrate For a Marathon

Water has various functions in the body such as transport of nutrients to the active tissues, getting rid of waste products, and temperature regulation.

Temperature and hydration influence your running performance…

A lot of people don’t realize the health implications that come with dehydration but should also be aware of the dangers of overhydration during exercise.

During any exercise, you must aim to be well hydrated.

Firstly, to get rid of the waste products, which are the result of your muscles working. Secondly, to deliver oxygen and nutrients. It doesn’t help if we eat all the correct things and then they don’t get delivered to the muscle due to dehydration. Thirdly and very importantly for thermal regulation.

As soon as you start to run your marathon, you start to dehydrate. About 75% of the energy you put into exercise is converted into heat and is then lost.

Water requirements change based on an individual’s sweat rate, this will also be affected by heat, humidity, and the intensity you are running at.

The most important part of hydrating for a marathon happens way before you even get to the start line…

An effort must be made to stay well hydrated at least 48 hours before the start of your marathon.

You should start sipping about 600ml of water three to four hours before the race, and drink until your urine is clear. If it still isn’t clear, drink another 400ml on top of this

If you consume an entire liter of water just before you run, you stand the chance of diluting your sodium balance, being bloated, and increasing your need for bathroom stops along the way. 

How Often You Should Hydrate During a Marathon

You should aim to consume 400ml to 800ml of water an hour – As we said earlier this amount does vary between each individual and should be modified to thirst, intensity, and environmental conditions. 

We recommend that you learn how much water your body needs to consume to stay well hydrated during your training period, especially on your long runs. 

You can do this by checking your weight before and after a long run to make sure that you haven’t lost more than 2 percent of your body weight, and checking that your urine is not too concentrated.

A good way to tell is with a urine color chart:

If it’s a very light straw color or a very light yellow color, you’re good to go run and enjoy it.

If it is very dark or even orangey, then it means you are probably in a dehydrated state, especially the first morning batch of urine. I would suggest that you first drink something with a sodium content and wait about 20 to 30 minutes.

I know a lot of runners don’t have this opportunity because they may be running in the mornings. But those of us that can do this, should.

For those that run in the morning, it would be adequate to drink about 500mls of fluid an hour before you run. 

Remember that if there’s a little bit of fluid in the stomach, it makes the body better at delivering the fluid throughout your run to the areas where it should go. So it’s always better to run with what we call a residual volume of fluid. 

How Elite Runners Hydrate For Marathons

Research that was conducted on London Marathon participants showed us that despite the organizers providing advice on strategies to avoid hyponatremia, 12% of participants still planned to consume fluid levels that would put them at risk. 

This is considering that 93% of runners acknowledged they had read and understood the provided hydration information package.

Hyponatremia: A condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. With this condition, the body holds onto too much water. This dilutes the amount of sodium in the blood and causes levels to be low.

Symptoms include nausea, headaches, confusion, and fatigue.

Elite athletes plan to drink every 5km and most consume gels at around the 10-15km and 25-30km marks. 

Drinking every 5km can be quite an aggressive hydration strategy. In our opinion, fluid quantity needs to be monitored more carefully to avoid hyponatremia.

If you find that you want to consume gels, make sure to do so with water so that they are easier to digest. 

Marathon Hydration Plan

Hydration Before The Marathon:

  1. Do not just drink lots of water in the build-up to the race. This will increase your chances of getting hyponatremia. 
  1. Drink an electrolyte drink the night before the race to boost your blood plasma volume. 
  1. Drink about 2-3 ml per pound of body weight at least 4 hours before your run. 

Hydration During The Marathon:

Personalizing your hydration strategy will make a tangible difference to your result. That’s because everyone loses a different amount of sodium in their sweat.

Just drinking water when sweating over long periods dilutes your sodium levels, which can really impact your performance and could lead to hyponatremia.

Although there are regular drink stations on the course, these are not in place so that you stop to drink at every station.

Think about how much fluid you consumed during your long training runs, and try to replicate this intake when running the marathon, adjusting to thirst and environmental conditions.  

Stop only for drinks and fuel as you have planned in your training.

Everything You Need To Know About Electrolytes & Salt Tablets During A Marathon

The only people that would need salt tablets would be those in very extreme endurance events that are performed in very hot and humid conditions.

For normal marathon runners, sports drinks are good enough, I suggest even adding a pinch of salt to your drink but that’s about it.

The sodium concentration in sports drinks is usually 23 to 69 milligrams per deciliter. That is enough to look after our electrolyte intake without taking excess electrolyte supplementation.

To look at further electrolyte replacement, we usually look at it in the terms of food, so you could eat a salty snack, like a salty biscuit or salty nuts and pretzels. 

