Running a Marathon For Dummies
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To guide you in your endeavor to run a successful marathon, here are ten of the most common training errors that runners make. Avoid all these errors and not only will you drastically reduce your chance of getting an injury but you also may cross the finish line of the marathon feeling like you want to do it all over again (no, that never happens).


Avoiding a plan

Whether you’re preparing for your first marathon or trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, how you train has a dramatic effect on your performance. Although running just to run may make you fitter, training gives you the plan for success. Running versus training is like the difference between building a house by placing bricks here and there and having a blueprint laid out beforehand.

For a lot of things in life, you can just wing it. Running a marathon isn’t one of them. You need to plan for it.

Doing too much too soon

Whether it’s making a big jump in weekly mileage, lengthening long runs too quickly, or adding too much intensity with interval workouts, nearly all runners are guilty at some point of adding stress too quickly for the body to adapt (especially as they get older and wrongfully think they can handle the same amount or intensity of work that they used to do). And what happens when you do that?

You guessed it — you get hurt. A muscle gets strained, a tendon gets inflamed, or a bone develops a hairline crack. In fact, doing too much too soon is the main reason runners get injured.

Doing workouts too fast or too slow

Runners often do workouts too fast or too slow, which precludes them from maximizing their effort and time and obtaining the desired result. The problem is that they don’t know what the desired result is. To determine the correct speed, you must know the purpose of each workout. For example, running too fast on your easy days adds unnecessary stress to your legs without any extra benefit.

Because many of the physiological adaptations associated with aerobic training — like increases in muscle mitochondria and capillaries and an improvement in running economy — depend on the volume of running you do each week rather than on the intensity of running, the speed of your easy runs isn’t as important as the amount of time you spend running.

Running faster isn’t always better. You want to obtain the greatest benefit while incurring the least amount of stress, so run as slow as you can while still achieving the desired result.

On the other hand, if you run too slow, you’ll just become a slow runner and never learn how to run at a faster pace. Interval workouts are supposed to be hard; easy runs are supposed to be easy. Running at specific paces for your easy runs, long runs, tempo runs, and intervals enables you to specifically target the physiological factors that influence marathon performance.

Neglecting long tempo runs

Long tempo runs (and their sister workout, marathon pace runs) are among the most important workouts of your marathon preparation. Too many runners, especially beginners training for their first marathon, focus too much on just the long run.

If nothing else, complementing your long run each week with a long tempo run at a little slower than your tempo pace or at marathon race pace goes a long way (pun intended) toward preparing you for the marathon, both physically and mentally. Don’t neglect the power of the long tempo, which trains you for sustained, faster-paced aerobic running and hardens you mentally to hold a solid aerobic pace for a long time.

Doing interval training without enough aerobic running

Many runners, especially faster ones, like to jump right in to interval training because it can be fun and it makes you fit fast. However, when training for a marathon, you need to do a lot of aerobic running first. Aerobic running causes many physiological and biochemical changes that you need to go the distance, like increases in mitochondria, capillaries, and enzymes, and the storage of more fuel.

Running an inadequate amount during the week

Many novice runners don’t run enough miles during the week to support the long run on the weekend. You don’t want to run 4 or 5 miles for two or three days during the week and then shock your legs with a 15-mile run on Sunday.

You may be able to get away with that once or twice, but do that week after week after week and you’re setting yourself up to get hurt.

Blaming your shoes for injuries

Although shoes influence the dispersion of forces and control the position of your feet when they land on the ground, and thus play a role in injury prevention, they’re not usually the real reason why you get injured. Blaming your shoes for injuries only takes the attention off of where it needs to be — your training, which is typically the true culprit.

Running too much on soft surfaces

Running on trails some of the time is fine to preserve your legs, but you need to accustom your muscles and tendons to the pounding on pavement, because most marathons are on pavement. Running on trails or grass to prepare for a marathon is like practicing tennis on a grass court to prepare for a tournament on a hard court.

If you do most of your running on soft surfaces, the marathon will be a long day at the office because your muscles will experience a stress to which they haven’t been accustomed.

Ignoring the conditions of the marathon

Because of its length, the marathon requires practice. The longer the race, the more opportunity there is for things to go wrong. So the more you can simulate the marathon during your training, the more you’ll reduce the likelihood that anything will go wrong and the better off you’ll be.

Skipping your post-workout meal

Not refueling after your run is possibly the single worst thing you can do to thwart your recovery, which makes tomorrow’s run that much harder.

Make sure you refuel after your workouts with carbohydrates to replenish your fuel store and with protein to repair your muscles.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jason R. Karp, PhD, is a nationally recognized running and fitness coach, freelance writer and author, and exercise physiologist. He is the owner of, a running coaching and personal training company, and the 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year.

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