Here you will learn about most common mistakes made by amateur runners in preparation for the marathon and ways to avoid them.
Marathon preparation is time-consuming and complicated, even professionals are not immune from mistakes. This article will help you check, if you do everything right.
Mistake #1. You choose target marathon time without considering your current physical shape
“I must run out of 4, otherwise it’s a failure”, “Well, let’s see the standard for my age in Boston…”
Aiming for an overly ambitious result for the race is fraught with consequences: too intense level of training with not enough time for the body to adapt leads to fatigue, stress, injuries and, as a result, to the failed start.
Why does it happen? Each workout during the marathon preparation has its goal – increasing your anaerobic threshold, improving endurance, training the maximal oxygen consumption or recovering the systems. Performing each of these workouts at a higher rate can minimize the entire efficiency of the process: the body accumulates fatigue and adaptation to the loads doesn’t occur. Yes, perhaps you have a chance to run your best 10 km, but such approach may lead to a failure during the marathon.
What to do instead? Determine your pace for effective training and calculate the target time of the marathon, adjusted for your current physical shape.
Ways to do that:
- affordable — a VDOT table: take the best time from your recent race (it's better to consider you 10-km or half-marathon results instead of 5-km results). Calculate your speed for interval tempo, anaerobic threshold, marathon pace and even easy running.
- expensive, but more accurate – laboratory functional testing. In addition to precise parameters, you can learn a lot of interesting things about your body and your weak points to work on.
The good news: during your marathon training, the tempo will grow. For 3-4 months of continuous training, the target time of the marathon can move from “out of 4 hours” to confident “out of 3:50”.
Track progress with the help of training starts or simply listen to your body: if training with the current speed becomes too easy - the intensity can be increased.
Mistake # 2. You experiment with foods and drinks during the marathon
“All the gels are the same, so I'll take this one, banana-strawberry flavored,”, “I’ll get a snack on a distance, so maybe I’ll eat an apple before the start.”
Such frivolous approach to nutrition during the marathon can end up with unpleasant consequences: stomach cramps, dizziness, or nausea;
The other extreme and ignoring food completely, won’t make any good either: the glycogen reserve will last for maximum 30-32 kilometers, then the body will switch to fat burning, and this will lead to rapidly deteriorating condition, a significant slowdown and that famous “wall”.
What to do instead? Do not try anything new on the marathon. Your foods and drinks should be well-tested during training.
Take this as an important part of a successful run strategy - study the body's response to changes. Analyze, what it is better to eat before a workout, how much and how often to drink, learn to eat and drink on the go without stopping (it is hard).
Test energy gels of different manufacturers to make sure you have no individual intolerance to any of their components, create a drinking regime. Also, study the weather statistics for a specific race - in hot weather you will have to drink more often, and will need an isotonic drink to restore the water-salt balance.
The golden rule: eat and drink before you want that.
The good news is that the sports nutrition market is very diverse. Online you can find plenty of energy snack recipes that you can cook at home. Don’t forget that the trial and error scheme will help you find the right answer to the question “what to eat during the marathon?".
Mistake # 3. You panic after a failure workout
“No need to aim for 42 kilometers, if I died after 15", "Well, okay, I forgot how to run, let’s go eating.”
A failed training is always a blow to self-esteem that leads to a bunch of questions to yourself: why my physical shape went worse, and will I be ready on the marathon day? Such thoughts often entail an immediate desire to do everything right from the second attempt, work out lost time and to spend an additional run at higher intensity in your rest day.
Stop! In real life, there is no place for perfectionism. Embrace that your training cycle will inevitably have at least one failure. And, most likely, even a few.
What to do instead? Don’t panic and don’t get upset. Cortisol, a hormone released under the influence of stress, hasn’t helped anyone to improve the performance. Do not try to “catch up and beat yourself”: if you missed or failed a workout. Just forget it and move further.
It is much more useful to analyze and figure out what negative factors led to a failure: whether it was an accident (you had a deadline the day before, the temperature outside suddenly jumped from +20 degrees C to +28, you have planned a tempo run and didn’t get enough sleep). Also, this way your body may signal about accumulated fatigue and need for rest.
Try to arrange a couple of days for recovery running on a low heart rate, add quality sleep and eliminate stress.
The good news: Pete Pfitzinger, the author of "Advanced Marathoning" and "Road Racing for Serious Runners" asserts that for a successful performance at the marathon it is enough to fulfill 80% of the preparation plan on the high level. If a professional says that, you can believe it!
Mistake # 4. You consume not enough calories for proper recovery
Preparing for a marathon is an increase in a week's mileage, long runs and high intensity work. By focusing on training, we often forget about nutrition for proper recovery.
Many runners don’t track the intake and burn of calories and keep eating the way they did before, even when their load increases. Some people do it to lose weight. As a result, the body loses its fuel, which leads to a lack of energy, a decline in strength, slower recovery and even a plateau.
What to do instead? You are an athlete now. It means, you have a faster metabolism, and you need more calories. To begin with, you need to determine the number of calories burned considering your training loads. You can use our online calculator. Add 300-400 of healthy calories to your meal plan on the days of intense work.
The good news: you can eat more – isn’t that excellent news? And yes, during the preparation for the marathon, many people are really losing weight and get a lot of compliments from others.
Mistake #5. You don’t pay enough attention to training at a marathon pace or don’t control it well
“I ran the first 5 kilometers at 4:20, and then something went wrong.”
The line between the new "personal best" and the failure (or at least suffering at the last ten km) is very subtle - just a few seconds from your marathon pace.
It happens to everyone, and even professionals can make this mistake: Haile Gebrosselassie, the first marathon runner who overcame the 2:04 mark in Berlin in 2008, unsuccessfully performed in Dubai in 2009, running the first half of the marathon 23 seconds faster than in Berlin, but losing as many as 90 seconds at the second half. For amateur runners such deviations in pace are not crucial, but too fast start is guaranteed to lead to a tempo drop at the end of the race.
What to do instead? If the training plan lacks training at a marathon pace, burn the plan. Be sure to add them and do not miss them, if possible.
Intuitive control – is a thing that is very difficult to develop. However, experiment and sometimes leave your tracker at home, trying to feel your body during the run. If it's too difficult to leave your running device at home, get the most of it: many models offer the “Virtual Pacer” option to monitor how far you are behind or ahead your desired tempo.
The good news: no pain – no gain. After a long practice and correct preparation, you can feel the marathon pace as regular and quite feasible.