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My Marathon Mistakes

Tom has a saying, "If you do the marathon wrong, it can really hurt."   Let's just say that I did the marathon so wrong and it hurt so bad that I haven't had the interest in doing another one for 10 years.  It's not that my marathon spirit is completely gone, but it is kinda' like when you get sick on one of your favorite food and then it is a long time before you can bring yourself to eat it again.

In honor of "marathon mania" week in the Lounge I thought I would share my tips for how to train and run a marathon based on all my mistakes.  (Click here is a list of the most common marathon mistakes.)  I don't share them to scare someone away from the distance or to dissaude someone from attempting the race.  Instead I offer up my errors in judgement in hopes that you don't make the same mistakes.   But more importantly show that even if you make one, two or ten of these mistakes - you can still finish.  I did!

And there may be a little of self therapy in this list.  Maybe if I "spill my guts" I will finally move on to another marathon?!?  Did you ever see "The Goonies" movie?  Remember when Chunk tells the bad guys all the bad things he did (and then when I was in third grade...)yeah, this list is kinda like that....  Here it goes:

#1.  There is a good and not so good time to attempt your first marathon.  There is rarely a perfect time for a marathon but be smart about knowing which time it is for you.   

In the last few months before my marathon, we were in the middle of relocating from one state to another, starting new jobs, selling one house and building another and in the middle of winter.  I was trying to finish up my MBA classes at one school and transfer to another.   This would have been a not so good time.  I was much too stubborn to admit that to myself.  Marathons take mental and physical strength.   It is more thoroughly enjoyed when the whole you is there to participate. 

#2.  Get educated.

I read just one book - that was it.  That wasn't enough.  Get a book, in fact a couple.   Read articles, read blogs.  Way back in the late 90's, internet and blogs were nothing like today.   Information was there but limited.   If I did it over again today, I would read more and train my brain.

#3.  Talk to a marathoner that is like you.

Outside of some coverage about the Olympics, I had never seen a marathon or even talked to a marathoner in depth about the race.  The one book I used as a bible didn't do justice to explaining the training and race.   If I could do it over, I would find at least two other runners like me who have done the distance and taken them with me on a few long runs to hear their stories.  I would also find a runner faster than me and hear his/her story.  You can't learn enough about the real life application of the marathon.

#4.  Pace and strategy isn't just for elites.

In my training and race, I never fully understood or used the wisdom of pacinHappypaceovalg.   When it was time to go - I went.  I did it by feel.  I ran along with whoever was next to me.  And what happened - I started fast and ended slow.   I remember at the end of one of my long runs (which was a loop around a golf course), one of the golfers stopped me to check on me and asked if it might be easier to walk the loop versus running that slow.    I am a smarter runner today - always starting and staying slow and finding my "cruise control" gear. (Here is good list of how to run a good marathon.) 

#5.  Choosing the right marathon.

I was a huge Disney fan so of course choose it for my first race.  The flaw in my reasoning was that by the time of the race in January there was a 70' temperature difference.  It was butt cold in Iowa and the snow had made running difficult to finish my training.  It was lovely in Florida for a vacation but felt miserable for a first marathon.  Add on the stress of travel and I wasn't at my best.   Today there are so many marathons close to home - if I did it over - I would stay close.

#6.  If you are traveling, have a contingency plan for just about everything.

We were supposed to fly out Friday morning and didn't end up leaving until Saturday morning because of weather delays.  We lost our room - twice.  By the time I arrived, the expo was closing.   We lost our dinner reservations.   Everything that could go wrong did.   If I travel for a race again, I will have some backup plans.

#7.  Fueling and hydration before the race is key.

The day before my food and hydration was out of whack due to travel.   Since we lost our dinner reservations, we ended up at the barbeque restaurant for a full course western meal the night before.  I don't think I need to describe the effects of that decision for 26.2 miles the next day.   Doing it over, I would have packed a suitcase of suitable "meal replacement" and hydration so I wouldn't be faced with a poor meal choice again.

#8.  Learn to eat and run.  Walking through water stops is a good thing.

Ten years ago, Gu and power gels weren't as prevalent - at least to an ordinary runner.  And the books tole me the goal of the long runs was to train your body to burn fat to have energy so I didn't take in any fuel during my training runs or the race.   I haToenailsssd practiced with some Gatorade - which didn't agree with me - but I kept using it anyway.  I thought you were supposed to be miserable during that long of a run.  I didn't think it was cool to walk through water stops so I skipped a few early ones.  It has taken me many years and runs to figure out the combination that works for me. 

#9.  New clothes is good for job interviews and really stupid for long races.

Yep, I broke the cardinal rule.  I bought all new stuff the week before and proudly went to  the line in my new top, shorts and socks.   Can you say chafing?  No?  Then how about bleeding and bruising.  Not to be graphic, but between my chafing, pink sore spots and the ten pounds of vaseline (thank god for body glide since then!) I looked like some greasy blob from beyond when I crossed the line.    It is really stupid to wear something new on a long run.  "Rehearsals" isn't just for dancers - its for running gear too.

#10.  Set realistic expectations.

