15 Mistakes Half and Full Marathoners Should Avoid

Whether it be running a half or full marathon, there's a lot that could go wrong during both training and on race day. Luckily, there are many training mistakes that you can avoid with a little preparation and foresight.


Doing a Half or Full Marathon as Your First Race

marathon runners getting water and bananas from table

Frank and Helena / Cultura Exclusive / Getty Images

To save yourself stress or risk any injury, complete a shorter race, like a 5K or a 10K, before moving up to running a half marathon, then a full marathon.

Running with proper technique is enough of a challenge; you don't want to also be nervous about the things that come with marathon experience such as putting on your race bib, starting a race, using porta-potties, taking cups from the water stops, and dealing with crowded conditions for the first time.


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 marathons in that category.

Ready for a half marathon, but worried about the cut-off time? Some half marathons are run at the same time as a full marathon, so the half marathoners are given the same 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.


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 and you'll have an excuse for not running.

Fight the temptation to skip it, and focus on your goal of running your race. The "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.


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 on yourself. 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 seemingly endless long runs.


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 overall 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, will help you become more injury-resistant and improve your strength for the long runs. Other excellent cross-training activities for runners include swimming, cycling, elliptical trainer, water running, yoga, and Pilates.


Ignoring Pain

Don't assume or convince yourself that pain is just a normal part of marathon training. Yes, you may feel some post-run muscle soreness, but the 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 and 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 will most likely get worse or you could cause a completely new injury.

There are ways to prevent injury during your running training, such as practicing correct posture and running techniques. But if you do find yourself injured, practice RICE to self-treat running injuries, and be sure to make an appointment with a physiotherapist or sports physician if the pain does not subside after a few days.


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 it's important to note that including regular walking breaks in your half or full marathon running can take you to the finish line at the same pace as if you ran the entire way, according to a study published in 2016 in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

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


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. Completing a marathon is an incredible achievement, and you don’t want to overshadow that by falling short of a time goal. For your first half or full marathon, it is enough to just focus on completing the race and crossing the finish line.

If you feel ready to set a specific goal, consider using the SMART acronym to set a realistic running goal for yourself. Setting a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goal will be the best way to stay motivated to run.

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


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 and try to work out their nerves before the race by running too many miles too fast. Stick to your training schedule and trust in your training and the taper.

Although you can't cram a half a year's worth of good nutrition into the few days before the race, 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, be sure to carb-load, unwind, and stay hydrated.


Not Scheduling Rest Days

Rest days are when you do an easy cross-training activity or take a full day off from running. Giving your body a break from the stress of running can reduce your risk of overuse injuries, such as shin splints and stress fractures. It's also good to take a mental break from running, so you don't lose motivation.

Taking the time to schedule rest days in your running schedule is an easy way of making yourself stick to taking time off. As a first time marathoner, you should schedule one complete rest day and one active recovery day in your running schedule.


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 anything, but for a half or full marathon, you really need to make sure you're hydrating properly.

During long runs and your marathon, you're going to get thirsty. The current advice about running and hydration is very simple: drink to thirst. Be sure you are also rehydrating after your runs. You'll know you're hydrated if your urine is a light yellow color.


Not Giving Yourself Plenty of Time at the Start

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


Trying Something New on Race Day

Race day is not the time to experiment with new nutrition or hydration. You don't know how new foods will affect you during the race. The same goes for a new pair of running shoes, running shorts, or a new sports bra, 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. If 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. The same is true for hot and cold weather, so be sure to log in some long runs in all weather conditions to figure out what you feel most comfortable wearing. Remember, nothing new on race day!


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 going out too fast is that you'll burn through a lot of your stored energy early in the race and your legs will feel fatigued much sooner.

Try to start your marathon 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.

An added benefit of knowing your race pace is that you will also be able to estimate whether you can meet race cut-off times.


Discounting Your Achievement

With so much attention given to full marathons, some runners will brush off their 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 brush off your accomplishments with negative thoughts of a missed PR or to dwell on technique corrections you may have forgotten to make mid-race. The truth of the matter is that you need to consider those negative thoughts for a moment so you can correct them in your training and next race. After all, a real athlete learns from everything they do. But don't let those things start to discount the fact that you are part of an extremely small percentage of the population who can call themselves marathoners.

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