How to Avoid Common Mistakes in Your First Marathon

Mistakes I Made in My First Marathon (And How You Can Avoid Them)

As I run headfirst into my second cycle of marathon training, I reflected upon the mistakes I made in my first marathon to find areas of improvement. I’m not one to dwell on mistakes, but rather learn from them and move forward. After all, I firmly believe that bad races make me a better runnerI made these mistakes in my marathon, learned from them, and implemented those lessons in my marathon training plans. In this post, I’m sharing the mistakes I made so you can avoid them in your first or next marathon! 

Mistakes I Made in My First Marathon (And How You Can Avoid Them)

3 Mistakes I Made in My First Marathon (And How You Can Avoid Them):

1. Following a cookie cutter plan.

Many runners thrive on the Hansons Marathon Method. For me, as I’ve said numerous times, it was not the best plan. I don’t handle that much intensity or fatigue that well, and I need the time-on-your-feet benefits of long runs. Cookie cutter plans may work, but they do not provide the best training plan for your life, schedule, current fitness, goals, and abilities. 

I don’t believe in cookie cutter training plans; each runner is unique in how they train best, what their running-specific areas of strength and weakness are, their schedule, their desire to balance running with other hobbies, and so on. The marathon training group offers three levels of training plans, each of which is customized to YOUR individual needs, goals, and wants. 

2. Not focusing enough on fueling and hydration.

Mastering my fueling and hydration became one of my running goals for 2016 because of how mediocre my fueling and hydration was for the Portland Marathon. I ate just a small bowl of dry Chex cereal and a banana before the race!

After improving my fueling and hydration during half marathon training contributed to a 5 minute PR, I know just how important fueling is for successful training and a strong and fast race. I have tirelessly researched and practiced fueling and hydration in my training in order to help you learn how to master your fueling and hydration as well. 

You may be able to race a half marathon without a pre-race breakfast or any fuel during, but the marathon is a completely different beast. Since all but the fastest elite runners will deplete the stored glycogen well before the finish line, you need to have a smart fueling and hydration plan in place in order to run the race well and, more importantly, enjoy it. Don’t let poor fueling derail your marathon! Instead, the marathon training group will guide you in developing your own fueling and hydration plan and implementing it from the first week of training through race day. 

3. Focusing too much on time goals and pace.

Readers may remember my goal to BQ during my first marathon. While theoretically a 3:35 was not out of reach based on my recent race times, I was a novice at the marathon and needed to focus on completing the distance before setting any ambitious time goals. Since I was following Hansons, which bases all of the workouts off of goal time, I ran by pace, pace, pace – never by effort. The marathon became intertwined with pace, rather than the appropriate effort or enjoying the training or the race.

The marathon training group will guide you through smart goal setting, help you build confidence in your ability to run the marathon, and provide you with mental tools to adapt and adjust for whatever life, training, or the race may throw your way. In short, the goal of the marathon training group is to prepare you for an enjoyable and strong marathon – a marathon of which you will be proud of your finish time and of your overall race experience.

While I made numerous mistakes in my first marathon, I did a few things correctly in training for my first marathon:

Things I Did Right in My First Marathon

1. Finding a supportive community.

I started training for my first marathon just a few short weeks after Ryan and I moved 2000 miles across the country from Indiana to Seattle. We knew no one in the area, but thankfully blogging provided me with a community of other runners, many of whom had completed multiple marathoners before and graciously provided motivation, advice, and support.

No matter where you live, the marathon training group will provide you with support from a community of runners, including a certified running coach. Had a bad run? The whole community will be there to encourage you and help you figure out what may have gone wrong. Proud of your farthest or fastest run yet? Share it so we can cheer you on!

Several obstacles and questions will arise during marathon training, and the community of the marathon training group will provide you with answers, support, and the knowledge that other runners are experiencing the same ups and downs as you are.

2. Learning everything I could about the marathon.

While nothing replaces first-hand experience, the more you know about the marathon, the less unexpected variables you will encounter in training and on race day. Some readers may recall my Marathon Monday series, which delved into various aspects of marathon training as I was learning and experiencing them firsthand.