People following a Keto diet, those that are on diuretic medication for blood pressure, or anybody with a stomach bug, should look at their electrolyte intake more aggressively because you do lose more electrolytes in these instances.

Symptoms Of Low Electrolyte Levels:

  • Nausea
  • Excessive Tiredness
  • Weakened Muscles
  • Spasms

If you feel any of these symptoms you should consider taking electrolytes, adding salt to your water, and even loading up on plant foods like bananas, greens, nuts, and seeds.

Check out this super helpful article we wrote about running a marathon with a hydration pack: Read it here.

If race day is in just four weeks… there are probably a couple of things going through your mind right now. 

“How can it be so SOON?”

“How long before I get to taper?”

“What on earth am I meant to be doing in these four weeks?!”

The last four weeks leading into any race are the most difficult time psychologically as they are critical to the achievement of your goal. Train too much or too hard and you will line up fatigued and struggle on race day. Take your foot off the accelerator too much and you will lose fitness and gain weight. It is also during this time we are physically at our peak that our immune systems are most susceptible to infection.

So, with that said… let’s dive right into what exactly you should be doing.

What You Should Be Doing 4 Weeks Before Race Day

  1. Reduce your mileage
  2. Increase SOME intensity
  3. Adjust your diet
  4. Manage your portion size
  5. Maintain a low infection risk
  6. Get an extra hour of sleep each night
  1. A good formula to follow over the last 4 weeks, provided you have done the hard yards, is to reduce your mileage weekly by 25% in the 3rd week, then to 50% in the 2nd week, and in the last week keep the running volume very low. 
  1. During this time you will also want to increase the intensity of SOME of your sessions, however, you need to base this increase relative to your ability and goal or risk injury just before the race. 
  1. An important consideration when tapering is that your energy demand will go down, if you do not adjust your diet accordingly you will put on a few kilograms. 
    While some may advocate this as stored energy, excess weight is a killer for running efficiency, and particularly in shorter distances, you do not want to reduce your efficiency. Again this is a fine line; you do not want to starve yourself as this will reduce muscle mass, decrease motivation, and further impact immunity.
  1. Follow largely the same eating plan, cutting down on the energy/recovery drinks and managing portion size.
  1. Ensure that you maintain as low an infection risk as possible. Where possible, avoid large gatherings where exposure to infection is increased. 
  1. Try to get an hour per night of extra sleep as this will help to boost the immune system. Increase your vitamin intake – particularly vitamin C to improve your chances of fighting off infections.


Tapering involves reducing the amount of running you do to be fresh for race day so that you can take full advantage of the training that you have done. 

The length of a taper does depend on the volume of training done. For a half marathon, 10 days of tapering should be fine, but for a full marathon or ultra-marathon – where the training volume is a lot more, the length of the taper will be longer too.

This study found that tapering can speed up your time by 5.6%.  If we look at this percent in terms of a marathon, that is the difference between a 3:20 and a 3:31! 

As mentioned above, the ideal taper would be you eventually cutting down total volume by 50% by the final week, including speed workouts. It would involve you running as many days a week as you normally do, but reducing volume in everything from workouts to long runs, as well as your weekly total mileage.

This video covers tapering specifically for a half marathon, check it out: 

Can You Taper Too Much?

Tapering is one of the most important parts of any training plan, but in many cases, it’s also one of the hardest to implement.

If we have a look at Peter Gilmore’s story, his tapering in the build-up to the 2006 Boston Half Marathon was so LITTLE.

It all started with the Houston Half Marathon 3 months prior…

Throughout the Houston Half Marathon Gilmore was feeling sluggish and slow… So after the 21km, he compared tapering notes with another athlete who pointed out that maybe Gilmore was changing his natural state by cutting his miles too drastically (Gilmore was cutting his miles by 55% in the lead up to the Houston Half Marathon)    

So, 3 weeks leading up to Boston, Gilmore cut his weekly mileage by only 35%. (Not the usual 55%) 

Boston Half Marathon results: 2:12:45. (Gilmore managed to trim 17 seconds off of his record!)

So, the point that I’m trying to make with Gilmore’s story is that, yes, you can taper too much…too fast and you can lead your body into believing it’s on “holiday”. 

By not tapering slowly your body will start to feel uncomfortable, everything will shorten and tighten up and your running stride will feel troublesome. There needs to be a balance of keeping enough stress so that your body still feels like it’s in the zone.

This is why it’s so important to reduce your mileage incrementally (25% to 50%) over the four weeks. 

Benefits Of Tapering

Based on this research study published in the Journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:

The Benefits Of Tapering:

  • Reductions in training volume appear to induce positive physiological, psychological, and performance responses in highly trained athletes.
  • Positive physiological and performance adaptations can be expected as a result of tapers lasting 4–28 days, yet the negative effects of complete inactivity are readily apparent in athletes.
  • A realistic performance improvement of about 3%.

