Why Didn't Someone Tell Me? Your First Marathon & Half-Marathon Checklist

 “The marathon is far beyond the actual day.” – David L., BlackToe Race Team

Let’s give credit where credit is due – running a half or full marathon is a big deal!  We can assume that if you are about to run a 21.1 or 42.2 kilometer race, you have done a lot of training.  You’ve most likely tested out various sports nutrition products, logged hundreds of kilometers, felt the aches and pains, dealt with dreaded chafe, thought that maybe you couldn’t do this and then continued to do it anyway.  You’re ready!  After all that hard work, don’t let simple race-day mistakes stand in the way of crossing that finish line.  We’ve put together a pre-race checklist to help you get through that final push and added some helpful tips from our experienced BlackToe Race Team members for extra inspiration.  See you at the finish line!

“I would have loved a beginner’s guide to the bonk: What it is, why it happens, what you can and can’t do about it, and why it’s worth running 42.2K even when you know it’s out there, waiting to get you.” - Ben E., BlackToe Race Team

Race Plan

“Nobody feels good after 35k, no matter how hard you’ve prepped.” – Dana C., BlackToe Race Team

Everything goes better when you have a plan.  Your race plan should account for the race course profile (Where can you count on flat terrain? When will you need energy to tackle hills?), your current fitness and your goals.  A good race plan will also include fueling objectives and a mental component.  You can ask your coach to help you develop a plan, or if you don’t have a coach then come and talk to us!  We are always here to help!  There are also many online calculators like the Jack Daniels Run Smart Calculator  that can help you lock down the right pace – just be aware that they assume you have run the proper mileage during your training cycle to be realistic and achievable.

“Have at least some rough concept of what pace you can do, so you don't end up seeding yourself two corrals behind the corral you should have started in and wasting a ton of energy zigzagging through the field for the first 21K.” - Brian P., BlackToe Race Team

The Day Before

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.  I wish I’d had that little nugget with me for marathon #1.” – Mo B., BlackToe Race Team

Make sure you pick up your race kit, but don’t spend too much time walking around the expo. You want to spend enough time to enjoy yourself and get pumped about what you are about to accomplish, but not waste energy on your feet.  If you are doing same-day pickup, scope out where the race kits will be.  You don’t need any added stress on race day!  This is also your last chance to make sure your gear and fuel is all ready, so pick up any last minute supplies.  

Time to eat some pasta, watch some Netflix, take an extra nap, and don’t get yourself too stressed.  Go to bed early and wake up refreshed!  Pro Tip: Many people don’t sleep well the night before a big race.  Try to ensure you sleep well in the few nights leading up to the race, so even if you are restless the night before, you will still be able to perform at your best effort.

“If you do a world major, get ready to feel like Justin Bieber stepping on stage in front of a bunch of teenie-boppers… fans the entire 42.2 km!  I had a headache by the end, though I’m not complaining!” – Lisa Marie B., BlackToe Race Team


Shoes - Do you know which shoes you are racing in?  You want something that is light and fast, but will also be comfortable for the entire distance.  Not sure what to get?  Come see us!  We would not suggest experimenting with new shoes on race day, but you should also not be racing in dead shoes.  For example, if you trained in the Nike Tempo Next% for the last few months, it’s tempting to race in them and then start the next cycle with a new pair.  DON’T!  Get the new pair now, run in them once or twice to make sure they are what you remember and then save them for race day.  New shoes don’t just feel better, but they perform better too.  You want maximum performance when you are pushing yourself to your limits. 

Apparel - Do you wear the shirt you got in your race kit?  NO!  You want apparel that you know and trust.  Dealing with chafing from an unfamiliar race shirt during a marathon is going to be unpleasant, and can make an already challenging situation even more challenging.  Save the race shirt for your first run after the race to show the world that you did it!  A general rule for apparel is that you want good tech fabrics (think sweat wicking, or body temperature regulating) and apparel that you know and have used before.  Comfort is key.  You will also want to make sure you are not carrying anything unnecessary, and have a streamlined system for gels, music, or whatever else you need to bring.  Many people love something like the Nathan Hipster or Nike Slim Waist Pack to carry gels and other race day items.

