5 Mistakes First Time Marathon Runners Make During Training

5 mistakes first tiime marathon runners make during training


I love getting questions from readers training for their first marathon or half marathon. And most of the time they are similar concerns – time goals for a first marathon or ‘do I really have to do xyz?!’. I really wish I could chat with all of you in a big ‘first time marathoners message board, but until then…Here is the list of the most common mistakes many rookie marathon runners make (I did these too).

Five Mistakes First Time Marathon Runners Make During Training


1. Not training your head.  Running a marathon is one of the hardest physical challenges most adults will ever attempt. It’s super challenging physically, but it’s just has hard mentally. Your head often gives up before your body does. So, train yourself with positive mantras during long run training. Get your head in the game!

you are fine and good



2. Stressing about running.  Unless you are a professional runner this isn’t your paycheck – it’s a hobby. Remember hobbies? They’re FUN stuff you do with your free time.

don't stress marathon running you need to relax



3. Running too much.  Yes, you are training to run 26.2 miles in one shot, but training plans incorporate rest days for a reason – YOUR BODY NEEDS REST.

Every time I read a Facebook or Twitter of update of someone saying, “Today was supposed to be a rest day but I couldn’t resist running 5 miles because the weather/new gear/running group…” I cringe. I did it too and paid the price.

If your priority is marathon training, treat it like such. This might mean skipping a run on a beautiful day or bar hopping on a Friday night.

i hate this running marathon training



4. Focusing too much on time goals.  You only have ONE chance to run your first marathon. That’s one shot to high fives little kids on the course and take in the sights and make sure you are enjoying the pain Winking smile

Get to the finish line – that should be the goal. Get the finish smiling – that would be even better.

just have fun



5. Following other people’s advice like it’s the Bible.

im an expert

Dean Karnazes said “Listen to everyone follow no one.” I LOVE that advice.

I am totally willing to tell you what I do and what people smarter  than me do during marathon training. But, you should ultimately do what is best for your body. Figuring that out is a process so I understand the need to seek advice and try it out. At the same time if you can’t take certain fuel or run with specific gear that Kara Goucher wears – that’s okay.

And also make sure you are balancing your life with other stuff so you don’t burn out the people who love you (but don’t necessarily love running too).



Want to run a half marathon or short distance race? Check out my Race Discounts Page for new coupon codes for a few races.

Question: What mistakes did you make training for your first race?


  1. says

    Great tips! I have my first marathon this year and I think your tip about enjoying it I really need to keep in mind. I get so focused on a schedule and this is what I have to do rather than this is what I want to do.

  2. says

    I just finished my first marathon, and I think my biggest mistake was giving myself a time goal. I didn’t meet that goal, and during the race I started to get upset, but then I realized I just needed to focus on finishing and not worry about my time goal. As soon as I changed my mindset I enjoyed the rest of my race, and I crossed that finish line with a huge smile on my face!

  3. says

    Love this post and so perfect. I definitely made the mistake of running too much for my first half marathon. I paid the price with a knee injury. I think another thing we forget about is that our only training doesn’t need to be running!

  4. says

    Great tips! I’m running Chicago this fall (my first!) and know I’m going to have an issue with the rest days. I think focusing on the running/body pump I do fit into my schedule will hopefully allow me to allow myself not to feel guilty for resting!

  5. Tanya Zamonsky says

    All very good tips! I am running a stand alone marathon in May and Iam very excited and nervous. I do have a question about carrying nutrition with u. Do you recommend carrying everything with you or suggest using whats on course? The marathon iam doing will have gels. My goal for this marathon is not to stop during the entire race. I did a half marathon about 3 weeks ago and did just that. I think walking for me will be my downfall- once I start I think it will be hard to get going again. Thanks!

    • says

      It depends on how sensitive your body is – if you can change up gels every time you do a long run you might be okay with the stuff on the course. But, if you usually stick to the same thing then you should bring your own. Plus, this avoids any stress of them running out.

  6. Tanya Zamonsky says

    All very good tips! I am running a stand alone marathon in May and Iam very excited and nervous. I do have a question about carrying nutrition with u. Do you recommend carrying everything with you or suggest using whats on course? The marathon iam doing will have gels. My goal for this marathon is not to stop during the entire race. I did a half marathon about 3 weeks ago and did just that. I think walking for me will be my downfall- once I start I think it will be hard to get going again. Thanks!

  7. says

    I definitely over did it for my first one. I had to skip a run once or twice and then I tried to make it up and ended up with sky high mileage compared to the week before. Two times of that and my IT band wigged out. I also chose to train WAY too soon. I blew out my knee and had surgery in May and then ran a marathon in March. Basically as soon as I was told I could run I started marathon training. Not the brightest choice.

    Great tips!

