Top Tips To Master The Marathon

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The 2022 Spring marathon season is well underway with a host of events already completed and lots more to take place over the coming weeks. Former Irish National Marathon Champion and running coach Gary O’Hanlon shares some of his top tips for your marathon build up and race day.

  1. The number one piece of advice is to get as much sleep as possible in days leading up to the marathon. Good quality sleep is essential, particularly two nights before race day will ensure you toe the line feeling rested and ready to take on the 26.2 miles


  1. Don’t change your diet dramatically in the final days before race day, eating as cleanly and simply as possible with foods that are easy to digest will ensure your body is well fuelled and prepared. Breakfast should be the same as your long training runs and eaten early enough to digest properly the morning of the marathon. Basically “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”!


  1. Hydration – take fluids regularly throughout the day in the days leading up to the race, my advice would be stop drinking temporarily around 7 pm the night before race day so that your sleep is not broken making numerous trips to the bathroom.


  1. Race fuelling – keep your fuel strategy similar to your long training runs – if you have never used gels in training, marathon day is not the time to start. Use what has worked for you in the past and any changes should be tried out in advance during training runs. Fuel plan should be flexible to deal with very hot days where additional water would be required. Familiarise yourself with the energy station points during the marathon, or have a supporter en route that can give you a drink/gel at an appropriate time.


  1. Stay positive – try not to listen to marathon small talk in the lead up to race day. Focus on your own goal and race strategy and trust the hours and miles of training you have logged in the months leading up to marathon day. Avoid comparing yourself to others or their time goals. Too many marathon goals have been derailed by the athlete running someone else’s race.


  1. Stay off your feet as much as possible the day before the race, spending hours walking around can be as tiring as going for a long run the day before a marathon.


  1. Race planning – set aside some time to plan all things related to marathon day – plan your journey to the marathon, number collection, race kit and race plan. Leaving nothing to chance will ensure you are confident going into your race and can focus solely on running your best race on Sunday. Any changes to your race kit should be trialled during previous training runs to ensure they are comfortable for race day. The perfect marathon needs everything to go right on the day. Any curve ball such as unfavourable weather or waking up with a stomach upset on the morning can sabotage the best planned races, be prepared to deal with the unexpected.


  1. Set out your pace strategy – whether you are looking to run your first marathon or set a personal best, have a goal with some flexibility. I often encourage athletes to have “A” and “B” goal times in mind, if your race is not going to plan on the day, having that secondary goal can help to keep you focused. Personally I aim for even pace throughout the marathon, banking time early on can be a risk. Control your pace for the first 3-4 miles of the race, it can be tempting to get caught up in the adrenaline rush of 20,000 runners eager to get their marathon underway. Being cautious early on can pay dividends later in the race and possibly avoid hitting that “wall” sooner. If you are feeling strong after half way, start working your pace down at that point and aim for a negative split.


  1. Run Smart in the first half, you have prepared and trained for your race, have confidence in your ability to achieve your goal.


  1. Be Brave in the 2nd half, the 26.2 miles on race day is a culmination of many hours of dedication and miles, remind yourself that you are prepared to “dig in” during the tough miles and remember that sense of achievement and pride is waiting at the finish line.


About the Author:

Gary O’Hanlon is an Irish distance runner and coach from Co Louth, the 2017 Irish National Marathon Champion has a marathon PB of 2:16.29 set at age 45 and a World Age Group Half Marathon record of 1:06:24 set at age 46 in 2020.  He is the Irish 50k Record Holder and coach to a whole host of runners and athletes at home and abroad. Contact Gary by email:


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