“Don’t overdress.” - Chris R., BlackToe Race Team


Do you have a fueling plan?  Do you know what a fueling plan is!?  Realistically, you won’t easily finish a race without one and you certainly won’t reach your full potential.  We recommend planning your carb and calorie intake for the days before the race, pre-race and during the race itself.  Generally, people will consume extra simple carbs 1-2 days before the race to start storing energy that the body can use as backup fuel while it depletes the more readily available carbohydrates.  Keep fibre intake low, and opt for foods like pasta and rice.  We would also recommend carb-loading with a bottle of Maurten 320 the night before.  Your body will happily use that stored fuel source during the race!

“The marathon is very, very long.  Longer than I imagined.” Robin Z., BlackToe Race Team

The morning of the race, eat a simple breakfast that is rich in carbohydrates and simple forms of nutrients – a bagel with peanut butter and honey is a favourite among many runners.  Try to manage your fluid intake so that you are hydrated, but are not racing to the bathroom 10 minutes after the race starts!

“Drink before it’s too late.  Even if you are not thirsty at kilometer 8, you should take sips of water or Gatorade early on, so you’re not tempted to chug cup after cup at the end.” – Kim B., BlackToe Race Team.

During the race, you need to consume carbs - trust us on this one.  The ideal situation would be to consume carbohydrates without experiencing tummy troubles, and the best way to achieve this is to practice beforehand.  Start using nutrition products on your long runs to see how your body responds, and give it time to adapt.  Endurance Tap and Tailwind are quite popular for being easy on the tummy, and are tasty as an added bonus.  Maurten is high performance fuel, and Gu Gels have many caffeinated and non-caffeinated options.

“Practice taking your gels while running, as opposed to stopping and taking them during training runs.” - Jane M., BlackToe Race Team

The Race Itself

“Don't do a 180 km bike ride and 3.8 km swim beforehand.🙃”  – Julie G., BlackToe Race Team

Get out there, follow your plan, and have some fun!  People sometimes feel like a rockstar for the first 10 km of a marathon, so they decide to run faster than planned.  Although it’s great to soak up the feel-good vibes, we recommend holding off until the halfway point to conserve energy.  If you are still feeling great, then kick it into high gear for a while!

“Smile!  It helps!  And nothing new on race day!  Practice with your gels, your shoes, clothes, etc.” – Erica M., BlackToe Race Team

Understand that things may not go according to plan – and that’s OK.  No matter how the race goes, always be proud of your effort.  It takes a lot of determination and hard work to train for a half-marathon or marathon and you already proved that you deserve to be there.  Stick it out, kilometer after kilometer and try to enjoy the experience.

“No matter how things go during the race, what your time is or how you feel at the end, remember that, while this discomfort will be temporary, the pictures may end up on your wall forever.  As you approach the finish line, reflect back on your accomplishment, take a second to wipe the snot off your face, put on a big smile and get your hands up over your head like you just won gold at the Olympics.” – Doug K., BlackToe Race Team

Post Race

Go give your partner, parents, friends, or perfect strangers a big sweaty hug.  It’s OK to jump, sit down, cry, lie on the ground, be quiet, shout, or do whatever feels right at the time.  There are no rules about how you should feel and respond after such an accomplishment.  Eat a hearty meal, grab a beer, and get some rest. Most importantly, wear your medal with pride.  You earned it! 

“Make sure you take at least a day off from life after finishing, because even though you’re amazing and deserve all the glory, you will be in pain!” – Carlos G.C., BlackToe Race Team

Post Race plus 24 hours

“Marathons: you can’t ever do just one!” - Lynda M., BlackToe Race Team

But wait!  You spent the last few kilometers of your race asking yourself why you agreed to do this.  You can barely walk and no matter how much you eat, you are still hungry.  Yet you have this strange urge.  What is it?  Hmmm…  If you find yourself googling races and have maybe even signed up for another one, that’s ok.  We all do it!  

(Edited by Sarah "Chief Stew" Woodford)


Other related blogs that might interest you:

What's Missing From Your Race Plan?

Nothing New On Race Day?

Maurten - Fueling Guidelines