Marathon masterclass: Mistakes you need to avoid

5 common marathon training mistakes

Kicking back with a relaxed approach to your training as your marathon seems a million miles away? Big mistake. We all know how quickly race day rolls around and with that in mind, I thought I’d give you some tips on how to kick start your marathon training and avoid some of the biggest marathon mistakes.

You don't build a base

In order to maximise your chance of success and to minimise the risk of injury, you need to start marathon training with a reasonable base level of fitness. Put it this way, if you’re building a house, you need to start with solid foundations. If you’re planning on running a spring marathon, try if possible, to start banking some miles in December (although this can be tough during the festive period). You certainly don’t need to be doing any spectacular workouts or long runs this far out from a spring marathon, but some good steady running and maybe some hills to add endurance and leg strength, will help you to build a good base of fitness, ready to tackle the miles ahead.

You don't learn how to burn fat

This is one of the biggest marathon mistakes runners make. Part of the art of marathon running is to teach your body to become more efficient at burning fat for fuel. This enables you to spare glycogen so that you are less likely to ‘bonk’ or ‘hit the wall’ during the second half of the race. There are several ways that you can rev up your fat burning engine;

  • Longer, slower runs will help to promote fat burning as your body relies more heavily on fat for energy during long duration, low intensity exercise.
  • Try some pre-breakfast runs. Your glycogen stores are slightly depleted first thing in the morning as your body uses glycogen even when you sleep. Try doing some of your runs before breakfast, because when in a fasted state, your body will again turn to fat for fuel. If you are not used to doing this then start with short, easy runs because otherwise you may struggle. Personally I run pre-breakfast for a lot of my easy and mid-length long runs. If I’m doing a harder workout however, I will eat breakfast first.
  • Eat fat to burn fat. Your body is more likely to burn fat if you have some fatty acids in your bloodstream. Eating a small amount of fat pre-run will help to kick start your fat burning metabolism. This could be peanut butter on toast or maybe some nuts and seeds. But I really wouldn’t recommend a Krispy Kreme, unless you want to see it again!

You don't inch up the long runs

Many people fall into the trap of starting marathon training like a bull in a china shop and try to run too far too soon. You should gradually aim to increase the distance and speed of your long run over the course of a marathon build up. Try adding 10 minutes a week and then reduce the distance every fourth week. Remember, every long run that you do doesn’t necessarily have to be longer and faster than the week before! Significant jumps in distance and speed can be physiologically and psychologically hard to deal with and often result in illness or injury.

You forget speed work

It’s easy to get hooked up on running long when training for a marathon. There’s no doubt that longer runs and sustained efforts are really important aspects of marathon training. But you shouldn’t neglect some slightly speedier work at your 5k and 10k pace. Including some work at this pace will tap into a different energy system and will make running at marathon pace feel that little bit easier. You can also include some ‘strides’ once or twice a week after an easy run in order to maintain some leg cadence during those marathon miles. Try 6 x 75-150m with a walk back recovery. You should be running at close to your maximum speed without actually sprinting.

You don't practise fuelling

If you’re doing long runs you need to take some fluid on board. Even on cold days it’s amazing how much water you lose through sweat. Even mild dehydration can significantly impair your performance and makes you more vulnerable to cramping in the later stages of the race. Start practising your fuelling strategies early; whatever you use-sports drink, gels and Jelly Babies, practise beforehand in training, to make sure that your fuel of choice doesn’t cause you any gastric distress. Don’t leave it to chance on race day!

So, there’s my marathon master class. I hope that’s given you some ideas to think about.Happy training! 

Editorial credit: PhotoStock10 /

Written by Louise Damen

Louise is a two-time England Cross Country Champion and a former European XC Trials winner. She has also represented GB at various international events and her marathon PB is 2:30:00.

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