The 3 Biggest Marathon Mistakes

Marathon runners have a wealth of information available to them for their marathon training and running of the actual event.

However many marathon runners, especially first – timers, commit fatal errors which can really hinder their marathon performance.  (I’m talking from experience here).

are the top mistakes made by marathon runners:

Mistake #1:  Screwing Up Your Pace

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This is the single biggest mistake made by marathon runners, and it’s entirely preventable.

Many otherwise well-prepared marathon runners end up having a terrible race day experience, simply because they didn’t have a pace strategy. What am I talking about?
 Many runners go out too fast.   They get swept up in the crowds and the adrenaline, and find the first few miles deceptively easy.

It isn’t until after the half-way point that they pay the price. Other runners simply lack a pace strategy – they decide they’ll wing it on race day and see how things go.  

Again, this often ends in a ‘crash-and-burn’ scenario.

Having even a basic pace strategy can avoid all these issues.    For most beginner and intermediate marathon runners, planning to run even splits is the most effective and straight-forward pace strategy.  

So get a good GPS watch. Decide your target pace in advance.

And stick to it come race day.

Mistake #2:  Doing Too Many Long, Fast Training Runs

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Many marathon runners think that the best way to prepare for a marathon is to go out and run long runs at your target marathon pace.

(Before my first marathon, I actually ran a marathon in training at my desired race pace.   The result?  come marathon day, I was still burned out from this ‘training run’. Classic marathon mistake).

The trick to effective marathon training is to train smart.

Doing long runs at marathon pace is not effective; the distance is too long for you to really work on speed, and if you’re trying to run fast, you’re not working on your stamina effectively. Instead, each run should have a purpose.

Do your long runs at a slow, conversational pace in order to build endurance.

Do shorter training runs at marathon pace, or do speed work such as interval training to work on speed. Working on these two attributes – endurance and speed – separately means that you can improve on each more effectively, then combine them on marathon day.

Note:  I’m not advocating never doing long runs at marathon pace.   During marathon training, it is worth doing at least one, preferably two – a half-marathon or a 15-miler, for example.  Just no need to overdo it.

Related: Marathon Training Plan Mistakes: Don’t Make These 9 Errors

Mistake #3: Not fuelling properly

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Many marathon runners simply don’t fuel properly.

They don’t know what to take, how much to take, or when to take it.

There’s less need to fuel on-the-run during marathon training, when most of your runs are under two hours (and your long runs are done at a conservative pace).

However, come marathon day, you want to maximise your performance potential.  And to do this, you need fuel.

I recommend taking one energy gel 15 minutes before the start line, a then one every 45-60 minutes of the race.    

Related: What To Eat Before a Marathon

This keeps a constant stream of easy-to-process energy going to your system.Just make sure you trial your fuelling strategy in advance – some people can’t stomach energy gels when running.What other marathon mistakes have you made?Let me know below!

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Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

3 thoughts on “The 3 Biggest Marathon Mistakes”

  1. For my first marathon I made the mistake of not running slow enough in training. I thought that running faster than my training plan recommended meant I was working harder and “putting more in”.
    Come race day the last 6 miles were torture. My body just wasn’t prepared for using fat for fuel. I’ve since come to realise that the “easy” training miles are just as crucial as the “hard” ones.

  2. For my first marathon, I did not take salt/electrolyte tablets and I really paid the price after the 17th mile or so. It was a fairly hot day for October, and I was sweating a lot. As a result, I was feeling pretty faint later in the race even though I was taking energy gels and drinking water throughout. I ended up walking about 5 miles of the race, resulting in a dismal time of 6:22.

    I have since learned to take the salt/electrolyte tablets and energy gels regularly, even for shorter races, and I feel much better during the race.


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