So, you’ve decided to run a marathon! Now it’s time to map out your prep plans for ultimate success. Large half and full marathons can bring in over 50,000 participants across the US. However, not everyone crosses the finish line, either due to injuries or poor training. So, we asked professional runners and running experts about the most common marathon mistakes first-timers make—and how to avoid them. You’ll be smooth sailing through that finish line.
You’re training without a plan.
Everyone runs and trains differently so finding a plan that works for you is key. In order to see success and enjoy the process, you’ll need to find a program that is the right fit. Don’t choose a plan just because it’s popular or worked for other people. “Not following the right training plan for your body and your liking is a common mistake,” says seasoned runner Marisa Lerna, who has run several successful marathons. “Be sure to follow a plan that suits your likings and needs. If you don’t, [then] you will not want to get out and run.” Do your research and find a coach or plan that can tailor their programming to your style and needs.
You’re not fueling properly.
Your marathon training plan also includes eating a healthy diet. Finding the proper ways to fuel and refuel your body will support your performance the day of your marathon. “Select a fuel option that works for your body,” says Lerna. “Make sure [that] your choice of fuel is the exact same one [that] you use on race day. Do not change anything on race day.” This way, you’ll avoid upsetting your stomach and running into any digestive trouble come race day.
That the old adage “you can eat whatever you want while training” couldn’t be further from the truth, says Nikki Walter, a lifestyle coach at TEAMBodybuilding.com. For one, you’ll want to avoid high sugar foods and beverages to avoid crashing. “Healthy, high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods can fuel runners, making them energetic and alert. Large amounts of trans and hydrogenated fats can cause a buildup of plaque in blood vessels, decreasing blood flow, causing organ fatigue, [and] making your run more of a struggle. Eating better carbohydrates, like fruit, sweet potatoes, [and] spaghetti squash are the way to go. In addition, adding lean proteins are great for muscle repair,” Walter explains.
You’re not prepared for common running injuries.
Blisters are one of the most common alignments that runners suffer from. You can avoid setbacks like this by wearing the right running shoes during training. “Getting tested for the proper shoes is something a lot of people skip and try to do on their own,” says Lerna. “I bought my own shoes for years, but once I got a fit and test for the right pair, my running game changed.”
Other common running injuries that runners face include chafing, dehydration, nausea, sunburn, and windburn. Be prepared and expect the unexpected by having solutions handy. These include sweatproof sunscreen, chafing cream, and electrolyte water.
You’re not pacing correctly.
The adrenaline from the race, along with jitters usually throws first-time marathoners off. Consequently, they fail to keep a good pace throughout the run. “The biggest mistake I made during my first marathon, and one that many people make, is to go out too hard for the first half of the marathon,” says Elisette Carlson an endurance athlete, mother of two, and founder of SMACK! Media. “At the starting line, adrenaline and nerves are high. Your body is rested from a good taper (rest) before race day. I took off excited and feeling incredible, and at a faster pace than what was planned as marathon pace.”
Carlson has participated in seven marathons and admits that she has made this mistake more than once, as many fellow runners do. She eventually avoided this mistake by modifying her training program to include a negative split technique. This holds her back, encouraging her to stick to a marathon pace, as planned. The end result is an overall faster time and, most importantly, a less winded feeling at the end of the marathon.
Walter has worked with hundreds of clients and always suggests knowing your limits. “I know it’s cliche, but listen to your body! Joint pain can be serious, and knee and back pain are very common. Sometimes your body’s way of saying you are not training properly and are experiencing an imbalance of muscle support is through the pain. If you are experiencing pain, make sure [that] you check into it before the race, otherwise, you could have long-term issues,” says Walter.