What I’ve Learned from My 10 Marathons

Sometime in the last few years, likely after one of the more excruciating 26.2-mile races I’ve completed, I thought, “I learn a little more about marathoning with every one I run.”

Lesson: The smell of hot dogs at mile 23 is enough to make you almost barf.

Lesson: The smell of hot dogs at mile 23 is enough to make you almost barf.

I’ve mentioned these lessons in the race recaps I’ve written, but I’ll celebrate entering double digits by reiterating them all in one place. (Right here!)

1. Philadelphia Marathon – November 22, 2009 – 3:58:17
What I learned:
Hey, marathoning is pretty fun, and I’m pretty good at it!
As my coworker Jen has reiterated in pretty much every pre-race strategy session I’ve heard her give—and I’ve heard her give a lot of them—every first-time marathoner wants to break four hours. That was my secret reach goal, but I wasn’t sure it would be possible. I went out conservatively, picked it up over the last 10-K, and basically ran a brilliant race for my debut. For this, I am eternally grateful. If that day had gone poorly, you’d better believe I wouldn’t have run nine more of these by now.

2. New York City Marathon – November 7, 2010 – 3:43:23
What I learned: Oh. Not every marathon is fun.
I went into this race with high hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon before they changed the standards. People warned me that this was a tough course for that—crowded! hillier than expected!—but I ignored them and went for it. The first half went well (I was right on pace for a 3:40), the second, not so much. Things got tough around mile 18, and around 22, when I realized I wouldn’t meet my goal, I dissolved into tears and slowed to a walk/run. The crowded course was frustrating, the race did not meet my (extremely lofty) expectations, but I held on to finish with a 15-minute PR. I couldn’t be too upset.

3. Big Sur International Marathon – May 1, 2011 – 3:56:46
What I learned: It is possible to run a marathon “easy,” and that’s fun.
I used my four-day-a-week, no-speedwork beginners plan to train for this, just to stay in shape for fall marathon training, and I intended to just run for fun. And that’s what I did! I took in the scenery, I chatted with another runner most of the way, and I felt so much better than I did in New York. Full recap

4. Pocono Run for the Red Marathon – May 14, 2011 – 3:57:32
What I learned: Even “easy” marathons can wreck your legs, and lots of downhill stretches will make it worse. Don’t rely too heavily on pace-group leaders.
I jumped into this as a last-minute favor to an editor who needed a May race report. Just two weeks after Big Sur, I hoped to squeak into Boston before the standards changed in the fall. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I didn’t know real, deep, early-in-the-race marathon pain until this one. I only finished because I needed to write the story. And I managed to give myself my first running injury, IT band syndrome, in the process. Shoutout to my overly confident pace-group leader, who led us out in a mile that was 30 seconds faster than it should have been, and who didn’t even manage to go under 3:40 herself. Full recap

5. Hartford Marathon – October 15, 2011 – 3:51:53
What I learned: You need to ease into marathons with a few slow-feeling miles. And you can’t fight weather or illness.
Another balls-to-the-wall BQ attempt. I likely wasn’t ready, but even if I had been, shooting out at exact marathon pace isn’t the best strategy. I gave myself an instant side stitch. Oh, and the cough I’d been developing a few days before the race? It was bronchitis. I clung to the pace for the first half, then barely hung on to finish. The warmish temperatures and strong winds didn’t help. I was disappointed. Full recap

6. Philadelphia Marathon – November 20, 2011 – 3:41:30
What I learned: Running a smart race and running a PR are not mutually exclusive.
After Pocono and Hartford, I needed to run a marathon I didn’t want to quit halfway through. I cared more about finishing comfortably than about a BQ or even a PR. And it paid off—I dropped my PR by two minutes, and I had a great time. Philly: It’s a magical place. Full recap

7. Big Sur International Marathon – April 29, 2012 – 3:45:44
What I learned: Racing without a watch is a delight.
I just wanted to run the full course, including Hurricane Point, and I had the modest (in my mind) goal of finishing under four hours to keep my sub-4 streak alive. I ended up running what my coworker Tish calls an EBQ: an equivalent Boston qualifying time, given the course’s difficulty and the day’s headwinds. When I checked the results, I thought there’d been a mistake—I never expected to run my third-fastest marathon on that day. Full recap

8. Vermont City Marathon – May 27, 2012 – 4:04:00
What I learned:
If you’re already hot on the starting line, for the love of God, run by feel.
I left my watch at home again, but I decided to stick with the 3:45 pace group. “If I could run that time on the Big Sur course, I can surely do it here,” I thought. FALSE. Temps in the low- to mid-70s, plus abundant sunshine, plus any kind of time expectation, equals disaster. I should have ditched the pacer at mile one. I hung on until the half, and then, like at Hartford, I dissolved, barely managing to finish. My amazing group of spectating friends, and the promise of post-race ice cream, helped me to hold on. Full recap

9. Marine Corps Marathon – October 28, 2012 – 3:37:19
What I learned: For the love of God, calm down. And “relax, you’ve been through this before” is a great mantra.
In the weeks leading up to this race, I had a plethora of real and imagined running injuries, which led to extreme stress on my part, which led to a yucky, painful, personal health issue likely brought about by said stress. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy approached, and I relied on my knowledge from marathon #5—you can’t fight weather—to maintain some semblance of calm about that. In the end, none of these things really affected my race, and I ran a sizable PR. (Though my body needed lots of convincing not to give up.) Full recap

10. Disney World Marathon – January 13, 2013 – 3:42:39
What I learned: “Flat and fast” does not exist, for me.
I don’t mean to suggest this was a slow race. I’m very happy with my time. But I’m not very happy with how my legs felt on the course, or in the days since I crossed the finish line. Holy ouch! I’ve never been so sore. And the repetition—using the same muscles in the same way for hours—made my legs feel mile-22 crampy at mile 13. Again, I told myself to “relax” an awful lot, and I’m hoping to pull off a Big Sur-style run-by-feel comfortable effort at my next marathon to give my mental muscles a break. Full recap


About Meghan Loftus

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4 Responses to What I’ve Learned from My 10 Marathons

  1. RJR says:

    This is a good list, it will come in handy in the future for you, I’m sure.

    The photo cracked me up, especially since that was the spot of my most photogenic race photo ever. Apparently, I didn’t smell the same hot dogs.

    • mgloftus says:

      I remember exactly when this was taken. I had to burp, noticed the photographer, and thought, “Man, I hope he catches this.” He did.

  2. Pingback: {Friday Faves} Reads, Raves and Runs | Fit Girl. Happy Girl.

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