Marathons The Basics

10 Missteps to Avoid on Marathon Day

I love running marathons. No matter how many I run (35 or 36 now, can’t remember the official number), I always get excited when toeing the line (don’t know why I say that – I am a good deal behind the line!). It is just a really incredible thing to think about beginning a multi-hour journey that will take me and many other runners through a city where we will see highlights and experience our own highlights and valleys. It is amazing how much can happen over the span of a few hours – I can go from feeling totally exhilarated to questioning my sanity and feeling quite low. 🙂 Come on, you marathoners know exactly what I am talking about!

Training properly can help to make for an enjoyable marathon, but there are some things that I observe (and have done) at marathons that I believe can be avoided to help provide a better running experience. Obviously, I am not the final authority on these things, but they are different tidbits that stick in my head and are some of the missteps that I have made that have caused for a less than enjoyable experience. 🙂

10 Missteps to Avoid on Marathon Day

1) Remember where you parked your car

This seems laughable, but it is very easy to lose your car at a race site! In my case, I am normally visiting a new city by myself. I normally have a rental car that I have not been driving long enough to remember the outside details of. 🙂 I am getting to the race in the early morning before the sun has really come out. I am parking wherever I can find parking and then making my way in the path of other runners to the starting line – only to find this same area roped off later on! Really, there are many things that can cause confusion for the most directed-oriented people out there. You know how you normally feel after a marathon? Imagine trying to walk around for an hour or two feeling like that because you lost your car. Not fun!

One time I lost it in a very bad way. It was the Gasparilla Classic in Tampa and I could not for the life of me find where I left it! I was walking for miles up and down streets trying to remember the landmarks that I had picked out in the early morning light. I finally found it, thanks to constant pressing on the alarm button of the remote!

Solution: If you run with a GPS watch or carry a smartphone with you during your race (or in your dropbag), MARK/SAVE your location of the car before leaving! This will ensure that you can easily find it after and save you a major headache!

2) Do not overdress

This is one that I have done just once but I see people doing quite often. Most marathons start early in the morning and the runners are always encouraged to get to the start early to be ready. The majority of marathons are in the spring and the fall and either one makes for a cool morning in many places around the world. Obviously, you want to be dressed for warmth before the race, but once the race starts, wearing too much can be very detrimental to your race performance as it can cause you to overheat and bring more stress on your body earlier than you would have normally.

Solution: Bring an old sweatshirt/jacket to wear for the first couple of miles. You can then chuck it to the side. Most major marathons have teams that pick up such clothing early on for shelters so it will still find good use and you will have received the warmth you need early on. Once you are moving, you will not need as many layers to stay warm.

3)  Do not skip fluids early on

It might seem easy to skip the aid tables in the first few miles as you do not really feel too thirsty. However, your body needs hydration long before you feel thirsty. If you go many miles without fluids, it can cause you discomfort in the later miles of your marathon.

Solution: If you do not want to get stuck in the aid station crowds for the early miles of the marathon, carry a small water bottle that you can throw away after it is empty. This will help to remind you to sip in the early miles and let you avoid the crowded water stations.

4) Do not step in puddles

Even as I type this, I feel as if I am talking to my children. 🙂 It amazes me how many marathoners I see stepping in puddles (or even jumping in them) on their way to the starting line. It may not seem like such a big deal, but stepping in puddles causes your socks to get wet as well as your shoes. Those wet socks will bunch up on your feet and begin to chafe them. Within a few miles, you will develop blisters and it will be something that will cause pain and slow down your performance.

Solution: This is entirely avoidable. Just watch carefully where you step on your way to the starting line as well as your steps in the early miles of the race. Avoid stepping in the water! That’s it!

