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How to Finish a Marathon – 10 first-hand tips from an Olympian

Running a marathon is almost never an easy task. There are so many things that can possibly go wrong and after months of preparation, you want to prevent anything “bad” that can happen. Moreover, likely you don’t want just to finish your marathon, you want to run it FAST. And we all get that – you have put so much effort into it because preparing for a marathon distance is a real challenge! But to finish fast your next marathon, you have to consider all points that can help you achieve that.

1. Set a goal

The first and very important point I want to make when talking about finishing fast your next marathon is to have a realistic goal. And I am not talking simply about picking the right pace. Have a realistic goal based on the particular race- how fast is the course itself; is it hilly or flat; is the weather hot and humid or freezing cold? All of these factors can strongly influence your run and therefore- how fast you can finish your marathon.

2. Run the course

It is a great idea to run the course or at least some segments of it. That way you will be familiar with it and you will know what to expect. If there are some major hills or downhills, you can work your race strategy around them. For example, if you have a long steep hill in the last 10k, you want to make sure you save enough energy up to that point and run it smart. You don’t want to be surprised running a hill in the last segment of your race and have no idea what is coming next (another hill? or downhill?).

3. Don't start off too strong

Although you get often too excited at the beginning of the race, don’t forget that the first half of the race should always feel relatively easy and relaxed. The ‘real’ race doesn’t start until the last 10k so you have to make sure you feel comfortable enough in the middle of the race. This may sound like a simple job but it is the most common mistake we all make because of the excitement and adrenaline which often is hard to control.

4. Follow your own pace

You should follow your own pace for the same reason. It is easy to get along the way with the runners around you because you feel good starting the race but the marathon distance can be very cruel when you start faster than what you are ready to run. Even 5 seconds faster per kilometer in the first half of the race, can cause you to slow down minutes in the last 5-10 kilometers.

5. Hydration and fuel are key

A lot of people don’t consider practicing hydration and fueling but it is a crucial point if you want to improve your marathon time. You cannot just run well on water. You need electrolytes as well and some fast carbs to give you the energy to keep up with your pace. Absolutely every professional runner has a hydration and fueling plan during the race and the reason is that is totally beneficial.

6. Pick the right tunes

To keep your pace steady, it might be a good idea to listen to your favorite music. I bet you had those moments when you put on your earbuds, listening to your favorite songs, and feel like flying. There is a theory that music actually helps you to keep up with your pace. From my own experience- it totally does!

7. Find a buddy

However, often we struggle to keep up with our pace for the entire distance so it could be a great idea to ask a friend for help. Find someone who can potentially pace you or at least run with you for few kilometers. This way you can relax your mind and simply following your friend. If the race provides pacers for your goal pace, I suggest you use them!

8. Get some support

Moreover, you can ask your support group to come and cheer for you. There is nothing like seeing your favorite people. You find this external and internal motivation to keep going and not disappoint all these individuals who believe in you and your strength.

9. Try carb-loading

Prior to the race week, you should try the famous carb-loading. Eat more carbohydrates to make sure you load your muscles with enough glycogen to run fast for longer. To make this experience even better, you can invite your best friends for a pizza or pasta party before the race. Just make sure you don’t over carb-load yourself because you don’t want to be much heavier on your race day.

10. Don't forget about resting!

And lastly do not forget to include rest days in your build-up to build and repair your muscles properly. Rest is essential. We are growing the most when we rest and sleep. And we are gaining the most from our workouts when we give our body the time to absorb the hard work.


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