Pre-Marathon Miscues: How to Avoid Four Common Mistakes


We all know that poor pacing is the biggest mistake that marathoners make on race day. Talk to runners of all levels at any marathon expo before the big race, however, and you’ll soon realize that a multitude of mistakes are also made before the race even starts. Here are the most common pre-marathon mistakes that can affect race day (and the easy ways to remedy them).

Mistake No. 1: Forgetting the impact of non-running stressors

As you put the finishing touches on your marathon preparations, it’s important to take into consideration the other stressors (work, family and other commitments) in your life and how they impact your running. We all have an “energy tank” and the stressors of life — both good and bad — deplete this tank on a daily basis. If you are in your heaviest training, then you’re depleting this tank to a greater extent than in the beginning of your training phase. As a result, you have less energy for other stressors and these stressors, which may have been easy to accommodate during the lighter training, can result in increased fatigue, illness, or injury.

Fix No.1: Plan ahead and prioritize

While you can’t necessarily avoid other stressors, you should respect them and be flexible when they happen. If you have a big training week ahead, try to plan ahead to minimize the other stressors in your life, thus optimizing your training. Be diligent to take care of yourself before and after your important training sessions. Make sacrifices. Do the little things necessary to be successful in your marathon. And, if something does come up, like a long work day or sick child, be open to adjusting your program. Lastly, don’t worry about being selfish during this time. Your support system understands and you’ll have the recovery time after the marathon to pay them back in spades.

Mistake No.2: Getting too worked up for the race

There is high energy at marathon expos and not all of it is positive. Some runners simply freak out as the race nears and waste their performances in nervousness and worry.

Fix No.2: Relax and enjoy the moment

I always tell runners that the marathon, while an enormous event, is not something out of the ordinary. In fact, it’s likely that during your heaviest training weeks, you’ve been able to perform really well in long runs and even long races. So, what’s the big deal? Instead of excess worry, why not enjoy the experience? After all, you are simply asking the body to do what you’ve trained it to do.

So, get out of your own way, trust your training and enjoy the experience. Make it a habit to review the positive workouts and races from your marathon training phase at least once a week as your race approaches. Be excited to run and quickly dismiss any negative thoughts, focusing instead on what an opportunity the race provides to go and do what you love.

Mistake No.3: Resting too much during your taper

Many runners change their training rhythm too much during their peaking phase. They rest so much that they get sluggish and stale — the way you always feel after a few days off. On marathon day, they feel mentally and physically slow.

Fix No.3: Stay sharp

The body likes routine. Let the body and mind rest, but don’t take a vacation from training. Maintain your frequency of running during your peaking phase (one additional day off is allowed) and your intensity, but simply reduce your volume of running as the race nears. A good rule is to reduce your volume 20 to 30 percent in each of the last two weeks before your race. Don’t waste your race in training but certainly keep the body ready for fast running with a few key workouts.

Read more about your peaking phase – Don’t Taper. Peak!

Mistake No.4: Not preparing for the rigors of race weekend

It always amazes me at how many runners are rushing around like crazy on marathon weekend. They forgot their racing shoes. They have no gels for the race. They are suddenly starving and have no idea where to eat. They spend hours on their feet at the expo.

Fix No.4: Take control of your destiny

First, pack your race gear in your carry-on bag so your key equipment will always be with you. Second, upon getting to your hotel, head straight to a grocery or convenience store and stock up on food and fluids. Having fluids and fuel on hand (in your hotel and always with you) will ensure proper nutritional preparation for the race. Third, don’t camp out at the expo. Get your number and packet, visit a few booths and then get off your feet.

In the last few weeks and days leading up to your marathon, work to get prepared for the race — physically, mentally and logistically. Avoid the common pre-marathon mistakes and it will be smooth sailing on race day.



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Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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