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5 Marathon Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

By April 4, 2019May 20th, 2023No Comments
men running looking into the camera - talking about marathon mistakes

Let’s talk about marathon mistakes on race day. Over the past 10 years I have ran many different marathons and I have connected with thousands of athletes around the world who have ran a lot of marathons as well. I have noticed several common mistakes on race day that keep coming back. Not just in my own personal racing but in the marathon races of others as well. Let’s discuss what are some of these common marathon mistakes and what can be done to avoid them.

1. Marathon Mistake – Not having a race strategy and starting too fast.

If you have a specific goal time, for example you are trying to run a sub 3 hour marathon, you know your average split needs to be at least 6:50 min / mile. At the beginning of a race many runners start out very fast. They feel good and might be hitting much faster splits, in this case for example 6:30 min / mile or 6:20 min / mile.

When you have a race strategy that says: “I have to hit 6:50 min / mile on average but I don’t allow myself to go faster than 6:40 min mile.” This can really help reserve some energy for later stages of the race when things could get tough.

If you don’t have a specific goal time and you want to run by feel, that’s totally fine. Make it a strategy to hold back at the beginning of your race. That way you don’t just go out and run fast because your legs feel so great and you have a lot of energy. It takes quite a bit of marathon experience to realize what it feels like to have energy left in your tank at the end of a race. To truly hold back at the beginning to finish strong. 

When you go into a race, it’s good to know, this is going to be my goal time, these are going to be the splits I’m going to aim for. Then going out and executing and being disciplined to follow your race plan. 

Ofcourse there are going to be ways to adjust your plan. If things work out towards the end, you can always pick up your pace. Don’t start too fast, it’s one of the most common marathon mistakes I’m seeing out there.

Here is an example of my Boston Marathon Strategy and race day execution.

2. Marathon Mistake – Not having a nutrition and hydration strategy.

This is crucial for a race. In advance know what your plan is, how are you going to take in calories. Also knowing, on the course, what type of hydration will they have there. Are you going to stick with water and bring your own gels, or are you going to drink whatever energy gel they will be providing. Have you actually trained with that as well? 

For example for my last race, my strategy was to drink water at pretty much every aid station. Then I’d take a gel every 30 minutes and a salt / electrolyte pill every hour. To remind myself, I’d set a reminder on my watch every 30 minutes to go off, to make sure I’d remember to take in my calories. 

So before your next race, know what are you going to do nutrition-wise. What has worked for you in training and how are you going to execute that on race day. If you are going to rely on aid stations, make sure you have done your homework.

3. Marathon Mistake – Athletes dressing way too hot.

You want to be cold at the beginning of a race. You want to be standing at the starting line and actually feeling freshky. What you want to do is dress for mile 3 (5km). Once you are warmed up, that’s where you want to be comfortable. You don’t want to make the marathon mistake of being very hot a few miles into your race.

One strategy for me for races is that I go to a thrift store the week before a race and buy long pants and a hooded shirt. I wear this all the way until the start gun goes off. Then I take it off and put it in one of the clothing donation bins around the start line. That way I stay warm at the start of the race and cooler later on in the race. If you dress too hot, your heart rate is going to increase faster, so you want to make sure you keep it cool. 

4. Marathon Mistake – Not knowing the course.

Always in advance of a race, study the course. Where are the aid stations going to be, what is the elevation like. One thing I do is, I go on Strava and see if there is a previous year race segment of the entire marathon. If you look at how others have raced it in the past, you can get a good understanding of how all the hills are, what all the grades are, how steep it is, etc. So study that course, so you can mentally prepare for what is to come. For example for the Boston Marathon, it is really nice knowing when Heartbreak Hill or some of the other hills are going to come up. 

This goes hand in hand with point number one of actually having a race day strategy. So truly studying the course and knowing what to expect, is just going to bring a sense of calm over you. The more things you can control on race day, the better, because there are already going to be some unexpected things you’ll have to work through. 

5. Marathon Mistake – Trying new things on or around race day.

Race day is not the time and place to experiment with new things and even the days leading up to it are not. This is where training runs come in to place. You don’t know how your body is going to react to certain nutrition to certain hydration. Your shoes or socks might start giving you blisters. You find these things out on long training days. 

Another example, if you have never ran in a certain shirt, shorts or hat before, then don’t race with it. If you have never trained with those sunglasses, you don’t know how it’s going to be in an actual race. It is one thing that it feels ok 30 minutes into a training run, but when you’re actually 2 hours into it, some of these issues might show up that you haven’t previously experienced. 

I have personally experienced it. On a long training run, I have taken some energy bars that I thought my stomach would totally be able to handle. I took it out on a long training run and sure enough it gave me really bad stomach cramps and I had to use the restroom right away. You don’t want that to happen at mile 20 of a race when every second counts for you to reach your goal time. Don’t try anything new on race day.

Another thing to mention about nutrition in regards to marathon mistakes. If your race starts at 7am and normally you want to eat 2 hours in advance, make sure to test what it’s like to wake up before 5am to consume a meal at 5am, wait 2 hours and then start your run. Once again, long runs come into play here.

Marathon Mistakes – Summary

  1. Make sure you have a Marathon Strategy and don’t start out too fast.
  2. Make sure you have a Nutritional Strategy and Hydration Strategy. Know when you are going to eat and drink on race day.
  3. Don’t dress too hot, dress for mile 3 (5km) into the race. 
  4. Know your race course, do your homework for the hills, water stations, toilets, etc
  5. Don’t try anything new on race day! Go out on several long runs to test your race day strategy and nutrition & hydration strategy, so there are not going to be any surprises there.

I would love to hear from you. What are some of the race mistakes you have made and what have you done to overcome these mistakes? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for watching and have fun out there with your races. Good luck guys, later! 

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