Although I am a certified marathon coach, I've probably made every marathon mistake on this list at one time or another. Don't let these mistakes ruin your marathon.
1. Starting an Event You Are Too Slow to Finish by the Cutoff TimeMany walkers don't know how to predict their marathon finish time. Use these calculators to predict your finish time. If you can't make the cutoff, switch to a shorter distance event or volunteer for the event instead. Marathon organizers take down water stops and open up the course to traffic if you aren't meeting the cutoff pace. You endanger yourself, others, and the race itself by starting when you will be late finishing.
2. Wearing Too Much ClothingIf the day is going to top 60 F, you need to walk in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Even capris that hit just below the knee are horribly hot by the last few miles of a marathon. Your leg muscles overheat throughout the marathon and you need to give them air. If the temperatures are at 40 F or below, you will need a light windbreaker, capris or breathable long pants and perhaps light running gloves. To stay warm at the start, wear a trash bag or a disposable sweatshirt to leave at the next trash can. You will find that experienced marathoners do this routinely.
If you just can't bear to leave your gear behind, arrange for a friend or spouse to meet you at regular intervals on the course to add or take away gear according to the weather conditions.
Marathon Walking Gear
3. Wearing Something New on Race DayEvery item you wear or carry with you on race day should have been worn or carried with you on at least a couple of your longest training days. Do not wear new shoes. Your shoes should have been worn at least 5 to 10 times. Don't wear new clothing. You may discover it chafes in new places. If they give you a race shirt, don't wear it until after the marathon.
4. Eating or Drinking Something New Before or on Race DayIt is tempting to graze your way through the marathon expo sampling new energy drinks, recovery drinks, energy bars and more. But save those for afterwards or you risk stomach and bowel upsets during the marathon. Find out from the marathon website which sports drink and energy gels and snacks they will be providing on the course and use those same drinks and gels in your training. If you find they upset your system, you will need to carry your own with you for the marathon. For your pre-marathon dinner and breakfast, eat something bland that won't upset your gut or bowels.
What to Eat Before the Marathon
5. Drinking WrongMaking the wrong choice for how much and what to drink during the marathon can be deadly. You need to find the right balance on your longest training days, as everyone's body is a little bit different. Weigh yourself before you start your long walk, and again at the end. You should weigh exactly the same. It is wisest to use only full-strength sports drink on long distance walks. This gives consistency and lets you find the right balance. You will need the energy calories, so don't worry about the sugars. Use the same sport drink as will be given out on the course at your chosen marathon.
Drinking Recommendations for Marathon Runners and Walkers
6. Forgetting to Do Blister and Chafing PreparationAlmost everyone gets foot blisters on a marathon. Prevent them as long as possible by preparing your feet with lubricants, corn starch and sweat-wicking socks. You should have been testing what works for you on your longest walking days. Don't forget to put lubricant on your armpits, thighs, crotch, nipples, and under-bra areas. Chafing is sheer torture in the final miles. Marathons will often provide petroleum jelly at checkpoints, which can be used to lubricate any areas that are starting to chafe.
Seven Blister-Prevention Strategies
7. Forgetting Essential GearDon't forget your race number or timing chip or there will be no marathon for you. Lay out your entire clothing and gear set-up the night before. Make a checklist and check everything off the night before. Then check it again before you head out the door. Make sure all batteries are fresh or fully charged for your MP3 player, cell phone, pedometer or other gizmos. Last and not least -- where are your sunglasses and hat for when the sun comes up?
Marathon Packing List
8. Snacking WrongYou will need to replace the calories you are burning or you will hit the wall and fold like a rag doll by mile 20. Replenish calories with sports drink and energy gel. Use your long training days to tell when you will need more. Many walkers and runners wait until it's too late to snack. Begin snacking by mile 10, or earlier if the marathon is using a low-sugar sports drink. Don't eat any new snacks offered on the course that you haven't tried previously.
9. Getting LostKnow where the start and finish are and where you will be able to park if you are driving there. Study the course map in advance. If you are one of the slower walkers on the event, you will need to pay more attention to the course markers as you'll have few marathoners to follow after the first couple of miles. You may also discover they have already taken down the course markings before you get to the finish line. I like to carry a course map with me, just in case. For some races, you may be able to download the course map to your mobile device.
10. Not Knowing When to QuitIf you are experiencing heat sickness, dehydration or hyponatremia with nausea, vomiting, blacking out or other symptoms, don't end your marathon with an ambulance ride to the hospital. Ask race volunteers to summon the sag wagon to take you to the medical tent before you need hospitalization.
If you are feeling well but lagging behind the course cutoff and officials flag you to get in the sag wagon, obey them without question. It is difficult to quit when you are feeling good. But they are spending huge amounts of money on permits and street closures and you must obey them to reopen to traffic and shut down the finish line. You already committed mistake #1. Don't compound it with mistake #10.
Be Prepared For Race Day Weather
- Tips for Hot Weather Marathons
- Tips for Cold Weather Marathons
- Tips for Rainy Marathons
- Tips for Marathons After Dark
It's Not You - It's Them
Race organizers also make mistakes in not giving walkers and slower runners full course support (such as removing the course marking and folding up water stations before you get there). Be prepared for these race fails encountered by walkers.
Lewis G. Maharam, MD.FACSM et al. "IMMDA's Revised Fluid Recommendations for Runners and Walkers." IMMDA. 6 May 2006.