6 common mistakes to avoid when training for a marathon

The hardest part of running a marathon is getting yourself to that start line well prepared and injury-free. Follow our tips to ensure you’re training smart rather than just pounding away and hoping for the best.

6 common mistakes to avoid when training for a marathon

1. Overtraining or under-training

In the run up to your first marathon, it’s important to know what your body can cope with. You should be aiming for a race time that’s achievable for you, and following a training programme that’s suited to your base fitness level and ability.

If you're training too hard, you are very likely to pick up an injury or just burn out; feeling sluggish and sore whenever you run. Train too little and come race day you'll be standing at the start line wondering if you can make it round.

Follow a good quality training plan for best results and don't be tempted to cut corners or push yourself harder than the plan advises. 

If you're not sure where to start, try our marathon training plans.

2. Opting for high mileage over quality training

Unless you have an ultra marathon in sight, smashing out 70 miles a week is not a recipe for marathon-running success. Most runners will perform better running 35 miles per week as it allows them to concentrate on higher quality training. Higher mileage often leads to injury, and probably means you’re not resting enough to allow your muscles to repair. Stick to your training plan and always opt for quality over quantity.

3. Not practising your race day fuelling

Experimenting on race day is a recipe for disaster. Most runners know this, and yet often we don’t allow ourselves the chance to practise with the gels or sports drinks we intend to use, just grabbing the sports drink provided on the day by the race organisers and hoping for the best.

Make time to experiment with running fuel before the big day to ensure your race goes smoothly. Likewise, your race day breakfast should be a tried and tested formula. Make sure you test out the same breakfast at the same time before your long runs in training.

4. Not respecting the long run

The long run is one of the most important aspects of marathon training, so ensure you’re getting the most out of it. These longer sessions help increase your muscular efficiency and aerobic endurance.

On long runs, you should be aiming to run around 45-60 seconds per mile slower than race pace. However, it’s a good idea to include sections of training at goal marathon pace, to give yourself an idea of what it feels like.

Treat your later long runs like a race: carb load and rest the day before if you can, and practise fuelling during the long run. If you head out for a long run with tired legs and skip breakfast, you won’t be getting the most out of this crucial part of your training.

5. Not resting enough

Fitness gains are actually made while resting, as the body recovers from effort. It’s vital to allow your body enough time to recover from hard training sessions and long runs. It’s equally important to be able to run slowly - but it’s not always easy to train yourself to master the art of running slowly.

If you pick up an injury or feel niggling problems coming on, deal with this as soon as you can. See a physio, and ensure you rest for the required amount of time. Otherwise the injury is likely to get worse and you won’t make it to that start line. If you're concerned you might be injured try our running injury index and then seek professional advice.

6. Not tapering properly

However tempting it may be to squeeze in one last long run, don’t do it! It takes the body a long time to recover from a 20 mile run so make sure you’ve done your last long run at least three weeks before race day. This period of rest known as tapering is crucial: it allows your body to recover from the stress and fatigue that comes with hard training.

Running The London Marathon? Try our panic-free guide to race day!

Good luck! 

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