4 Common Marathon Obstacles Runners Hit (And How to Tackle Them)

Four troublesome obstacles to be prepared for.

Planning for a perfect marathon isn’t an easy process. Odds are, you’ve spent months of planning and hard physical training to get ready for race day, hoping for your best one yet. But as the old saying goes, “Hope isn’t a strategy.” Have a plan for everything, even the unexpected. Here are four common obstacles you could encounter and how to tackle them.

1. Getting poor sleep the night before the race.
One of the most common obstacles any runner has leading up to a big race is trouble falling asleep the night before. Pre-race anxiety, excitement and a new sleep environment (if you’re traveling) all contribute to a restless night’s sleep, however don’t worry: This one is completely normal and should be expected.

How to tackle it: The good news here is that it is possible to “store” a small amount of sleep to make up for a less-then ideal night of sleep. Be sure to get at least eight hours of sleep the three nights leading up the night before the race.

2. Not being prepared for surprises on the course.
Before every cross-country race while I was at Villanova University, we would make sure we ran or walked the entire course. We did this for two reasons; first, we never wanted to get caught off guard with any unexpected surprises such as hills and sharp turns. Secondly, we would visualize ourselves in the race feeling good.

How to tackle it: While running the full marathon course the day before isn’t an option, getting in your car and driving it is. This is especially important for first-time Philly Marathoners who have never ran the course. Course elevation maps and profiles often don’t tell the whole story. Seeing the elevation gain and drop in person assures there won’t be any surprises.

3. Going out too strong (and fast) in the first mile.
Every race has this person: The guy or girl who lines up and crushes the first mile only to fade later. The problem is, because marathon pace is super easy in the early stages of the race, it becomes way too easy be a first-mile crusher. Doing this in a marathon will ruin your race.

How to tackle it: Check your ¼ and ½ splits for the first mile and to assure you’re not going too fast stay. For example if your goal pace is 8 minutes per mile, hit the ¼ mile in 2 min and ½ mile in 4 min.

4. Poor planning.
The two most common reasons runners “hit the wall” during a marathon are running too fast in the early stages of the race and/or inadequate fueling.

How to tackle it: While this is a bit subjective, be realistic about your goal pace. How many long runs did you incorporate marathon pace into? If you feel the pace is realistic, don’t go out too fast in the first 16 miles. Have a fueling plan. Don’t “wing it.” Know exactly how much and when you’re going to take fuel and hydration. Research suggests somewhere between 30 and 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise. Fuel The Core is an application that gives individualized science-backed fueling plans.


Cory Smith is the owner of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business, and a two-time NCAA Division 1 National Qualifier and 4:03 miler while at Villanova University. He also serves as Running Editor for Gear Institute and has been a regular running contributor for Be Well Philly for the Broad Street Run and the Philadelphia Marathon.

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