After running and racing for almost 20 years, I believe I have made every possible mistake when it comes to training for a half or full marathon. Even though some of these mistakes seem obvious in hindsight, when you are training hard to achieve a big goal, sometimes you lose perspective and make questionable decisions. So, do as I say and not as I have done if you want to experience the best possible result on race day.
1. Avoid Overtraining
Chose a plan that works for you and stick to it. Social media has a lot of positive and motivating influences, but not when it comes to training for 13.1 or 26.2 miles. Don’t fall into the trap of seeing what another runner is doing for mileage and think you should be doing the same. Have faith in your plan and work it each week, the way it was laid out, so you can avoid injury. Making it to the start line is the first goal.
Every runner is different and you will not know how much mileage is manageable for you until you start building toward your race distance goal. Listen to your body and know yourself well enough to realize when you’re doing too much. One runner can achieve a PR (personal record) in the marathon with an 18 mile long run and 50 to 60 mile weeks while another can handle a 22 mile long run and 70 to 90 mile weeks. Both options are very effective and work for that specific runner. Do some experimenting to figure out where your high mileage threshold is and then stick to it.
Common signs of overtraining include exhaustion, losing control of your emotions, injury, slowed paces, and not being able to elevate your heart rate. If you experience any of these for more than three days, take up to three days off. You will be surprised how good you feel when you return to running well rested.
2. Test Your Clothing and Running Shoes
If you have never before run the half or full marathon distance, it is important to know when to buy new shoes. Most guidelines report 400 to 500 miles as the threshold for wear and tear but some runners need to update more often. Be sure you have the correct pair of running shoes for your feet and form, preferably by having a gait analysis done, and then replace as necessary leading up to race day. Most specialty running stores offer complimentary running analysis and then can recommend the correct shoes for your body.
What you wear above your feet can sometimes make or break your race. Marathoners, and some half marathoners, need to worry about chafing. Select an outfit that you will be able to wear on race day (checking the weather ahead of time) and wear it at least once on a long training run. You want to be sure it’s comfortable and, if there are any chafe points, you can generously apply glide prior to the race start. Once you select an outfit that works for you, make sure you wear it on race day or you may have a very uncomfortable shower afterward.
3. Make Your Easy Days Easy
One of the hardest lessons I learned was making my easy days truly easy. Did you know that some elite runners run up to 80 percent of their training runs at an easy pace? It takes a lot of courage to run slow. Be confident enough in your training to run easy and slowly when your training plan calls for it. Your body and mind need the break from going hard and, when you run easy and allow for active recovery, you can run your hard and long runs much more efficiently, while increasing your training base. Gradually, those easy run paces will increase so you can run faster with less effort.
4. Proper Pacing
We have all been guilty of stepping to the start line and going out too fast, thinking we can somehow hold a pace we never have in our training. Grandiose dreams of unreachable PRs can cultivate in the early miles of a long race and turn into nightmares mid-race or sooner. You train at a certain race pace and tempo pace for a reason. You should know (and your body should know) exactly what pace you want to run on race day. It should be practiced in training and then executed on race day. Pace calculators can help you determine what is a realistic pace and time for you.
5. Nutrition and Hydration
Test out your hydration and fuel plan early and often in your racing preparation. Choose several long runs on your calendar and hydrate and eat the night before and during the run as you plan to on race day. The last thing you want is stomach issues or dehydration on your big day.
If you practice your race day eating and drinking during your training runs, your body and mind will be used to ingesting the specific food, gels and drinks you give it. Once you find food and beverages that work for you, use them throughout your training and do not deviate from the plan on race day. You may be tempted at the expo or at the race itself to try something new, but remember the golden rule- nothing new on race day!
A half or full marathon is a major committment in your time and effort. Make sure you avoid these five mistakes to arrive at the start line ready to achieve your goals.