No matter how you slice it, committing to and running your first marathon is a major accomplishment. For both beginner runners and veterans alike, the 26.2-mile race can be life-changing. But leading up to the big day, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration to run your best. Steer clear of self-sabotage and avoid making these all-too-common marathoner mistakes:
You’ve made it to race day. This is a big moment: You’re about to finally do the thing you’ve been preparing for. Don’t make the mistake of adding something new into your routine now — from the clothes you wear to the nutrition you consume along the course. “No new shoes, no new socks, no new gels, no new drinks, nothing,” says Todd Pollock, a certified endurance coach. “At marathon pack pickups, there are usually vendors selling things that make you believe you will run your best first marathon ever. Just walk by and do what you have been doing and wearing for all of your marathon training.”
Strength training is vital for marathoners and often underappreciated by beginners. Research shows adding it into your routine can help stave off injury and make for speedier times. “Stronger muscles lead to faster running,” says Alina Kennedy, certified strength and conditioning specialist, physiotherapist and founder of Sprint Rehab. “I recommend that runners do at least two, 30-minute strength workouts every week.”
For these workouts, focus mostly on the posterior (muscles in the back of the body). This Guide to Strength Training is a good place to get started.
It’s tempting to travel to another state or even country for your first marathon, but that brings with it so many more factors that may impede performance on marathon day. “From travel fatigue — whether it’s sitting in a car or plane — to not having the food you usually eat, first-time marathons should be one close to home, so you can sleep in your own bed, eat your own food and not worry about added stress,” says Pollock.
If this is your first marathon, you’re probably not super familiar with needing nutrition for your runs. Unlike 5- and 10K races, it’s essential to reach for nutrition when you’re striding for longer periods of time. “Aim to reach for some form of nutrition during exercise for any run over 75 minutes in length, be it energy gels, trail mix or something else,” suggests Thomas Watson, UESCA-certified running coach, ultrarunner and founder of Marathon Handbook. “When it comes to marathon day, runners should have already tested their nutrition plan and fueling strategy so they know what works for them.”
If you think race day is all physical, think again. “A lot of mental training — like visualization — needs to be happening in order to create a mind/body connection,” says Jonathan Poston, certified Level II USATF endurance coach. “Acknowledging and cultivating that connection helps athletes really listen to their bodies.”
Poston suggests asking yourself questions like “how does my body feel?” and really listening. Visualization can also help you get through tough parts of marathon courses, and push forward when the distance remaining to the finish line feels daunting.
First-time marathoners will experience varied physical (and emotional) stress after crossing that finish line. You may think 3–4 days after the race, your body is recovered and you can start back into your usual exercise antics. Think again, says Pollock. “There are varied rules out there [about] how much time to take off and recover, but everyone is different. Keep the recovery simple. Hydrate, sleep and move (that doesn’t mean run right away).”
Pollack recommends slowly integrating regular movement into your routine post-race. “Go for walks, drink water and keep getting eight hours of sleep for a solid week at least,” he says.