5 Rookie Marathon Mistakes to Avoid

5 Rookie Marathon Mistakes to Avoid

Legs and feet of runners
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Running a marathon can be an overwhelming, anxiety-producing experience and first-timers are bound to make some rookie mistakes. Here are some common blunders to avoid, so you don’t have to learn lessons on race day.

Don't try something new on race day.

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The night before my first marathon, I cut the tags off a new pair of shorts that I planned to wear in the marathon. I remember thinking that it would feel good to wear something new instead of the same old shorts I had worn through training. Fortunately, the new shorts did not chafe or fall down, but it could have been ugly.

Try to resist the temptation to wear, eat, or drink anything new and keep telling yourself, "Nothing new on race day!" Race day is not the time to experiment with new foods at breakfast, a new pair of running shoes, running shorts, a new sports bra, or new nutrition or hydration. Stick to your tried-and-true favorites so there are no surprises on race day.

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Give yourself plenty of time at the start.

Marathon Start
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You may think you can just show up at the starting line, line up, and go.  That approach may work for a local 5K, but a marathon is a totally different beast, especially if it’s a very large race.  It’s going to be crowded and everything will take a lot longer than you think.  The lines for the porta-potties will be long, so give yourself enough time to use the bathroom (maybe more than once), check your bag, and find your corral (if the race has them). Check the race's website to find out how they recommend getting to the start. You may also want to talk to other runners who have done the race in previous years (or read reviews on websites) to find out how early they recommend getting to the start.

Also see: Marathon Starting Line Tips

Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

Marathon runners
Photo by Mitchell Funk

Don't put pressure on yourself to achieve a really fast time for your first marathon. Completing a marathon is an incredible goal and you don’t want to take away from that accomplishment by being disappointing about not hitting a time goal. Just focus on going the distance and becoming part of a extremely small percentage of the population who can call themselves marathoners.

Don't forget to smile.


You didn’t work hard all through training to be miserable during the race, right?  Enjoy the ride!  Running a marathon is not just about crossing the finish line – it’s about the journey you take to get there. As you’re running, take it all in – high-five the kids cheering you on, thank the volunteers passing out water, pump your fist in the air as you pass the guy blasting the theme from “Rocky”, smile at the spectators holding funny signs. Doing so will give you that boost of motivation to keep going. And finishing photos always look better when you’re smiling.

Also see: How to Look Good in Your Race Photos

Don't start out too fast.

Marathon start
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One of the biggest rookie mistakes is starting out the race too fast. It’s tempting to go out super fast because you'll feel strong and rested from your tapering.  Going any slower might feel too easy.  You’ll tell yourself, “Wow, I must be in better shape than I thought!” 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. The first half of the race should feel easy. If it doesn’t, you’re probably going too fast. When it comes to marathon racing, there’s no such thing as “putting time in the bank.”  You’ll pay for those fast miles later in the race when your legs are really fatigued. Stick to your planned pace – running even splits or negative splits is a smart marathon racing strategy.

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