What NOT to do During a Marathon

Here we go friends, a little “Marathon 101” lesson.  I learned this one myself and I learned it the hard way.  This lesson is probably included in chapter one of any ‘How to Run a Marathon’ book and for good reason.  Let me explain to you the importance of starting slow and properly pacing yourself.

I’ll set the stage first.  The weekend before the Marine Corps Marathon I ran a personally surprising 1:46 half marathon with an average pace of a 7:55.  I tappered the week before the marathon and tried to nail my 4 month training plan as best as I could.  I was ready, I put in the work.  In usual marathon morning excitement I started the race a bit quicker than I should have.  My husband and sister were running with me and the three of us just let ourselves get caught up in the moment.

Mile 1- 8:17, Mile 2- 8:57, Mile 3-8:39, Mile 4- 7:48, Mile 5-8:40, Mile 6- 8:19, Mile 7- 8:44, Mile 8- 8:21, Mile 9- 8:32, Mile 10-8:43, Mile 11- 8:13, Mile 12- 8:31, Mile 13- 8:44.  My half marathon time was a 1:53:40.  Pretty good, BUT the pace was ALL over the place and it wasn’t sustainable.  I KNEW the ‘dangerous’ miles were between 13 and 20.  I KNEW it was super important to stay mentally strong during those miles because that’s typically when doubts sneak in and cause you to lose it.

Mile 14- 9:06, Mile 15- 8:54, Mile 16- 9:01, Mile 17-10:00, Yep, I lost it.  Mile 18- 10:00, Mile 19- 9:26, Mile 20-11:20.  Wait, what…an 11:20?  What happened there?  Oh, no biggie, I just stopped in my tracks along the side of the course (maybe the middle) and pleaded to my sister and husband to leave me in my marathon misery and that I would be perfectly happy walking the remaining 6 miles.  My body was shot and my mind was a vulnerable emotional mess.  Thankfully, they were mentally stronger than I was and talked me into running the rest.  I didn’t have the energy to keep arguing with them so along I trudged.

Mile 21- 10:14, Mile 22-10:23, Mile 23-10:04, Mile 24-9:35.  These miles were rough.  My mind was turned off and I was just going through the motions.  Still about 22 minutes of running left, there’s no way I’m making it to the finish!

Mile 25- 10:51, Mile 26- 10:27.  Mile 0.2 (Hill)- 10:30.  Yeah, everyone has this mental picture in their head of cruising to the finish with a glamorous smile plastered on their face.  Not happening on that day.  I could have crawled up that hill faster than what I ran it in…but darn it, I ran it.  When Marines line the finish of the race, you run it!

The lesson in this is really simple.  Start out slow.  Gauge how your body feels and let your pace reflect that.  Keep a steady pace…STEADY!  How was it that I ran a 7:48 and an 11:20 in the same race?  That really should not happen.  Realistically, I should have started out with a steady 9 minute pace and finished with either an 9 or an 8:45 pace.  Instead, my first half was about an 8:30 pace and my second half was a 10:30 pace.  I guarantee that had I held a 9 flat pace I would have finished with a faster marathon time and felt worlds better.  Lesson learned!

Let me hear it folks…any tough lessons learned during a race?

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