  8. says

    I attempted a 20 mile run when I was already hurt because I thought I needed to get that run in. I wish I would have not done that run and made it to the start line feeling better. I finished the marathon, but it was not very pretty. I always do 18 miles as my highest mileage because that’s what feels best to me.

  9. says

    haha great post and I love the pictures! These are good tips though and yes, the over-training one seems to be a hard one for beginners. Whenever I do a race, i try to go with the goal of finishing instead of a time (I’m not always the best at this) but it’s important to be proud of yourself for crossing the finishing line no matter the time.

  10. says

    This post came at the right time! I’m running my first half marathon this Sunday and after a week of rest, I’m starting marathon training for my first full marathon in October. I was thinking about setting a time goal, but I’m just going to focus on enjoying the experience instead like you said! The race I’m doing is a marathon my dad ran all my life. I’m so excited! Thanks for the post. Definitely helpful for us first timers!

  11. says

    I definitely tried to do too much too soon for my first marathon, and I ended up injured and didn’t run it. Then I was more laid back the second time when I did run my first marathon, and only got in one 20 miler but it was sufficient to get me across the finish line healthy and happy! Rest and the mental game are KEY, as you noted.

  12. says

    I love this post and these are definitely important to remember. It’s not all about the best gear or the best time, but enjoying the process! I’m currently out of commission with tendonitis for the past 6 months and had to miss a half marathon I had registered for, but hopefully I’ll be back at it soon. I need to remember not to rush the recovery and push the extra run. Thanks!

  13. says

    For most of my marathon training, I really wanted to run a sub-4 hr marathon. Only until a few weeks before the race did I change my mentality to just enjoy my first 26.2. Although I still really wanted to run sub-4, I knew that focusing too much on that would take away from the overall experience. Completing a marathon is a huge accomplishment in itself, and I did it about a year after I ran my first half marathon! I came in a little over the 4 hr mark, with a 4:08, but that leaves me room to improve for the next one

  14. says

    I was a slave to the training schedule during training which meant I ran when my body was really saying in needed rest.

    And on marathon race day I was so NERVOUS AND TENSE that my back and shoulders started to spasm before I even got to the double digit miles! I felt so defeated that my mind slowed me down.

    I highly reccommend walking around race morning with a smile on your face because it will help you relax and remember that this should be fun. The more relaxed your body is the easier it will be to keep plugging away.

    I’m running my 5th marathon this Sunday !

  15. says

    I MADE ALL THE MISTAKES! Haha not really, but I just had no idea what I was doing. Hence, I didn’t have a lovely experience. That’s okay though. I’m still so proud that I did it – just like you said, it’s about finishing that first time!

    I still need to work on training my brain – it’s my downfall on every run, long or short. Grr!!

  16. says

    I did a lot of wrong things with my first half marathon. New shoes, sharing shot bloks, only running 2 weeks before race. It was miserable.

    My baby was 8 months old and my partner’s baby was 3 months old. We were crazy. I slept 4 hrs that night, 2 hrs at a time. Not enough to feel good even now that I am in better shape.

  17. says

    love the advice! my favorite picture is the last one about how to tell if someone ran a marathon! literally made me LOL! already ran one half marathon and training for a 25k trail run in September. why do I keep scheduling races so I have to train in the summer?! someday I will learn!

  18. says

    I’m doing a half marathon in May and it will be my third in three years so recently I’ve been thinking about maybe running a marathon. Eek! It kinda seems scary but also AWESOME. Any thoughts on extending my May training for a Fall marathon? Is that enough time? Great article! Besos, just another Monica

  19. says

    I haven’t done a full marathon, but plenty of halfs. My advise is eat and drink well. Food is your body’s fuel. If you put junk into it, your performance will show it. Eat well and your body will be more willing to push through the training. Thanks for sharing the discounts page. I’m off to check it out now that my foot is behaving from my injury. I’m itching for a race!

  20. says

    Loved this post! I am running my first marathon (Providence, RI- Cox Marathon) in 11 days. BUT I will admit this is my second attempt- Tendonitis during my first marathon training attempt last year-

    Luckily I do not over run, and I take lots of rest days (too many..) but my mistake is worrying about time! And speed work! this is a marathon- my first- I do not need speed work and to not freak out about time 😉

  21. says

    Love all of these tips! I’ve been running for a few years now and have ran 2 marathons, but still am working on the mental aspect of it. Sometimes you don’t achieve things simply because of your mind and willpower! I’m trying to work on affirmations and positive mantras, and not on being negative or worrying if I’ll be able to complete a certain distance or workout.

  22. says

    My biggest mistake was learning moderation. I’m of the “go big or go home” school, so when I sprained my ankle or was sick, I would guilt myself into going all in with my workout anyway or skip the workout and wallow instead of crosstraining.
    I still have that same mentality, but am getting much better at realizing when I should scale back when I’m sick or injured so I can do better in the long run. Or when I should get my whiny self out there and do something instead of eating all the cookies in the house.
    So yeah…moderation!!

