10 Marathon Running and Training Mistakes to Avoid

Whether you're running your first or your tenth marathon, there are a lot of things that could go wrong during your training and racing. Here are some of the most common marathon training and running mistakes and how to avoid them.

Marathon Mistake #1: Don't run a marathon on a dare.

marathon runner

I've met people who started training for a marathon because a friend or family member teased or bet them that they couldn't do it. They eagerly signed up for the challenge without really considering the intense commitment it requires, only to throw in the towel halfway through the training or stubbornly suffer through it. Running a marathon is not a decision to be taken lightly. Basically, what I'm trying to say is to think carefully before deciding to train for and run a marathon. I always like to tell runners to try racing other distances such as 5Ks, 10Ks, and a half marathon before attempting a full marathon. Then they can see if they really enjoy training for a race and they'll have a training base established if they decide to go for a full marathon.

Also see: Are You Ready to Train for and Run a Marathon?

Marathon mistake #2: Don't overtrain.

Runners knee injury
Comstock Images

Some runners assume that running every day will guarantee they'll be prepared for the marathon. But when you're training for a marathon, it's important that you give yourself some rest days when you do easy runs, cross train, or completely take off from exercise. Running long or hard every day can lead to injury or burnout. Follow a training schedule to make sure you're not overdoing it.

Also see: How to Avoid Overtraining

Marathon mistake #3: But don't undertrain.

Runner resting
Stewart Charles Cohen

Don't assume because you're athletic and you've run some shorter races that you'll be able to power through 26.2 miles with minimal training. Undertraining could lead to serious injury or, at the very least, a very uncomfortable race. Don't expect to "catch up" on your training in the month before your race -- there's no cramming for the final. Respect the distance and follow a training schedule to make sure you're prepared.

Marathon mistake #4: Don't give yourself license to eat whatever you want.

Runners overeating
Photo by Greg Ceo

"I'm burning so many calories, I can eat and drink whatever I want, right?" That's a very common belief among marathoners, but many find that overeating and/or poor nutrition has a huge negative effort on their training (and waistline). When you're training for a marathon, it's important that you have a nutritious diet so you can properly fuel your runs and avoid getting sick.

Also see: Why Am I Gaining Weight During Marathon Training?
Healthy Eating Habits for Runners
How to Avoid Weight Gain After a Marathon

Marathon mistake #5: Don't let the course be a surprise.

Runners in road race
Photo by John Foxx

Do your homework about the race course so you'll know what to do to be prepared. Most marathon websites include information about the course. You can also read reviews about the race from other runners. If it's a hilly course, make sure you're doing some hill training. Find out how many aid stations will be on the course, so you'll know if you need to carry your own fluids. If you're running a local marathon, do some of your training runs on the course so you'll know what to expect.

Marathon mistake #6: Don't focus too much on your time.

Woman Running Across Finish Line
Yellow Dog Productions
Don't put pressure on yourself to achieve an aggressive time for your first marathon. Completing the race is an incredible accomplishment and you don't want to discount that achievement by not reaching your goal time. Even if it's not your first marathon, it's always good to have a couple of race goals so you can adjust your expectations if the race conditions are not favorable or if things don't go as planned during the race.

Marathon mistake #7: Don't be unprepared for different types of weather.

Running in the rain
Photo by John Kelly

Don't forget to check the typical weather in the area so you can dress appropriately. Practice running in the rain during training so you'll know what to expect if it rains on race day. Make sure you're prepared with a few different options for race day so you can make a race day decision based on that day's weather conditions.

Also see: How to Dress for a Rainy Race
How to Dress for Hot Weather Running
How to Dress for Cold Weather Running

Marathon mistake #8: Don't skip the tapering period.

Couple running

The tapering phase is a critical part of your marathon training. During the last couple of weeks before your race, it's important that you taper, or cut back your mileage, to give your body and mind a chance to rest, recover, and prepare for your marathon.

Also see: What to Do the Day Before Your Marathon
9 Last-Minute Marathon Tips
6 Common Tapering Mistakes

Marathon mistake #9: Don't start out too fast.

Runners in race
Yellow Dog Productions

One of the biggest mistakes marathoners (both experienced and rookies) make is starting out the race at too fast of a pace. It’s tempting to go out blazing fast because you'll feel strong and rested and a slower pace will almost feel too easy. But if you go out too fast, you'll burn through a lot of your stored energy early in the race and your legs will feel fatigued much sooner. Stick to your planned pace – running even splits or negative splits is a smart marathon racing strategy.

Also see: How to Avoid Starting Out Too Fast
How to Avoid Hitting the Wall

Marathon mistake #10: Don't try out something new on race day.

Race bib
Photo by Gary John Norman

I remember the night before my first marathon cutting the tags off a new shirt and shorts that I planned to wear in the race. Fortunately, I didn't suffer from chafing or have a wardrobe malfunction, but it could have been ugly. When it comes to race day, stick to your tried-and-true favorites that you've used during training. And that applies to clothing, as well as nutrition and hydration. Race day is not the time to experiment with new foods at breakfast or during the race itself.

Also see: