Whether this is your first marathon, or your 20th, there are common mistakes to avoid in both training, and on race day. Here I’ve listed 10 “don’ts” to avoid to ensure your training, and marathon go more smoothly. And trust me, most of these mistakes I know from personal experience running 15 marathons, unfortunately!
Therefore, in this post, I’m sharing the mistakes I made so you can avoid them in your first or next marathon!
Critical Mistakes to Avoid Training for Your First Marathon
1. Don’t underestimate the distance and challenge of the marathon.
Especially if this is your first marathon, you simply can’t discount the training required for a marathon. More than that, the challenge it will likely present on race day.
To be fully prepared, you need to likely count on at least 20 weeks to prepare. Potentially, longer if this is your first marathon, and your base fitness still needs some work. If you have a couch to marathon goal – it may take as long as 10-12 months to be fully ready.
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Some folks may not want to hear that. There are plans that will get you there faster. But there’s risk in attempting a fastpass to the start line — most likely an injury! An injury that could possibly keep you on the sidelines come race day.
2. Don’t set unrealistic expectations.
To be able to finish a marathon is a massive achievement, one which a very small percentage of the population will achieve. (Less than 1% in the U.S.) As such, for your first marathon, the main focus should often be to finish. Putting too much pressure on a time or pace can wait for your next marathon.
For novice marathoners, there is a lot to know, some of which only comes with time and experience. Plus, the added pressure and stress of reaching a time goal will distract from the overall race experience.
If you’ve been running shorter race distances, yes, there are time calculators that can estimate your approximate finish time. If you choose to do that, I recommend setting a RANGE that provides some wiggle room to account for a variety of things that can crop up during the marathon..
Also keep in mind that temperature, weather, course elevation, and of course, your current fitness level will impact your finish time!
3. Don’t assume only the long run matters.
Yes, the long run is very important, and most runners tend to do it on the weekend when time is more plentiful. Yet, it’s just ONE of your runs within the weekly training plan. Part of marathon training is the ability to run on tired, fatigued legs. Weekend warriors therefore are running on fresher legs, thus it doesn’t replicate the fatigue felt on race day.
Related topic: How to Have the BEST Long Run
Long runs should roughly equate to 20-30% of your weekly mileage. A runner that mostly focuses on long runs has insufficient weekly mileage, and is more injury prone.
4. Don’t discount the importance of fueling and hydration.
During, before and after your runs! A common mistake for first time marathon runners during training is to focus solely on the training/running. But, nutrition and hydration greatly impact your ability to meet your workout goals, and of course, your performance on marathon day.
Equally important, if you haven’t trained your gut to tolerate nutrition/hydration on your run workouts, it’ll not go well during the marathon. The good news is you can train your gut/GI system just as you train your muscles, heart and lungs. You will have to experiment to know what’s right for you, and know there’s no magic meal/food that works for everyone.
Here’s some info here on what to eat during a run (or training your gut), as well as related articles on What to Eat Before a Run, and How to Avoid the Dreaded Runner’s Trots.
Fuel includes hydration! Here’s some guidance on how to hydrate properly before and during a run (race). That includes paying attention to electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
5. Don’t let the course be a surprise.
Luck favors the prepared.
The vast majority of marathons will provide course description on their website, and info on elevation changes. Make sure you’re familiar with those details, and don’t simply read “race reviews” about the course as they can at times be misleading!
If you sign up for a hilly course and live somewhere relatively flat, think ahead. How will you get hill training in? Are there bridges, stairs, a treadmill you can access to practice running up (and down) hills?
As importantly, if you think you won’t be able to find a way to prepare for the course during your training, seriously consider picking a different race!
Other elements are important, too: is it rural with little crowd support? Can you wear a hydration vest? How many fuel stations are there (and what do they provide)? What are typical temperatures on race day?
Common Mistakes to Avoid While Training for Your First Marathon
6. Don’t skip the taper.
The taper is the time period where your training volume decreases roughly two-three weeks (most common) prior to the race. Tapering begins upon completing your last long training run.
The purpose of the taper is to allow yourself a full recovery from previous workouts, and prep your body for peak performance.
Unfortunately, as attractive as less mileage, more sleep, and the recovery period sounds, most runners (me included) go crazy during the taper. We think we’ll lose our fitness. That is simply not the case.
If anything, you’re more likely to sabotage your marathon if you over train during the taper phase. In this situation, less truly is more!
7. Don’t do anything new on race day.
Not a thing! Race day, especially for a marathon, is not the time to throw something new in the mix.
- New shoes
- New clothes
- New nutrition
- New hydration
- New gadgets
- New hydration vest/belt/bottle
- New socks
- New hats
- New anything
Essentially, anything you eat, drink, wear, apply to yourself (ie: sunscreen) should have been tried and tested before the big day. This also applies to your breakfast prior to your race (and even your dinner the night prior!).
8. Don’t over train.
More is not better in this instance. Rest days, adequate sleep, cross training are very important so you can continue to progress through your training plan.
Ensure easy runs are done at an easy pace; your harder workouts at hard effort. Do your best not to “mix them” and complete all runs at the same pace.
Related Topic: Know Why the Importance of Rest for Runners is Critical
Bottomline, running hard or too far can easily lead to injury, and burnout. Ensure you’re following a training plan appropriate for you (current fitness level, goals of the race, time you can train).
A fellow coach often says “don’t do what you could do, do what you should do.”
9. Don’t follow any plan blindly.
Whether you work with a coach, a running group, follow a plan you found online, don’t follow that ‘plan’ blindly. You know your body better than anyone else. If you sense a possible injury coming on, feel sick, incredibly sore, feel off that day, or whatever, pay heed.
Related topic: How to Know if it’s an Injury, or Just Discomfort?
It is always better to back off for a day or two, and get the rest or break you need versus pushing through and risking an injury or full blown burnout.
Managing work, school, a family, plus marathon training can be overwhelming. Once in a while, it’s okay to adjust the intensity or time of your run workout, or just skip it altogether. (The key is to not let one or two days turn into a week, two, etc.)
10. Don’t start too fast.
A common mistake with running a first marathon (and those running their 10th!) is to forget pace and strategy early in the race. One reason is runners feel strong and rested from their taper, adrenaline is pumping, and the pace almost feels too easy.
Yet, if you go out too fast, you burn through your stored energy too quickly, and your legs will feel the fatigue much sooner.
A worthy goal is to run the second half of the race faster than the first (negative split), even if it’s only a matter of a few seconds. I assure you it is MUCH more fun to pass runners than to be passed. Especially when you’re fatigued, tired, and wondering why you decided to tackle a marathon in the first place!
And there you have the 10 most common mistakes with running your first marathon!
Feel free to hear what mistakes you’ve experienced running your first marathon, or any marathon in the comments.