5 Ways to Cut 5 Minutes off Your Marathon

Even the best runner in the world can loose time by making simple mistakes. You don’t have to!

Meb Keflezighi, Boston Marathon 2018

How can you cut 5 minutes off of your marathon?

The easiest way is to avoid making simple mistakes that can add 5 to 10 minutes to your marathon.

At this point, the training is over and nothing you do will make you run any faster.

Here are 5 ways to cut at least 5 minutes off of your marathon finish time.

Use the Porta Potty

Something about race morning seems to get the innards all worked up and ready to explode.

The 2021 Boston Marathon will have a rolling start. That means as soon as you get off the bus in Hopkinton, they will be looking for you to head to the starting line.

They will give you time to use the facilities but you will need to get in line as soon as you get off the bus. It is your #1 priority, trust me!

It’s important to use the facilities before you start running as you don’t want to stop during the race.

Shalane Flanagan may have the course record for using a porta potty during the 2018 Boston Marathon, at 14 seconds. But watch this video and see how that stop effected her run.

Des Linden won that year.

Des Linden 2018 Boston Marathon Winner
BAA Photo

During every Boston Marathon that I’ve run, I’ve seen lines at the porta potties.

The first water stop is at mile two and I’ve seen men and women “in the woods” side by side well before that first stop.

After mile 5 you can sometimes find a stop without a line. But if you really gotta go, you may have to wait in line.

Tip #1 – use the facilities before you cross the start line.

Stop eating and drinking 1 hour before you start

Most people have nerves before a race and will eat or drink as a way to deal with their anxiety. Many of us do this unconsciously.

If you use the porta potty and then keep drinking, your system will not have time to process that fluid, or food, before the race starts.

Then you will have to make that porta potty stop.

Sometimes eating too much before a race can upset your stomach. Often there are samples of power bars and sport drinks at the Athletes Village.

Boston Marathon 2019, Hopkinton, MA
BAA Photo

While you will have less time to be tempted this year, you should avoid eating anything new moments before you start heading to Boston.

The hour before you start the 2021 Boston Marathon you will probably be on the bus and then standing in line to pee.

Try not to eat or drink anything. Wait until you are on the course.

By now you should know when you need to hydrate and start taking gels.

Stick to that plan. Stick to what you know.

Tip #2 – stop eating and drinking 1 hour before your race starts.

Double tie your shoes

double tied, 5 way to cut 5 minutes off your marathon, Newtons

I see people running with loose laces all the time.

If you double tie your laces you can avoid this problem.

Un-tied laces may cause you to trip and fall and at some point you will have to stop and tie them.

Just like a porta potty stop, you have to fight the crowd and move to the side of the road and get out of the way. Then you need to bend over and tie your laces and possibly undue some nasty knot that tied it self as you ran.

This can easily cost you 2-5 minutes depending on when in the race you have to make the stop.

If you have to stop later in the race, your muscles may tighten up when you stop and bend to tie your shoes.

All of this can be avoided by double tieing your laces, even if the second knot is fairly lose.

Tip #3 – Tie your shoes properly!

Carry a Water Bottle

Some people always carry a water bottle and some people never carry a water bottle.

For the Boston Marathon you will want to take a water bottle of some kind.

Even if you just use a Poland Spring 500ml bottle, you will save yourself a ton of time.

Here’s why.

Water stops begin at mile two. Everyone who has planned poorly will be at that water stop and probably the next five water stops.

1 At most big marathons, including Boston, those water stops will be a crowded mess.

To get to one of these water stops you will have to make your way through a crowd of runners to the side of the road.

Then try to grab a cup, drink it and get back up to speed all without tripping over someone else.

Even if you don’t fall over someone or drown yourself with a cup of water, you will have to slow down and break your stride.

If you can skip the first five or more water stops, the rest of them are usually pretty easy to get to.

I like to run through the stop, grab a cup, pinch it and chug the cup in one or two gulps.

The Boston Marathon uses paper cups so it’s easy to pinch the cup and never break your stride.

Tip #4 – carry a water bottle and avoid the crowds!

Bring some Food

I know that some people like to run as light as possible. Some people look like they are packed for expedition.

I would suggest something in the middle.

Hopefully by now you know what your stomach will tolerate. There are many brands of gel to choose from and you should have tested a few while you were training.

fig newtons, glycemic index, glucose I’ve run a few races with Snickers bars or fig bars. Both are loaded with sugar and I’ve been eating them as long as I can remember.

Even the elite runners take on fuel while they run. It may be a sports drink in their water bottle or they may take a gel.

But remember, they are running for less than two and a half hours and they are fine tuned running machines.

If you are going to be on the course for more than three hours, a few cups of Gatorade and a gel or two provided by the BAA wont cut it.

Some people don’t like green Gatorade and the gel the BAA hands out may not be your brand.

Tip #5 – bring food that you have run with before

It’s all about control

There are things you can control and things you cannot.

You can’t control the weather and often you can’t control your sleep or how your body will react to the last proper meal you eat before the big race.

My post, My 2018 Boston Marathon Experience, is an example of how I prepared to run in horrible conditions. If you’ve never run Boston before, this blog post will also give you a few insights about the course.

BAA Photo

All of the tips I have provided here are things that you can control. Any one of them could save you five minutes. Together they could save you much more time than that.

You’ve put in the miles and the time to get here. You are as ready as you can be.

I hope that these tips that I have learned from running 17 marathons and 9 Boston Marathons will help you have the best marathon of your life.

Still looking for a fall marathon? Check out New England Marathons Fall 2021 for some ideas.

Run well my Friends!


Author: OmniRunner

9X Boston Marathon finisher, 17X marathons total. Sharing my love for running and the fun adventures and lessons that come with it. Helping non-profits increase fundraising and new runners celebrate their First 5K.

6 thoughts on “5 Ways to Cut 5 Minutes off Your Marathon”

  1. Lol. Your porta-potty advice is dead on. My brother brings that up years after we’ve run marathons together. “I would have gained at least 5 minutes if she hadn’t …” Good luck if you’re running in Boston, Andy.

    1. During the Philadelphia marathon I had to make a stop late in the race.
      We were not near an official water stop so I used a porta potty on a construction site! I was on a mission.
      Sometimes even the best planning wont save you.

    1. I think I’ve used the word properly:
      not firmly or tightly fixed in place; detached or able to be detached.
      “a loose tooth”
      Thank you for reading and your comment.

  2. Nice post! I’ve always wondered why more people don’t carry water when they race. I would assume they have it on long training runs so why not the race?

    1. Hi,

      People don’t think about some of the things on my list.
      They are focused on training, packing and managing any injuries. So much to think about, especially if you are traveling.

      These are the little details that can help you achieve the goal you set for your self. I would call these “un forced errors”.

      Nothing worse than missing a PR by a minute because one of these 5 issues held you up for a few minutes.
      If all five hit you, it could be a rough day!

      Thanks for your comment!


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