I’m here to save you all of the hard work and research! The marathon training group offers monthly webinars and weekly in-depth email lessons to cover all aspects of marathon training. By the time your race day rolls around, you will feel both mentally and physically prepared to tackle the challenge of running 26.2 miles. Building confidence for race day is essential for enjoying the marathon and achieving your goals. Whether you are training for your first or 26th marathon, the more you understand your training plan and the race, the more you will trust your training and feel confident about your race.

Are you training for your first or next marathon? Learn more about my coaching services here! If you have any questions, please email me at [email protected]. Thank you!

Linking up with Coaches’ Corner! 

What mistakes did you make in your first marathon or half marathon?
What topics regarding marathon training are you interested in learning about?

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41 Responses

  1. I also ran into problems when I followed Hansons and other training plans that I found online. I think it takes some practice to figure out what works for you (although having a coach can definitely help with that!) I am probably not running a fall marathon (but who knows…last year I didn’t decide on my November marathon until the end of July!) but this sounds like a great program!

    1. Thank you! You’re very right that it does take quite a bit of practice to figure it out – and I think that’s one of the things that draws us to run them over and over again, to try and improve and fix the mistakes made the last time. Whether you run a marathon or not, I’m excited to see what races you’ll train for this year!

  2. Great tips! I made the mistake of following a cookie cutter plan for my first marathon that told me I could easily BQ based on my other race distances. Ha!!! By mile 15 I was doubled over with stomach pains and nausea even though I thought I had a solid nutrition plan that I practiced many times beforehand. Anything can happen on race day!

    1. Thank you! Did we run the same first marathon? That’s like what happened to me! Anything can happen on race day – which is why not just training and preparation are important, but going into the race with the ability to adjust goals and nutrition.

  3. I made every mistake possible during my first marathon..not training properly, not focusing on long runs, not thinking about fueling, not having a plan, training while I was in my final semester of college…it was a mess!

    1. Oh my goodness I can’t imagine training for a marathon during the last semester of college! Running is a fantastic stress relief, but I bet it was hard to balance all of those miles with school and job interviews – but you did! 🙂

  4. My first marathon feels like a lifetime ago! I did well and had a good race and I was really proud of myself so it’s hard to say I could have done anything differently. The only thing that sticks out is that I did pretty much all of my runs at a moderate pace. I did a lot of my runs at a sub-9:00 pace – that’s faster than my real easy pace NOW! It all worked out in the end and it was only my first marathon, so, I don’t consider it a huge deal now as I’ve obviously graduated from that training philosophy.

    I’m also a big advocate of not having time goals for first marathons. To each their own, and I certainly get the temptation, but I see so many runners get caught up in time goals and get distracted from what they should really be focusing on: the fact that they’re about to run a distance they’ve never conquered before and will place completely new demands on the body, and all the preparation that goes with that fact alone. I had dreams of a sub-4 for my first, but they were just that: dreams. I crossed the finish line in 4:01:59 and I was still really happy with myself. There are always other races to shoot for time goals.

    I bet your training group will be an amazing resource to the marathoners who take advantage of it this fall. Good luck!

    1. Thank you! Doing every run at a moderate pace is a mistake I think most runners make at some point or another. I do think it is a good idea to have an idea of marathon pace based on training so you don’t go out too fast and hit the wall but I do agree that time goals are tricky when going into a new distance.

  5. Oh my gosh I made so many mistakes when I was training for my first half marathon–I followed a cookie cutter plan, made mistakes with footwear, overtrained, didn’t pay attention to fueling or hydration, etc. But like you said, the important thing is I learned from that and have made improvements each half marathon after that. I’m so excited to be working with you and that I have my own personal plan that suits my needs!

    1. Overtraining is so easy, regardless of whether it’s a first race or not. There’s a perpetual balance of running, goals, life stress, and nutrition to keep training challenging without overtraining. I think I overtrained a bit for my first marathon as well – my legs did not feel fresh and rested on race day and the whole training cycle was a bit too high of a jump in mileage for me. I’m so excited for you and so happy to be working with you!

  6. I scoured message boards and asked people all sorts of questions to have the best first half I could. All I wanted to do was finish, and it was the most fun race I had. My biggest mistake after that was not doing enough strength training, which set me back for a couple years.

    1. Message boards can be both a benefit and a detriment. There are some excellent ones out there, and it sounds like you found those! Some message boards do offer questionable information and bad advice, so it does take careful judgment and a lot of sorting through.