  23. says

    I’ll have to keep these in mind when I train for a marathon one day. I’m actually putting off training for one right now because I don’t think I’m mentally ready and I know that I would be stressed by the obligation of it. When I do my first marathon I want it to be cause I really want to do it.

  24. The Silent Assassin says

    Thanks for sharing! I ran my first marathon this year…that you skipped on – Phoenix. Btw, I need to send you an email later. We had some shirts for you and still want to get to you. If you’re running OC, maybe we can hook up then. Anywhoooo, it rained for the first hour of the marathon and I was wearing the wrong kind of underwear (fabric). It got soaked and was weighing me down, lol. Oh and the day before, because there was a good change it was going to rain, instead of buying a poncho or just using a garbage bag, I bought a $45 addidas rain repellent wind breaker. At mile 10 after the rain stopped and it started to get humid, I had to ditch the wind breaker and I was pisssssssed. Someone scored an awesome piece of attire! Oh and one last thing. Post marathon running, especially a 5k a week after was a no-no for me. It felt going during the race. But after race, my hip flexors were on fire!

  25. says

    Great post.
    I often get people asking me for advice too which I’m happy to give, but like you I always make sure to not just tell them what I would do, but advise trying different things to see what works for them.
    For me, the most important tips for a first timer are to remember the rest days (or pay for it later!) and above all else enjoy it as it’s meant to be fun!

  26. says

    I try out a little of everyone’s advice and see what works for me- what works for me may not necessarily work for others and vice versa :)

  27. says

    My biggest mistake has always been to put too much pressure on myself. I was unhappy with my times at marathons #1,2 and 3. Then I got a ballot place at London marathon this April and went with the sole purpose of enjoying it – didn’t stress over splits or heart rate and ended up with a new PB! :)

  28. says

    I let myself eat whatever the heck I wanted when I was training for my first marathon (and my second, third and fourth… haha). Eating huge portions of pastries and ice cream since I had a long run the next day (or because I just completed a long run). It took a while for me to find balance between how much I can indulge during my marathon training.

  29. Runningwithscissors says

    I held back too much during my first major race. I was so paranoid of “hitting the wall,” that I finished with so much left in my tank. After 7 years of racing, I still have too much left every so often. There is such a fine line, but I would still rather finish on empty. :)

  30. says

    It might sound ridiculous, but my mistake when I ran my first marathon was training way too far ahead of time. I signed up for a marathon after I started training for it, so I had wayyyy too much time to work up my mileage. It sounds like a good thing, but I got quite burnt out after awhile.

  31. says

    Great tips! I am training for my first half marathon in June and I have not been good about following the schedule. I have been running when I can after work, but things are going great so far.

    I like that you say not to have a time goal. I want to enjoy the scenery and finish with a smile!

  32. says

    I didn’t train well enough for my first half marathon. The longest I had ever run before that race was 6 miles. I also got sick a few weeks before the race, so the longest run I did in the month before the race was 3 miles. I was exhausted and in pain.

    Proper training helped me shave about 20 minutes off my time on my second half. It makes a difference! :)

  33. says

    Thank you for this post!! I love reading your blog! My first marathon is next weekend, reading this now is perfect :) I trained for a full last year but ended up hurting my hip and not being able to do the race because i made a few of these mistakes. I learned a lot and I’ve trained differently this time. I wasn’t a slave to someone else’s training plan, I followed a few guides and then made my own. I’ve rested more and cross trained and I’m feeling stronger than ever. The most important thing for me to remember is the have fun part! I want a sub 4, but no matter how long it actually takes me, I want to be smiling!

  34. says

    I haven’t trained for a marathon yet, but I’ve definitely stressed too much and ran too much.
    I’m better at those things now, still have to find the balance between running and everything else in my life.

  35. says

    I’m dong my first marathon in October and I feel like these are all things that I’m inclined to do during training LOL! I guess marathon training is a learning experience but it’s nice to know what pitfalls to avoid.

  36. says

    Thanks for posting! Just starting marathon training for a race in July. My goal is just to finish :) but my biggest struggle to overcome will be the mental aspect.

  37. says

    Great tips! I especially love “listen to everyone, follow no one” and figure out what’s best for you. I’m proud to say Monday’s Boston Marathon was my first and I crossed the finish line with a smile :)

  38. says

    love these tips! I got really discouraged with my first marathon. I ran it in Oakland, CA last March and it was freakin’ hilly. I finished it in 35 minutes past my goal time so I was really sad. Then I realized that I had just run a marathon and that was a really huge and amazing accomplishment! I’m starting to train for my second full in another few weeks! 😀

  39. says

    I love this list, especially the -dont’ run too much!! I’m starting my training for my first marathon in the next few weeks and this is great advice to keep in mind.

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