The marathon is the least forgiving race distance and yet runners make more mistakes preparing for it than for any other distance.
Whether you are an experienced marathon runner or aiming to complete your first marathon, more times than not, mistakes are made in preparation for race day. Few runners enter a marathon in peak physical condition, while many others fail to the make it to the start line because of fatigue, illness or other physical ailments.
Many variables can determine how a runner will perform on race day, some are not in our control, but the vast majority are. The good news is if we manage the things that are within our control, we have a great chance of making the starting gun in good physical condition.
The tips outlined below will help you avoid some of the common mistakes made when preparing for a marathon.
1. Marathon runners not tapering properly before the big race.
For a long run of 18 to 20 miles, it takes the average runner about four weeks to fully recover, meaning that no training runs of 18 miles or longer should be conducted during the four weeks leading up to a marathon.
During the four weeks before a marathon, discipline and the emphasis on recovery is key, not more prolonged running. Regrettably, many runners fail to do this, be it a confidence thing or foolishly feeling fitness will be lost.
The four weeks before a marathon is the time to be focusing on recovery by reducing each week’s total mileage. As a guide, aim for weekly running mileage of 80 percent, 60 percent, 40 percent, and then 25 percent of your usual levels. During this time aim to maintain your levels during high-intensity sessions.
2. How much training is right? Overtraining & Under-training…
This is a tough one and it really all depends on your current running experience and realistic targets.
If you are a new to running and targeting your first marathon aim for 45-miles a week running in total with one or two high-intensity sessions, remember quality training over quantity of miles. Based on ability and if you are attempting your first sub 3-hour marathon, target a weekly mileage total of 70-miles, with 2-speed sessions, and vary your speed work up every couple of weeks.
At the next level and again based on your realistic ability if you are aiming for a sub 2:45 and quicker marathon, you need to target 90-110 miles per week, encompassing a mixture of double training days and recovery runs. At this level, it can be a thin line between overtraining and just the right amount to hit peak performance on race day. Regardless of what level you currently are at, the most important thing to remember is quality training over quantity of weekly miles.
3. Starting Out Too Fast
All runners have done it. We are standing on the start line and just shoot off for the first mile, forgetting we have another 25.2 miles to go. Discipline is so important when running the marathon distance, and unless you are an elite marathon runner you should not be too concerned with the guy next to you, just have your own time, pace and splits in your head and stick to them. Ideally, you should be aiming to not go out too hard, preserve energy in the first half and run a faster split in the second part of the race.
Most experienced runners will tell you that the marathon isn’t a race until the final 6.2 miles. To get to this stage without lactic acid setting in and having enough energy in reserve to race toward the finish line, you need to relax and settle into your own rhythm for the first 20 miles.
4. Failing to use sports drinks correctly during the marathon
How you consume sports drinks during the marathon can be the difference between maintaining your performance evenly throughout the race and fatigue setting in too soon, resulting in a poor performance. If you are reaching for a sports drink when fatigue has already set in it’s too late.
The most important time to consume an isotonic sports drink is 10 minutes before the race, try drinking 200-300 ml at this stage. After this, 100ml should be drunk every three to five miles during the race.
5. Setting the right marathon goal time
When setting your goal time to complete the marathon in, you need to be realistic, and really ask yourself, how much training have I done? how have I performed in build-up 10k and half marathon races? It is not as simple as multiplying your 10k time or half marathon time and expecting to maintain that pace over the longer distance. A good rule of thumb is to double your half marathon time and add 10 minutes, this should be your goal time. Aim to maintain this pace to the 20-mile mark, and if you are feeling strong, kick on a bit and you might even surprise yourself and dip under the time.