Six Common Marathon Mistakes

For those with either a penchant for exercise or a will to support charities – whether keen amateur athletes or just out for some fun – a heads-up on the mistakes that some make can be the difference between success and failure or even injury.

As a sports therapist and marathon runner, I have identified six key errors that have come my way during the 25 years that I has been involved in the UK fitness industry. I have also participated in three Marathons, London (twice) and New York. 


Most runners preparing for a marathon tend to run their final big run of 20-22 miles two or three weeks prior to the event, often at race pace. The problem is that leg muscles do not have time to recover and on race day, the runner is performing at less than their peak. The schedule should provide for a gradual increase of long runs on alternate weeks leading up to the final month. The long runs should be followed by an easy run, at the beginning of the training week. The programme should culminate in a 20-22 mile run at about four weeks out from the event and then only running half that distance at race pace. So, for example, those preparing for the Flora London Marathon in late April should have completed their last big run by around the end of March, and thereafter only doing short, good quality runs, leaving a complete week of rest immediately prior to the race.


Newcomers to distance running tend do each run in their schedule at the same pace. It is proven that if you incorporate running at a faster than marathon pace, you will improve your time in the race. However, don’t only include a single higher speed session per week but at least two and vary the distances run at the faster pace, ensuring that you include at least one hill run per week. 


The inexperienced runner must realise that training isn’t only running. Strengthening exercises especially for the legs is paramount but don’t forget the rest of your body –upper body strength is just as important as your legs, providing momentum and balance and core strength gives the power required to complete the race. Check out your local gym for Body Pump™ or circuit training classes.


People get bored with their training programme and often over-train with too much high-impact running. To add variety to your schedule, incorporate a cross-training programme, comprising swimming, cycling –including Spinning classes, Step classes, the elliptical trainer and rowing machines as an alternative to the easy runs. Such low-impact activity will reduce the risk of injury.


Nutrition and psychology also have their parts to play, contributing 50% of the preparation effort for a marathon. Novices will often avoid taking on extra carbohydrates in the fear of gaining weight and forget to drink enough and so become dehydrated. Similarly, the runner will approach this event without a formal plan of goals and measurement of achievement; some may also find difficulty in maintaining concentration, an important aspect of both training and success on race day. Establish as soon as possible a high carbohydrate/low glycaemic diet incorporating potatoes, pasta, brown rice and grains alongside protein, fruit and vegetables. Establishing this diet early on will train the body to accept and efficiently use the fuel being provided. Supplement the diet with fish oils (omega 3 and 6) for general well being and joint lubrication, ginseng and spirulina for energy and co-enzyme Q10 for energy conversion. Start carrying water and sports drinks – on all your runs right from the start of your training programme and take them as needed. This will not only ensure you don’t become dehydrated but will prepare you for the regular drinks availability during the race and the coordination of running and drinking.


Rather than seeing a therapist when they encounter aches and pains, many beginners tend only to consider professional treatment if they have an injury when the damage is already done and it can be too late for rehabilitation to be effective in time for the race. Sports and remedial massage – sometimes also referred to as deep tissue massage – delivered by a qualified sports therapist is effective in relieving most recurring aches and pains before they develop into more serious injuries. It will help prepare the body for athletic activity and help athletes recover from hard training and maintain optimal condition. Regular treatments in line with your training programme will allow you to train to your maximum ability, recover optimally and ensure that you perform at your best.

Whether you are participating in a running marathon, a cycle event, a walk or even a fun run the principles still apply. Undertaking these events without proper preparation and training is a recipe for disappointment on the day and often longer lasting injury.