Although you really never know just what is going to happen during those 26.2 miles, there are ways to prevent your next marathon from going downhill fast. Here are six major mistakes to avoid before and during your race.
Marathon Mistake No. 1: Overtraining
No doubt you've got to put in the mileage to prep for a marathon. But when it comes to training, there can be too much of a good thing. Just ask Carl Ewald, a coach and the race director of the ODDyssey Half Marathon in Philadelphia. "I cannot tell you how how much of a battle it can be to keep a runner's expectations and enthusiasm in line," he says. "I've coached one runner who is really gifted, but has never been able to finish a marathon. He was running seven days a week and doubling the mileage on the training plan some days. Two years in a row he ended up injured and missed every race he trained for."
This year? Ewald says the runner is sticking to the training plan and has already shown major progress with this first-half marathon. "You need to stay honest with your plan," Ewald stresses. "Otherwise, you're just setting yourself up for disaster."
Kelly Leighton, a two-time marathoner from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, experienced this first-hand, except her misstep came in training too fast. "I did all of my runs at race pace, thinking, 'If I practice running this fast, I'll be fine for the marathon,'" she says. "I ended up with a pelvic stress fracture and couldn't run the race." Her lesson? Incorporate easy runs into your training. Once Leighton significantly slowed down some of her runs in preparation for another marathon, she not only crossed the finish line, but nabbed a 3:37 PR, too.
Marathon Mistake No. 2: Ignoring Injuries
Sure, all of that pounding is going to lead to a muscle tweak or two. But if you're experiencing any persistent pain while you're training, it's key to get checked out right away. While gunning for a Boston Qualifier time in a marathon last spring, Leighton developed severe pain in her hip. "Like a complete and total moron, I struggled through a 20-miler, and when I finished, I could barely walk," she says. Her diagnosis? Yet another stress fracture, which her doctor attributed to a hip misalignment. A four-month layoff kept her out of two planned races, and hammered home the reality of running injuries.
And while you're racing? Don't stress about slowing down the pace or even make a pit stop in the medic tent to tend to any minor aches and pains, like blisters or cramps—you're better off dealing with them mid-race then trying to tough it out to the finish line. Says Rebekah Mayer, the national training program manager for Life Time Run in Eden Prairie, Minnesota: "Remember, just finishing 26.2 is a huge accomplishment, even if you have to adjust your goal time."