The 8 Biggest Marathon Training Mistakes To Avoid


Are you making any of these 8 marathon training mistakes? If so, you might not reach the finish line in quite as good of shape as you could.

Marathon season is ramping up and chances are your head is swirling with advice from friends, books, magazines, and websites on how to be the world’s best marathoner. No doubt there’s a lot of good information out there, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all and be led astray.

I too have read hundreds of books and articles and studies about marathon training. I too have been led astray. But, I’ve also been running for over 30 years and have crossed the finish line of over 100 races, 13 of those being marathons and 4 of them ultras. Even with all those hours clocked in a pair of running shoes I’ve still made plenty of mistakes. To help you avoid the big ones, here are the top 8 marathon training mistakes broken down for you.

Mistake #1: Wearing Shoes That Look Great But Don’t Fit Right

Choose your race day shoes (and training day shoes for that matter) based on fit, not looks. Do everything in your power to resist the temptation of buying shoes that “look” cool. I know from personal experience. The first marathon I ever ran was the Pikes Peak Marathon in 1993. In that race, you start at 8000 feet above altitude and run 13 miles to the summit, which is over 14,000 feet. Then you turn around and run right back down the mountain. At the time, I chose a pair of trail shoes that looked cool. I was so sure about them I didn’t even have the running store size me up. I just pointed at the wall and said I want those in my size.

By the time I hit mile 10 on Pikes Peak, my heels had been rubbed raw. I got some relief after the halfway point when I began the descent. But it only lasted for a few miles because I started developing more blisters on the tips of my toes and the balls of my feet. I hobbled across the finish line, but suffice to say, I learned to buy shoes based on fit from then on. Try this online shoe fitting guide for starters. Even better, go to a local Road Runner Sports store for a free, personal fitting.

Mistake #2: Training On Different Terrain Than Your Race Course

Know your race course. Study the course map to figure out if your race will be run on pavement, dirt, flat ground, steep uphills, burly downhills, or a mix of all of the above. Different muscles are used for different terrains. You don’t want to only train on flat ground if your race is going to be hilly. The opposite is true, too. You don’t want to only train on hills if your race is going to be flat. Therefore, if your marathon is going to be on pavement, run pavement. If it’s going to be flat, train on flat terrain. If it’s hilly trail, run hilly trails. Now, you don’t need to ONLY stick to terrain that’s similar to your race course – it’s a good idea to vary up your training a little – but you’ll be much better prepared if a majority of your training matches what you’ll run on race day.

Mistake #3: Only Running

According to University of Colorado Sports Medicine research, you can swap out up to 20% of your weekly running mileage with other activities like cycling, hiking, swimming, and strength training. That last one is critical. Doing weekly strength training exercises targeting feet, calves, quads, and core muscles greatly reduces your risk of injury and help you get the most out of your running days. The old adage that you have to run long miles to race long miles simply isn’t true. You need to mix it up. Check out these 6 Game-Changing Strength Exercises you need to incorporate into your training immediately.

Mistake #4: Waiting To Race Until Race Day

Marathons are all about baby steps. You’ve got to build up your distances slowly. Sometimes, you build so slowly that you’re not sure you’re really making any progress. That’s why, about a month before your big marathon, it’s a great idea to test yourself by racing a half marathon. Running a half marathon race does three things:

  • First, it gives you an assessment of your fitness level, speed and endurance. You’ll know what you have to work on (if anything!) in the final few weeks of training based on your performance.
  • Second, it shakes out some of the jitters you might have anticipating the excitement of your marathon race day.
  • Third, it will give you a huge boost of confidence to help you finish your training strong.

Mistake #5: Setting Only One Race Day Goal

Having two marathon finishing times in mind is like having a parachute on race day. You want to put all your energy and focus on reaching your fastest goal based on how well your training has gone. But, there are a million variables on race day – everything from heat, cold, rain, snow, parking problems, porta-potty blues, and so on-so, it’s a good idea to have a back-up goal that’ll keep you going on a tough day. It could be as simple as telling yourself you won’t stop, or slowing your pace no more than a minute per mile.

Mistake #6: Trying Something New Close To Race Day

By the time you hit the 10 or 12-week point of your training program, you probably feel like a pro. You also might be feeling a little bored with your routine because of all the miles you’ve logged in. From this point until race day, you need to fight the urge to try anything new. Don’t try any new exercises, don’t wear a new pair of shoes, and don’t do any new stretches. Do your best to ignore your best friend’s workout advice, Dr. Oz’s diet advice, or even the latest training advice from Kara Goucher. Just stick to your plan and know that you can try a couple new training ideas AFTER race day. It’ll give you something to look forward to after the finish line. And on that note…

Mistake #7: Stopping At The Finish Line

You’ve worked so hard for months to reach this very defined place in time and now that you’ve made it, it’s easy to simply stop everything. To be sure, you should take the time to congratulate yourself, maybe even take a day off from running. But, it is really important to have a plan for recovery in place. Any plan for recovery should include 2-3 weeks of foam rolling your sore muscles, eating right and staying hydrated, icing any areas that are particularly sore, and working in a few easy 2-3 mile runs to loosen up your body. Finally, comes the really fun part: deciding what your next race will be!

Mistake #8: Taking Other People’s Advice

The 8th and final piece mistake is taking other people’s advice. What I really mean here, is that there comes a point when you need to start listening to the advice your body gives you every day, every run, every workout. Sure, there’s always new information out there that can be a valuable addition to your training, but your brain and your body are already the source of a wealth of information. Every person is a little different and needs a slightly different plan. That makes you something of an expert and that’s no mistake.


Author bio: Steve Lemig is an ultrarunner and loves spending lots and lots of time outdoors with his family. With 30+ years of running under his belt, he’s completed over 100 races including 4 ultra events, 13 marathons, dozens of half-marathons, and a boatload of 5Ks and 10Ks. Steve is an 11-year veteran of Road Runner Sports and is the Managing Copy Editor. Read more about his adventures at, and find him on Instagram.

2 thoughts on “The 8 Biggest Marathon Training Mistakes To Avoid

  1. Izamary says:

    Some advice please. After my long 21 mile run 3 weeks before marathon date. My knee became very swollen. I had to skip 8 days off. I have gone to the doctor and tried alternative remedies. My question is how much is 8 days off going to affect my performance. That is if I am abel to get to the start line.

  2. Kathy says:

    Help, I’m running the Silo marathon may 6 ,am an intermediate runner and need a training schedule I can manage by then. Last Saturday I did 16, am I on track?
    Thanks for your help!
    Kathy Moerland

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