Runners have good intentions when making the bold decision to run a full, or half, marathon.
The challenge, promise of adventure, raising money for charity, and the marathon enterprise, rightfully reels you in. Running a marathon is a massive undertaking. It’s a project and – like planning a wedding, a business plan, a family holiday – needs close attention so it is managed, and success is likely to be the result.
Why are marathon mistakes made?
Some runners tend to overestimate how good they are: the amount of training put in, having ‘excellent’ technique, knowledge of the marathon course, the certainty of following the right nutrition plan.
Whilst being confident is good and to be aspired to, too much confidence can – unfortunately – lead to complacency.
Introducing ‘the brick wall’
Think of a time in your life things didn’t go as you planned; not leaving a good impression in a job interview, being late to something important, failing in an exam, not getting to your destination.
Chances are, you thought you’d do these tasks well with no difficulty. You’re travelling -quite comfortably – through life and then meet a brick wall which stops you in your tracks.
You can go through life like this, quite comfortably, until a brick wall slaps you in the face with the harsh reality you’re not as good as you think you are.
The mistakes are the same
Time and time again, marathoners make the same mistakes which create problems.
Fortunately, a brief understanding of these mistakes will ensure you don’t make them yourself.
Learn from other people’s mistakes to be a successful runner.
‘Survival machines that can stimulate the future are one jump ahead of survival machines that can only learn of the basis of trial and error‘ Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
By the way, survival machines mean you and I. Humans with the ability to increase survival chances by predicting the future.
People have an amazing ability to hypothetically plan and learn about the outcome of an action before actually doing it. It’s better to learn something this way rather than through trial and error; running a marathon and making the mistakes yourself.
Why not save yourself time and effort? Learn from the common mistakes made by other people, so you don’t have to make them yourself. Here we go!
The Top 7 Marathon Mistakes to avoid…
1) Not training enough
Probably the biggest mistake runners can make. Failing to follow a carefully constructed training plan in the months before the marathon, rocking up with an attitude of being able to ‘wing it’, does not usually end well.
You can blag the first three miles, but you’ll soon start to drain your unconditioned bodily batteries. You’ll be gasping for breath in no time. Your legs will resist your efforts, however optimistic they are. The risk of injury is high.
Imagine walking through a house without a strong foundation supporting it, holding it up in place. Running a marathon without training properly means your body – the house – is lacking a fitness foundation. You will either take it extra slow to cope, not enjoying the marathon or even worse crash and burn through injury.
Gold tip number 1: Follow a proper training plan (create one, find one or get a trainer to make one for you), follow it religiously, carry out a fitness ‘litmus test’ two weeks before marathon day (try running 75% of the distance to see if you can cope), turn up and run the marathon with proper preparation.
It’s worth writing your training plan down in a running journal. It’s been proven you’re more likely to stick with a plan when you physically write it down with pen and paper. Find out how to create a running journal here.
Make sure you train enough, train well (right technique and exercises) and follow your plan.
2) Skipping the warm-up
Not warming up before a marathon means going in complete cold and not in the zone.
Do you think the west end Les Misérables or Phantom of the Opera cast launch into the music without conducting a warm up? Musicals are marathons in their own right; 2 and a half hours of constant singing, movement and acting. It’s a west end show and the stakes are high.
Even though the actors and actresses are world-class performers, with years of professional training, not warming up and not “getting into the zone” will likely lead to a ropy, cold performance.
Not warming up before a marathon means, like the ‘cold’ West End actors, you will get a poor review. Your marathon won’t be fun, and you will probably perform poorly.
Gold tip number 2: Running a marathon is a huge demand on your body. Make sure you warm up and get it in the zone. Do a warm up! Go for a light 3-minute jog around the pre-race area. Get the blood flowing, your blood flowing, and into the right mindset i.e. feeling prepared and warm to rise to the oncoming challenge.
3) Starting too quickly
Unfortunately, you’re not the bunny rabbit on TV with the battery who just keeps going and going. Starting too quickly depletes your energy stores, and you’ll then resort to a conservative slowed pace which doesn’t match your potential.
An overly quick start is often the result of excitement. Some excitement is expected. After all, you have put in months of training of early mornings, strict meal plans and reading up on the course on the big day.
However, there is such a thing as being too excited which often leads to an optimistic flying start where you pick up a pace 30 seconds faster than your training average.
You proudly establish your position at the front of the thousands of marathoners and think “I’ve got this. I’m doing well.”
Suddenly, your battery supply outlives your excitement for the marathon and reality hits. You dramatically drop the pace to “catch your breath” and “restore your energy” and before you know it, your running at an almost walking pace, likely gasping for breath and feeling drained. Not ideal.
Gold tip number 3: Be strategic with your marathon. Start steadily and establish a stable, consistent pace. As you gain confidence, build momentum and up the pace gradually.
A military commander wouldn’t throw all their troops and vehicles into the initial assault. If they were overly optimistic in their calculations they’d lose a huge chunk of their forces “batteries”. They’d be vulnerable to attack, lacking resource to attack and defend themselves.
‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles‘
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Get to know your body and its capabilities. Get to know the course and its difficulty level. Remember, you’re going to be running for a few hours, right? It’s only right you’re strategic in your approach.
4) Not having energy gels/ bars
Imagine driving 100 miles through the desert and suddenly the fuel gauges light comes on.
Disaster. You haven’t got a jerry can with top up fuel for emergencies like this. You might just make it to your destination running on fumes and a morale-sapping anxiety you’ll break down any minute.
Get some energy bars or gels, whatever you fancy, and keep yourself going! Sure, you’ll probably make it to the finish line without them, but you’d be making life harder for yourself.
Ask any marathoner on the importance of energy gels and bars in completing a marathon.
More than likely, they will be an advocate for these nutritious snacks. “I was feeling extreme drained and exhausted halfway in, but my energy gels were an excellent pick me up. They gave me the boost I needed to push myself and keep going.” Such statements hint at the importance of energy bars and gels.
Gold tip number 4: Get yourself some energy bars and gels! Put them in your pockets or your belt and – as a rule of thumb – have one for every 45 minutes of running.
There’s a flavour for everyone: coffee, blackcurrant, strawberry, fudge, orange, apple, chocolate and so on, take your pick.
Order them online or buy them in a sports store. Put them in your shoes the night before the marathon so you don’t forget them.
You don’t want to get to mile 18, go for a needed pick me up and find an empty pocket because you forgot.
5) Staying up too late the night before
We’ve all done it the night before an important event like going to a wedding, a job interview, or going on holiday.
Not getting enough shut-eye can make you feel irritable, groggy, confused, not mentally sharp, and can lower your mood. Not things you’d readily associate with a successful marathon.
Excitement for the marathon makes it tempting to stay awake. Reading last minute articles for tips on the route, checking – for the third time – everything is prepared and laid out for the morning, thinking how you will tackle the race, reading the race pack one last time “just in case” you missed something, are all real examples of how marathoners sabotage their success by staying awake too late.
Marathoners may think these last-minute preparations are smart, but they’re actually stealing from themselves. How so?
Think of the months of hard work: early runs, a careful meal plan, conscientiously following a running plan, maybe even paying for 1-1 support from a coach. Something as simple as sleeping at a reasonable hour can be the difference between all that hard work going to good use – like intended – or failure.
Choosing a lack of sleep will be robbing you of your efforts and feeling of reward which comes with getting enough rest, being properly rested in the best mindset for success.
Gold tip number 5: Get a decent amount of sleep. No excuses. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep to function optimally the next day. During a marathon, you will need to function optimally.
Turn off the lights, eliminate all distractions like your phone and race pack by putting them in another room, jump into bed, close your eyes and give your body the rest it needs for the big day.
6) Wrong breakfast
Not having the right breakfast can be detrimental to running a successful marathon. Whether you’re running a half (13.1 miles) or full (26.2 miles), your body will need fuel to perform.
Sounds obvious right? Surely, you’d think running this far would encourage to eat a proper breakfast of the right amounts of the right foods.
The number of runners that don’t eat a proper breakfast who collapse or don’t achieve times that reflect their true ability is astounding.
Some runners skip a proper breakfast then try to compensate with energy bars alone; the equivalent of running on fumes.
Others solely eat the wrong foods like proteins and fats; the equivalent of putting diesel into a petrol car.
Gold tip number 6: Eat a breakfast high in carbohydrates at least 3 hours before the race.
The carbs turn to glucose, a powerful energy source, which your body will use to power your muscles to get you through the race.
Porridge, bagels, toast and bananas are all good options for a carb high breakfast.
After the race, you should then turn your attention to proteins and fats like eggs, seafood, cheese, meat and poultry and nuts.
7) Cramming in lots of training the week before
Like a student with a Friday morning English exam who crams content excessively every moment they can get in the day and in the night in some cases, ‘cramming’ for a marathon is not recommended.
Trying to squeeze months of missed or inconsistent, properly spaced out training, can lead to catastrophe. Not only will your risk of injury be high by placing huge workloads on your muscles no time to recover, you’ll likely be highly stressed and feel out of control.
Cramming training into the last week is often the result of a long list of excuses like procrastination or not having enough time.
Think of every missed training session and poor habit like adding tinder to a fire. Each time an excuse is made, a piece of tinder is added to the fire. Slowly, the tinder accumulates, and a spark is likely to cause a fire; the crammed week of frantic training.
Gold tip number 7: Space out your training properly. Follow a plan and don’t make any excuses.
Don’t procrastinate, complain about a lack of time or not having enough discipline.
Consistently making excuses adds tinder to the training plan, making it more ‘flammable’ and susceptible to meltdown. Train properly by spacing out your training with a proper routine, in the lead up to the marathon.
There you have it. The top 7 mistakes to avoid before a marathon. Best of luck with your race, and happy running!