10 Worst Marathon Walking Mistakes

Walt Disney World Marathon Start
Walt Disney World marathon start. Matt Stroshane/Disney Parks/Getty Images Entertainment

No matter how much you train and prepare to walk a marathon, you are bound to make a mistake. But you can learn from what others found out the hard way. Don't let these mistakes ruin your marathon.

1. Starting an Event You Are Too Slow to Finish by the Cutoff Time

Many walkers don't know how to predict their marathon finish time. Use these calculators to predict your finish time. If you can't make the cutoff, switch to a shorter distance event or volunteer for the event instead.

Marathon organizers take down water stops and open up the course to traffic. If you aren't meeting the cutoff pace, you can find yourself unsupported. You endanger yourself, others, and the race itself by starting when you will be late finishing.

2. Wearing Too Much Clothing

If the day is going to top 60 F, your marathon walking outfit should be shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Even capris that hit just below the knee are horribly hot by the last few miles of a marathon. Your leg muscles overheat throughout the marathon and you need to give them air. If the temperatures are at 40 F or below, you will need a light windbreaker, capris or breathable long pants, and perhaps light running gloves. To stay warm at the start, wear a trash bag or a disposable sweatshirt to leave at the next trash can. You will find that experienced marathoners do this routinely.

If you just can't bear to leave your gear behind, arrange for a friend or spouse to meet you at regular intervals on the course to add or take away gear according to the weather conditions.

3. Wearing Something New on Race Day

Every item you wear or carry with you on race day should have been worn or carried with you on at least a couple of your longest training days. Do not wear new shoes. Your shoes should have been worn at least five to 10 times. Don't wear new clothing. You may discover it chafes in new places.

If they give you a race shirt, don't wear it until after the marathon.

4. Eating or Drinking Something New Before or on Race Day

It is tempting to graze your way through the marathon expo sampling new energy drinks, recovery drinks, energy bars and more. But save those for afterward or you risk stomach and bowel upsets during the marathon. Find out from the marathon website which sports drink and energy gels and snacks they provide on the course and use those same drinks and gels in your training. If you find they upset your system, you will need to carry your own with you for the marathon. For your pre-marathon dinner and breakfast, eat something bland that won't upset your gut or bowels.

5. Drinking Wrong

Making the wrong choice for how much and what to drink during the marathon can be deadly. You need to find the right balance on your longest training days, as everyone's body is a little bit different. Weigh yourself before you start your long walk, and again at the end. You should weigh exactly the same. It is wisest to use only full-strength sports drink on long-distance walks. This gives consistency and lets you find the right balance. You will need the energy calories, so don't worry about the sugars.

Use the same sports drink as will be given out on the course at your chosen marathon.

6. Forgetting to Do Blister and Chafing Preparation

Almost everyone gets foot blisters on a marathon. Prevent them as long as possible by preparing your feet with lubricants, cornstarch, and sweat-wicking socks. You should have been testing what works for you on your longest walking days. Don't forget to put lubricant on your armpits, thighs, crotch, nipples, and under-bra areas. Chafing is sheer torture in the final miles. Marathons will often provide petroleum jelly at checkpoints, which can be used to lubricate any areas that are starting to chafe.

7. Forgetting Essential Gear

Don't forget your race number or timing chip or there will be no marathon for you. Lay out your entire clothing and gear set-up the night before. Make a checklist and check everything off the night before. Then check it again before you head out the door. Make sure all batteries are fresh or fully charged for your MP3 player, cell phone, pedometer or other gizmos. Last and not least—where are your sunglasses and hat for when the sun comes up?

8. Snacking Wrong

You will need to replace the calories you are burning or you will hit the wall and fold like a rag doll by mile 20. Replenish calories with sports drink and energy gel. Use your long training days to tell when you will need more. Many walkers and runners wait until it's too late to snack. Begin snacking by mile 10, or earlier if the marathon is using a low-sugar sports drink. Don't eat any new snacks offered on the course that you haven't tried previously.

9. Getting Lost

Know where the start and finish are and where you will be able to park if you are driving there. Study the course map in advance. If you are one of the slower walkers on the event, you will need to pay more attention to the course markers as you'll have few marathoners to follow after the first couple of miles. You may also discover they have already taken down the course markings before you get to the finish line. Carry a course map with me, just in case. For some races, you may be able to download the course map to your mobile device.

10. Not Knowing When to Quit

If you are experiencing heat sickness, dehydration or hyponatremia with nausea, vomiting, blacking out or other symptoms, don't end your marathon with an ambulance ride to the hospital. Ask race volunteers to summon the sag wagon to take you to the medical tent before you need hospitalization.

If you are feeling well but lagging behind the course cutoff and officials flag you to get in the sag wagon, obey them without question. It is difficult to quit when you are feeling good. But they are spending huge amounts of money on permits and street closures and you must obey them to reopen to traffic and shut down the finish line. You already committed mistake #1. Don't compound it with mistake #10.

It's Not You—It's Them

Race organizers also make mistakes in not giving walkers and slower runners full course support (such as removing the course marking and folding up water stations before you get there). Even if you are on track to finish before the cutoff time, you must be prepared to support yourself. You might enlist a friend or spouse to check on you in the final quarter of the marathon to ensure you will have what you need.

  • Walkers should always carry a water bottle or wear a hydration pack in case water stops have been taken down.
  • Pack a snack or two for the final miles.
  • Have a map so you will be able to navigate to the finish if they take down the course markings too early.
  • The race finish line may be taken down early. You may have to seek out event staff to get your medal and other goodies.
  • If you checked your gear, the gear check may close early and you'll have to seek out someone to retrieve your bag.
  • You may need your own cheering team at the finish line as the crowds have departed. Have them give you the replenishing snacks, chocolate milk, or sports drink you will need.

Source:

Lewis G. Maharam, MD.FACSM et al. "IMMDA's Revised Fluid Recommendations for Runners and Walkers." IMMDA. 6 May 2006.

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