15 Mistakes Half and Full Marathoners Should Avoid

Whether you are running a half or full marathon, and whether it's your first race or your 10th, there's a lot that can go wrong during training and on race day. But you can avoid many running mistakes with a little preparation and foresight. These tips are especially helpful for beginners, but experienced marathoners can benefit from refreshers, too.

1

Doing a Half or Full Marathon as Your First Race

Low Section Of People Running On Street In Marathon
Michele Scandurra / EyeEm / Getty Images

To save yourself stress and lower your risk of injury, complete a shorter race like a 5K or a 10K before running a half-marathon. Then move on to a full marathon if you wish.

Running with proper technique is enough of a challenge. You don't want to also be nervous about putting on your race bib, starting a race, using porta-potties, taking cups from the water stops, and dealing with crowded conditions. Use a shorter distance race to get used to these event experiences.

2

Not Considering Cut-Off Time

Some races have a cut-off time, or a time limit by which all participants must have crossed the finish line. It's not fun participating in a race when you're constantly looking over your shoulder and worrying about getting picked up by the sweep bus.

If you think you're in danger of not finishing before the time limit (often three hours for half-marathons and six hours for full marathons), look for a race that's friendly to slower runners and walkers. There are plenty of events in that category.

Some half-marathons are run at the same time as a full marathon, so half-marathoners are given the same time limit (six hours or more) to cross the finish line.

Most events disclose the course finish cut-off time somewhere on their website. If you come up empty-handed after a thorough search of the event website or registration form, locate the course director's contact information and send a quick email to get clarification.

3

Losing Motivation During Training

It takes time to get ready for a marathon, and there will definitely be points in your training when your motivation starts to fade. There may be some days when you don't feel like running.

Fight the temptation to skip your training run. Focus on your goal of running your race. This "don't give up" advice also applies to the race itself. There may be moments during the race when you feel like calling it a day, but you'll need to dig deep, stay mentally tough, and push to the finish.

4

Skipping the Long Runs

Your long runs are an important part of your marathon training, so you should do what you can to make sure they go well. Have a plan of action to make long runs a little easier. That means eating and drinking properly in the days leading up to your long run, getting a good night's sleep beforehand, and hydrating and fueling properly during your runs.

Being mentally prepared to tackle the long runs will also go a long way when it comes to running on race day. Consider using visualization and imagery, a personal mantra, or even talking to yourself as tactics to get you through those miles.

5

Not Cross-Training

Logging miles is obviously an important part of training for a half- or full marathon, but doing too much, or running as your only form of exercise, can lead to injury and burnout. Cross-training can help balance your muscle groups, boost strength, increase flexibility, and improve your cardiovascular endurance.

Any training activity that supplements your running is considered cross-training. Strength training, especially your core and lower body, can help you avoid injuries and improve your stamina for long runs. Other excellent cross-training activities for runners include swimming, cycling, elliptical trainer, water running, yoga, and Pilates.

6

Ignoring Pain

Don't assume (or convince yourself) that pain is a normal part of marathon training. Yes, you may feel some post-run muscle soreness, but pain that gets worse during your run or affects your running or walking gait is a signal from your body that something is wrong.

Rest is usually the best treatment for any kind of pain. Taking some time off from running when an injury is in its early stages will prevent more time off later. If you keep pushing through it, the injury is likely to worsen—or you could cause a completely new injury.

To prevent injury, practice correct posture and running techniques. If you do get hurt, use the POLICE method to self-treat. Make an appointment with a physiotherapist or sports physician if the pain does not subside after a few days.

7

Not Including Walking in Your Running Plan

Some marathoners turn their noses up at the idea of walking during a half- or full marathon race. But including regular walking breaks can take you to the finish line at the same pace as if you ran the entire way, according to a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

Walking also does a lot less damage to your body, as stress on your heart and muscles is reduced. An easy way of incorporating walking into your training is to run 9 minutes, then walk 1 minute. Repeat until you finish the goal distance.