5) Do not line up in a faster pace area than you will run

This is another one that really amazes me. I cannot believe how many runners will line up in an area to run a 3:20 marathon and they are running at a 9 minute pace from the start. I know that many runners slow down over the course of the marathon, but that is not supposed to happen in the first 1/2 mile! It is really difficult to get in a groove with people in front of you who are running 1 1/2 minute per mile slower than the pace group. Be considerate of the other runners around you don’t slow down the traffic.

Solution: Line up with the pace that you plan on running. I know that many runners will start out slower for the first mile due to the crowds, exercising patience, etc. Even if that is the case, still line up where you will be running at the start. If you want to start near the group you will eventually run with, then make sure you are running on the outside of the runners to allow for more space.

6) Do not walk in front of the aid stations

I am guilty of this one myself – do not walk up the aid station, get your refreshment, and continue walking in front of the tables. Many runners are running by the tables, grabbing a cup, and running on. When a runner stops right in front of the table, it can cause injury as other runners are stopped by you making yourself an obstacle. Even if it doesn’t cause injury, it can still disrupt many runners who are trying to run their own race.

Solution: Be considerate! It can get harder in the later miles of a marathon when every aid station looks like an oasis to not walk. Many runners walk through most of the aid stations when drinking. That is fine, just get your cup and move to the side of the road past the aid station. Or, if you do need to stop at an aid station table, check behind you first and try to stop at one of the last tables as that is one of the less populated areas.

7) Do not forget your energy gels

I just did this last week and it can definitely make the race more difficult, especially when you are used to using them in training. While many marathons have gels along the course, you cannot expect that your marathon will have them or that they will still have them when you reach the aid station. Your body will run out of glycogen before the end of the marathon and these gels are your hope of being able to run a consistent pace throughout the race.

Solution: If I had only put the gels in my race belt before I even left, I would not have forgotten where I placed them in my luggage. Another thing to do is to buy a couple of them at the expo when you pickup your packet and put them in the bag next to your bib so you will see them when getting your gear ready.

8) Do not drink or eat too much before the marathon

Eating and drinking for race performance is a delicate balance. If you eat too much before your race, you may have some gastrointestinal issues in the early part of the race and waste valuable time. If you drink too much too early, you will have a similar issue. Admittedly, having to relieve yourself from drinking is far easier to do than from eating. But, it can still take time out early on in the race when you could have avoided it.

Solution: Just eat what you are used to eating before your long runs and try to use the restroom before you leave the hotel. When you get to the race site, head right for the restrooms. When you get out, if the line is long enough, head right back to the end of the line to try again. This has proved helpful for me many times and allowed me to have my body ready for the start.

9) Do not make up time for a stop too quickly

When the time comes that you do need to make a stop, whether for the restroom or hydration, you will lose some of your pace for that particular mile. That is to be expected. However, trying to regain time too quickly will tax your muscles and take away performance from the end of the race.

Solution: If you have stopped for 30 seconds – 1 minute, plan on taking 3-5 miles to make up that time. It is a lot easier on your body that way and picking up your time that much will not be too excessive.

10) Do not go out too fast

Going out faster than your goal pace is really one of the most common mistakes made by marathon runners. Whatever faster pace you are running in the early miles will significantly chip into your pace and performance in the later miles. All you need to do is look through the split results of a marathon to see that this is true. This even happens with the faster marathon runners. For example, I will see a result that will show a half split of 1:24 and an overall time of 3:20 – making for a positive split of 32 minutes. If that runner had run more conservatively in the first half and kept to his goal pace, he could have realized a marathon time of 3 hours or 3:05. So, it is a lot smarter to not go out too fast and work to save yourself for the second part.

Solution: Run the first mile or two purposely slower than goal pace. It will give you a chance to warm-up and get in a comfortable groove for the race. A pace 10-25 seconds slower than your goal pace in the first two miles will not be difficult at all to overcome over the course of the race and it will be tremendously helpful for your overall race performance.


So there are a few of the ways to avoid missteps on marathon day. If you observe these tips, it will definitely help you to have  more enjoyable race and undoubtedly a better race performance. Good luck!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.