How To Deal With Marathon Nerves, According To The Pros

Top athletes share their best advice for staying calm despite the stress of marathon weekend.


Marathon prep basically starts the moment you sign up to run 42.2 kilometres. After you build a base, you follow a training plan that lasts for months and spend hours preparing both physically and mentally to earn your medal. All that time dedicated to one event can certainly lead to some marathon nerves that kick into high gear come race weekend. And this is a natural response — even the pros experience stress leading up to and on race day.

While you can control several factors of marathon weekend — what to wear, eat, and drink, for example — other things fall out of your control, like the weather, your start time, and unexpected personal demands or roadblocks. Rather than freaking out, here’s how the pros deal with the stress and anxiety of a marathon weekend. Let their advice keep you calm when those nerves try to get the best of you.

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7 Ways to Manage Marathon Weekend Nervousness

1. Plan in Advance
You probably have a long to-do list of what to conquer before heading to the start of your marathon, like arranging any last-minute travel, packing, and finalising your race outfit. Advanced planning of all the details will minimise your stress.

Nell Rojas, who took 10th overall for women at the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon, organises everything for the entire week before a marathon, from what she’s wearing to the hydration and nutrition that will get her through. “I make sure that I am prepared and have every aspect of racing planned out — this way I have everything that I can control already planned and I can relax,” Rojas says.

Similarly, Susannah Scaroni, Paralympic gold medalist and winner of the women’s wheelchair division at the 2022 Chicago Marathon and 2023 Boston Marathon, makes a list of everything she needs for the weekend. “I am a big list-maker,” she says. “I like to have a list of things I know I will need for the competition, which will reduce many stressors down the road. A good list will help you get to the line with all the things you need.”

Your list of must-haves for race morning should include: your bib and safety pins, extra socks, chafing lotion, and any other essentials that you need when you run, like a water bottle or gels.

Des Linden, Olympian and winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon, even packs for a marathon a week in advance so she doesn’t forget anything. This type of forward-thinking helps ensure a smooth start to her race morning and keeps her stress levels low.

2. Prioritise Rest
“There is nothing you can do to improve your fitness the week of the race. But you can take away from your performance by not going into the race as rested as possible,” says Galen Rupp, winner of the 2017 Chicago Marathon and Olympic silver and bronze medalist.

For this reason, he suggests maximising sleep during the days leading up to the race. “Even if you can’t sleep, it is really important to stay off of your legs as much as possible and conserve your energy,” he explains.

This can be a great time to get some QT with family and friends. Leading up to race day,

Aliphine Tuliamuk, Olympian and 7th overall at the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon says she enjoys watching movies with her family and colouring with her daughter so she can take her mind off the race, stay off her feet, and avoid overthinking.

3. Practice Positive Self-Talk
Research suggests positive self-talk can help improve athletic performance and reduce stress levels in the moment, like at the start or in the middle of a race. This is why Rojas suggests you practice positive self-talk while you train and let it carry into the week ahead of your race and straight through the finish.

“It’s easy for negative self-talk to come into play, so I always catch it and change it to something positive,” says Rojas. To help shift her mindset, Rojas journals three positive things she did during training, three things she’s grateful for, and she writes down her goals as if she’s already achieved them. Try to do the same in the week leading up to the marathon — it can be especially helpful the night before you run.

Rupp practices positive self-talk by repeating three to five affirmations on the days leading up to race day and during the race. “It is impossible for your mind to think about two different things at the same time, so when negative thoughts or doubts start to creep in, crush them immediately with your affirmations,” he says.

4. Give Yourself Time in the Morning
Marathon morning can feel especially stressful — so give yourself plenty of time to get everything done that you need to get accomplished.

For Linden, that means making sure her go-to breakfast is available the evening before the race, instead of scrambling in the morning. It also means leaving far more travel time than you think you need to get to the start, just in case you get stuck in traffic, she says. (If you’re flying into a location, especially a far away city, consider giving yourself at least a few days to acclimate to a new time zone, she adds.)

Tuliamuk wakes up at least an hour before she’s scheduled to leave her hotel on race morning. This way, she has plenty of time to shower, stretch, eat, and use the bathroom.

5. Develop a Pre-run Routine
“There is certainly some comfort in having a routine and staying with it. You don’t want to change anything right before a big race,” says Rupp, who practices the same warm-up routine before every run.

Scaroni sticks to a routine not only when it comes to her warmup, but also her mealtimes, family time, training, and any additional recreation time. Sticking with a schedule can help reduce stress, as it eliminates some of your decision-making for the day.

Scaroni also adds some mindful practices into her warmup to set her headspace up for a strong performance. “My warm-up consists of about 30 minutes of low-intensity pushing with some accelerations toward the end. During this, I use self-talk, prayer, and meditation,” says Scaroni. “I like to be really present in the whole process.”

6. Appreciate Your Training
Like Scaroni, Rupp includes mindfulness practices in his marathon weekend schedule. He typically focuses on reflection not only the morning of a race, but the day before while on his easy run. “I often think of all the training I’ve done and remind myself that I am ready,” he says. “In times of uncertainty, I always fall back on the work I’ve done. That is a concrete source of confidence.”

Tuliamuk agrees that focusing on how far you’ve come and all the kilometres you’ve put in can give you a dose of confidence before you get on the starting line. “I try to remember all of the amazing workouts that I did during the build and remind myself that those will come in handy during race day,” she says.

7. Connect With Other Runners and Spectators
While marathon nerves can certainly skyrocket as you wait in the athlete area or on the line right before you start running, taking time to get to know your fellow runners or just revelling in the atmosphere can bring both calm and excitement.

Even the pros take time to actually enjoy the race (it’s not only about PBs and finish times!), and they suggest getting to know others to help you do so. Joking around with competitors is one way to keep your mind off of stressors, Rojas says — as long as they’re up for it.

Just remember: You already put in the work by the time you get to the starting line and running the actual marathon is a celebratory party for all that time and effort. Make sure you enjoy it by taking it all in, letting the spectators cheer you through the finish, and moving forward — one step and one mile at a time!

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