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Meb Keflezighi, Boston Marathon 2018

5 Ways to Cut 5 Minutes off Your Marathon

Originally published November 20, 2022 – updated April 13th, 2024

Are there really 5 ways to cut 5 minutes off your marathon?

There are many ways to cut 5 minutes off your marathon time.

Most runners focus on training to get faster and stronger.

But genetics and age put a limit on our peak performance. And most of us don’t have the time to try and reach our peak fitness level.

Even if you are at peak fitness and an old pro at this, these tips can still help you.

The easiest way to improve your finish time is to avoid adding time by making these mistakes.

Use the Porta Potty

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

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

Most races have plenty of porta potties but you need to use them.

No matter how many porta potties a race has, the hour before a race the porta potties will be more crowded than the registration tent!

During a race, stopping to use the facilities can easily add a minute to your time. If there is a line and you can’t wait , you could loose much more time than that.

Shalane Flanagan may have the course record for using a porta potty during the 2018 Boston Marathon, at 14 seconds.

Shalane and Des Linden had been running together up to that point in the race and Des won that year.

Des Linden 2018 Boston Marathon Winner
BAA Photo

During every Boston Marathon that I’ve run, I’ve seen lines at most of the on-course porta potties also.

Usually the first water/porta potty stop is at mile two or even mile five. For Boston it’s at mile two, and I’ve seen men and women “in the woods” side by side well before that first stop.

If you can avoid the first few water stops, you may find a porta potty without a line. But when you really gotta go, you may have to wait in line.

Any time spent in line before you cross the starting line doesn’t count towards your finish time. 😉

Stop eating and drinking 1 hour before you start

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

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 energy bars and sport drinks available before a race.

Boston Marathon 2019, Hopkinton, MA
BAA Photo

While these items may be tempting, you should avoid eating anything new or over eating on race morning.

Even if you give your system an hour to digest everything, something new could upset your stomach. This could force you to make a pit stop or even drop out of the race.

The one-hour rule works very well for me.

Double tie your shoes

Tip #3 – Tie your shoes properly!

double tied laces, 5 ways 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.

Double tieing your laces can cut 5 minutes off your marathon time by avoiding the stop.

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

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

Carry a Water Bottle

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

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

For a Marathon or a Half, you will want to take a water bottle of some kind.

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

Here’s why.

Everyone who has planned poorly will be at the first few water stops and probably in line for the porta potty!

5 ways to cut 5 minutes off your marathon finish time, run with sports drink

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.

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

Bring some Food

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

I know that some people like to run as light as possible while 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, marathon food

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.

I know these foods wont upset my stomach.

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

They know what they need and during your training you should have figured out what you need and what you body will tolerate.

If your stomach can only tolerate certain sports drinks you really need to bring your own. Even the elites cannot finish a marathon without some hydration. And you know the mix in their bottle is what they have trained on.

It is similar with food or gels. Some people hate gels so they need something like fig bars.

Some races hand out gels late in the race. But you should not wait to fuel during a marathon. Over the years, I’ve learned to start fueling at 5K.

Your timing may be different, but you will need to replenish your energy stores during a marathon or half.

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.

Boston Marathon 2018, 5 ways to cut 5 minutes off your marathon
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 20 marathons and 10 Boston Marathons will help you have the best marathon of your life.

Looking for a fall marathon? Check out New England Marathons Fall 2024 for some ideas.

Run well my Friends!

Andy

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8 responses to “5 Ways to Cut 5 Minutes off Your Marathon”

  1. Jane Fritz Avatar

    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. OmniRunner Avatar

      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.

  2. Robyn Cheryl Brown Avatar
    Robyn Cheryl Brown

    Please spell lose correct please. Not loose

    1. OmniRunner Avatar

      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.

  3. runningtotravel Avatar

    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. OmniRunner Avatar

      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!

      Andy

  4. Catrina Avatar

    Excellent advice about carrying the water bottle!
    You can save so much time if you skip the first few aid stations of a big, crowded marathon.
    I doesn’t even need to be a bulky hydrovest, just a small bottle will do to get through the first 10k.
    It’s amazing how those little stops add up to a loss of 5 minutes, possibly even more.

    1. OmniRunner Avatar

      Hi Catrina,

      It is very difficult to cut time off of your finish time. And even if you train to run a PR/PB, any one of these mistakes could cost you the great finish that you trained for.

      This post was inspired by Shalane Flanagan and her porta-potty stop during the 2018 Boston Marathon.
      She was with the pack until that point in the race.
      It was a brutal day and she may have dropped back eventually, but that stop certainly didn’t help her.

      Andy