Now that you know how you should physically be preparing for race day, it’s important to remember that there are other race day preparations that need to take place…

11 Preparation Tips For Race Day 

  1. Enjoy The Taper
  2. Fuel Up
  3. Don’t Overdo It
  4. Plan
  5. Make Sleep a Priority
  6. Set a Goal 
  7. Hydrate
  8. Enjoy The Expo…But Resist The Freebie’s
  9. Pre Race Workout
  10. Running Kit Prep
  11. Slow Down

Enjoy The Taper

For a lot of runners, tapering can be very disconcerting. The taper is there to give your body time to freshen up, recuperate and rebuild before race day. This is the perfect time to mentally prepare for the race, so enjoy it and allow your body do what it needs to do.

Fuel Up

#1 Rule, You should not experiment with any new foods or venture too far from your normal diet. NO matter how many times your friend has recommended that brand new energy gel!

You should however be increasing your total carbohydrate intake by adding more pasta and starches (low glycemic index foods) to your diet.

Make sure to consume a higher percentage of your total daily calories as carbohydrates, but remember that you’re not running as much as you have been, so eating more than you normally do will make you feel lethargic. (Don’t overdo it)

Don’t Overdo It

At this stage, you need to trust that you have trained properly and that you’re not going to lose your fitness by resting the day before the race. 

Some people find that they benefit more from a rest day the day before the race and some people prefer to go for a slow short-jog. Just remember that this is not the time to overdo things. 


The nerves are going to be kicking in and you may find yourself feeling a bit frazzled. Why not create a proper plan to ensure things aren’t forgotten, missed, or miscommunicated. 

Organize every detail like race fuels, tags, anti-chafe products, GPS watches, and transport for before and after the race, so that you don’t have to think or stress about anything come race day.

Make Sleep a Priority

It’s been said that sleeping well two nights before an event is more important than sleeping well the night before… so I decided to look into that statement and…

It’s been proven to be true. 

A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that athletes who ran after staying up for 30 hours experienced decreased endurance performance, but that their sleep deprivation had a limited effect on pacing, cardiorespiratory, or thermoregulatory function.

So, from that study, we can conclude that one sleepless night altered the subjects’ perception of effort, not their physical abilities.

Another study published in the Journal of Sleep Research examined the effects of a single night of sleep deprivation on two hormones thought to influence the muscles’ ability to use glucose. 

It was found that one entirely sleepless night did adversely affect metabolism compared to getting seven hours of sleep.

So, from both studies, the key takeaway is that as long as you’re not chronically sleep deprived, getting less sleep than usual the night before a race won’t likely harm your performance.

Set a Goal

Technically your goal should have been set before your training even began, but if you haven’t set one yet, you definitely should. 

Setting a goal is super important because by running within your limits, every workout can be a pleasure. However, if you don’t have a goal and you start even a few seconds per mile too fast, you’ll experience excess fatigue, loss of motivation, and even injury.

By controlling your pace and your heart rate early on, you might even be able to set a PR. 


Hydration can make or break your race. 

A good tip is to keep a water bottle handy about a week before the race and drink throughout the day

Your urine color should be light yellow. Once it gets too dark, you’re dehydrated.

If you chug an entire liter of water just before your run, your kidneys will flush it out, causing frequent midrun bathroom breaks. 

Enjoy The Expo…But Resist The Freebie’s

Expo day is such a hype! The vibe is unexplainable and everyone can’t wait to pick up their race packets.

Try not to waste hours standing on your feet, eating free food samples (that your tummy isn’t used to), and attending all the clinics…. This will wear you out and leave you exhausted by the end of the day. 

Pre Race Workout

We recommend a pre-race (as in the day before) workout- if you are feeling up to it, if not – and you’re used to taking a rest day before the race day then that’s great too. 

It involves:

5 to 10 minutes of easy jogging, with 3 to 5 thirty-second bursts at your planned race pace, with thirty seconds of very easy jogging in between, and then a 2 or 3-minute cooldown.

Running kit Prep

This may sound like an obvious one but you’d be surprised by how many people manage to forget about it…

To avoid a panicked, chaotic race-day morning, lay out your shorts, shirt (with your race number pinned on), socks, running shoes, hydration vest, ID, and anything else you’ll be wearing in the race.

Slow Down

Finally, there isn’t much else that you can do at this point, when the race starts just remember that it’s extremely easy to get caught up in the excitement of the start… Before you know it, you’re running 1 min faster than your set race pace. 

Take it all in, but ignore the lightning McQueen’s around you and focus on yourself.

Being prepared correctly for race day will leave you feeling at ease and ready to tackle the challenge with no unexpected surprises.