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.”
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