8

Setting Unrealistic Goals

Don't put pressure on yourself to achieve a really fast time for your first half- or full marathon. You could be setting yourself up for disappointment. Simply completing a half-marathon or marathon is an incredible achievement; don’t let falling short of a time goal overshadow it. For your first half- or full marathon, it is enough to just focus on crossing the finish line.

If you feel ready to set a specific goal, use the SMART acronym. Setting a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goal is the best way to stay motivated.

The best goals require you to push yourself to achieve them but aren't too extreme. If a goal is too far out of reach, you probably won't truly commit to doing it as deep down you know it's not achievable.

9

Cramming for the Final

The two weeks before your half-marathon is the tapering period, when you cut back your mileage by 25% to 50% to give your body and mind a chance to rest, recover, and prepare for your race. Some people are worried they'll lose fitness during this period. They may try to work out their pre-race nerves by running too many miles too fast. Don't fall into this trap; stick to your training schedule and trust in the taper.

You also don't want to sabotage your race day energy levels by eating too many deep-fried, high-salt, and sugar-laden junk foods the night before a race. A few days before the race, carb-load, unwind, and stay hydrated.

10

Skipping Rest Days

When your schedule calls for a rest day, do an easy cross-training activity or take a full day off from running. Giving your body a break from running can reduce your risk of overuse injuries, such as shin splints and stress fractures. It's also good for your motivation to take a mental break from running.

Sticking with the rest days in your running schedule is an easy way to make sure you get enough rest. First-time half-marathoners should plan on one complete rest day and one active recovery day per week.

11

Forgetting to Hydrate

Many 5K runners never hydrate during their races or training runs. For a short distance race, you might be able to get away with not drinking, but for a half- or full marathon, you really need to make sure you're hydrating properly.

During long training runs and your race, you're going to get thirsty. The current advice about running and hydration is very simple: Hydrate well before you start, and then drink to thirst while you're running.

Be sure you are also rehydrating after your runs. You'll know you're properly hydrated if your urine is a very pale yellow color.

12

Not Giving Yourself Plenty of Time at the Start

You may think you can just show up at the event, line up, and go. That approach may work for a 5K, but a half-marathon or marathon is a totally different beast, especially if it’s a very large race or in a different city.

It will probably 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. If you are traveling from out of town, consider where you need to stay in relation to the race location. 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.

13

Trying Something New on Race Day

Race day is not the time to experiment with new nutrition, hydration, or gear. You don't know how new foods will affect you during the race. The same goes for new shoes, shorts, or sports bras, as you don't know if new gear is going to cause chafing or blisters. Stick to your tried-and-true favorites so there are no surprises on race day.

To prepare for what to wear on race day, be sure to train on rainy or overcast days, too. As long as lightning is not in the forecast, it is usually safe to run in rainy weather. Running in the rain will allow you to dress accordingly and see how your usual running shoes fare when running in slippery and wet conditions.

Be sure to log some long runs in all weather conditions (hot, cold, rainy, windy) to figure out what you feel most comfortable wearing. Remember, nothing new on race day!

14

Starting Out Too Fast

When you begin your half- or full marathon, you may be tempted to start out fast because you'll feel strong and rested. The problem with this is that you'll burn through a lot of your stored energy early in the race. As a result, your legs will feel fatigued much sooner.

Try to start your race at a comfortable pace, and make sure you check your watch at the first mile marker. If you're ahead of your anticipated pace, slow down. It's not too late to make pace corrections after just one mile.

15

Discounting Your Achievement

With so much attention given to full marathons, some runners will brush off half-marathon finishes, saying, "I only did a half." Completing a 13.1-mile race is an incredible accomplishment, so don't sell yourself short. You're a half-marathoner—be proud!

As for full marathoners, it's easy to dwell on thoughts of a missed PR or technique corrections you may have forgotten to make. You need to consider those so you can correct them in your training and next race. After all, a real athlete learns from everything they do. But don't discount the fact that you are part of an extremely small group of people who can call themselves marathoners.

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