  7. I trained for my first marathon when I was 19, and I had no idea what I was doing. I’d add a mile or two each week until I ended up running 26 miles the week before the actual marathon. Ha ha ha! DUMB. And I was still playing varsity soccer and I played in a huge game on the Saturday, the day before the race.

    1. 19? Look at you go, girl! That is a huge accomplishment at that age. I think my legs would fall straight off playing soccer period, much less soccer before a marathon!

  8. This is all too perfect for me right now as I’ll start training for my first marathon in Portland soon! How did you like running that course?? I’ve heard it’s a great one for your first marathon, but would love to get your insight on it!! 🙂

    1. You should definitely consider signing up then 🙂 Portland is a great first race because of the general crowd support, but there are a few areas of no spectators which can get a bit lonely, so you need to be mentally prepared. The St. John’s Bridge is a climb but not as awful as it sounds. It’s a good flat course and the only place that beats the views of Portland is Seattle 🙂

  9. There is just so much great information here Laura! I couldn’t agree more with you about a fueling and hydration plan. After ALL the races I have done, I still don’t feel like I have it completely right, and maybe I never will. Triathlon is such a different animal so I feel like I can fuel better and have less issues since I’m only pounding my GI during the last segment 🙂 Great stuff and anyone who is privy to (and follows) your expertise will absolutely have a great marathon!!!

    1. Thank you Allie! I do feel like marathon fueling is so dependent on the course, the weather, etc that I don’t know if any runner can ever get it completely right, but there certainly are huge improvements that we all do make 🙂 I never thought about that with tris but it makes sense!

  10. Great information! My first 4 marathons were a challenge due to exercise induced asthma and terrible stomach/nausea that it took me a while to figure out. My husband was my coach and we trained together, so the training itself was fine.

    1. Asthma and nausea are a rough combo! You’re so strong to power through those, many runners would probably quit rather than figure it out. That’s awesome that you got to train with your husband!

  11. I’ve heard great things about Hanson but I’ve never done any of their plans. Also, cookie cutter plans are a NO GO! Thanks for linking up 🙂

    1. Thank you! Good luck on training for your first half, and please do contact me if you have any questions/need a coach! 🙂 I love the half marathon distance, it is so fun and rewarding!

  12. Love reading about these tips since I am running my first full exactly one month from today! I too have my eyes on that BQ since I have ran my two half marathons in pretty quick times, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself and not enjoy the race. There will always be future marathons down the road if I don’t qualify this time!

    1. Thank you! That’s smart of you to not put pressure on yourself. I truly believe that having big goals and putting in the hard work, but not putting pressure to achieve them at any given race, is the key to success and enjoyment in running. There always are future marathons – and better to enjoy the marathon and finish injury-free to enjoy them!

  13. I am so happy I found your blog! I’m training for my first marathon right now and am totally just making things up as I go and listening to my body. It makes me feel so good to hear that you don’t need some cookie cutter plan to do well.

    1. Thank you! How exciting about your first marathon! Which one are your running? I find for most runners it is good to have a plan, but that plan is best individualized and adapted to their strengths, schedules, wants, and needs!

  14. I couldn’t agree more on the cookie cutter plans! You have to tweak, flex it, and pay attention to your body! I made more mistakes training for my second marathon than my first because I felt like I was a more accomplished runner. Back to basics for #3!

    1. Yes! The tweaking is so important – lots of things can come up in 16-20 weeks, in terms of schedule and how the body responds to training. And back to basics is always a good approach in running – much better than doing too much, which is an easy mistake for all runners to make!

  15. Hi Laura! I love reading all your posts! I’m doing my first full marathon on 11/4, and I’m so excited! I did my first Ironman 70.3 in July and want to use a lot of the lessons learned from that to prepare for the marathon. I love your advice and agree that cookie cutter plans should definitely be adapted for each individual. As a triathlete who is now training for a marathon as my “B” race for the year (Ironman 70.3 was my “A” race), adding cross training into a marathon plan is crucial. “Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition” is my coach’s favorite saying – can’t slack on the nutrition! I’ve had races where I didn’t do well on nutrition (first half marathon) and races where I nailed my nutrition plan (Ironman 70.3), and it makes so much of a difference! Accounting for race day conditions also makes a difference since your nutrition plan can change drastically for a very hot, humid day versus a cool, dry fall day. Thanks for your posts and all your advice!

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