Knowing nothing, I told my husband I would cross somewhere around 4 1/2 hours. (Remember I hadn't learned the finer points of pacing yet)  Whatever!!!  I was an idiot.  I have no idea what my time was - something close to 16 hours maybe?  Ok, not that long, but there wasn't a 4 in it anywhere.   If I do this distance again, I would set more realistic expectations of how long it would take and what is a "good" time.   When I did cross the line, I was so bummed at my time that I couldn't even really enjoy the fact I finished.  I wish now I could have set more realistic expectations and come to grips that finishing is one hell of an accomplishment.

#11.  Don't underestimate the mental challenge of the marathon.

For this marathon, it wasn't my body that was struggling the most (yes, it did hurt) but itMentalsportls  was my mind.    The mental games that went on in my head when it started to get uncomfortable was more difficult than the steapest hill or strongest headwind.  My mind was yelling to stop, that this was a stupid idea, that I couldn't do it.  I can still hear my mantra from that morning - with every step I would say, "One step closer, one step closer."  When I would get frustrated with my pace, I would chant, "all forward motion is good - just keep moving." Looking back, I know now that the mental training is as important, maybe more important as the physical part.  You can't make it to the line if your mind isn't on board.

#12.  Supporters need to train too.

I think my husband rode to the start with me carrying a newpaper and a can of pop.  It was nine hours later (between prerace, race and post race stuff) before we landed back in the hotel room.  He is a saint!  Anyone who comes out to cheer on family and friends, especially back of the packers, are just plain saints.   After many races, I know now what to tell him to bring and not bring, where to look for me during and after and how long it will take.   There are good spectator tips out there - make sure they know the course and train for the day. (Here are 25 Great Cheers for Spectators to use.)

#13.  Realize the last 6 miles (more or less) do hurt more than the first 20.

For me, running miles between 10 and 18 all feel about the same.  It is uncomfortable.  My knees and feet will start to hurt.  My back gets sore.  I get a bit bored.  I had only trained  to 21 miles and did believe that I could do 26.2 with those miles under my belt.  And I did.  But what I didn't understand is the last few miles really, really don't feel good.  Now, take this with a grain of salt because I did everything wrong - but if I do another marathon I will mentally prepare myself better for the last 10K.

#14.  Prepare yourself for the porty potty experience.

At mile 22, I got stuck in the porty potty.  Imagine the horror!  I am a back of the packer, so a few thousand runners had hit the pot before me.  I was sore and tired.  Disgusted by my pace and mentally ready to give up.  My stomach was killing me from the BBQ feast the night before and I had to stop.  With all the vaseline smeared on - I couldn't get my clothes on and off easily.  And for fun, the porty potty was leaning on a downhill slope.   So to sit down, I had to grab a hold of the sides to sit.  (Way back in the day, there wasn't an abundance of hand santizer either!) When it was time to get up.  No luck.  My legs had decided that standing up (againstKickassphaltssberry the force of a hill) and without holding on was not going to happen.  So yes, I sat there and cried for a while.  I admit it.  All I could imagine was some volunteer finding me there a day later - a swollen, chafed, vaseline blob - pants down, stuck in the porty potty.  I did escape - but not without psychological damage.

#15.  Try some other races before the marathon.

I had only run a 4 mile fun run and an unofficial 1/2 marathon before this race.  I didn't even know how water stops worked or how races worked.   Doing it over, I would have stair stepped up the ladder through a 5K, 10K 1/2 marathon, etc before doing a marathon.  Half the fun is the races and they serve as a type of quiz before the main event.

Whew...that's most of them.  And even after all those lessons I still believe anyone, and I do believe, anyone can finish a marathon.   Physically, it is possible for most humans to walk, hop, jog, crawl, skip, shimmy...whatever it is that they do... for 26.2 miles.   You just gotta' wanna and you gotta' be smart.   I would love to know what lessons you learned through your marathon training and racing.   In fact, maybe add a couple and then I won't feel so bad at my long list of mistakes.  :}

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This is a great list and I've learnt a lot reading it. The furthest I've done in a race is 5K but maybe one day...

Bill Carter


There are so many great tips here... and on the mistake side of things, I've made 'em all and unfortunately numerous times. The marathon is an absolutely unforgiving distance that demands respect and anybody, no matter their time, who finishes a marathon has joined a very elite group of runners. And that means you. As I have said many times before when it comes to the marathon, some people are in a hurry to get it done and some people just like to take their time and enjoy the course. There is certainly nothing wrong with being in the latter group and the runner who is out there a little longer deserves just as much respect if not MORE than the former.

BTW, I can only imagine what the BBQ food felt like after about 20 miles... oh, that is right I did that before my 1st Flying Pig... not good as I recall.


Amy, how did you know? This post was great since I've been having come to Jebus thoughts the past week or two about doing my first full marathon in October. I really want to, but mostly so I can say I did. I'm not looking forward to the long training runs. Time-wise, I'm going to have to go right into training for it as soon as I finish my next half next month. I know I CAN do it, I just have to decide quick if my motives are right. Or does it really even matter? Can't wait to read more about it this week in the Lounge.

Joe Thorn

Great post Amy. I am still dreaming of my first marathon (in '09?) and words like these are always helpful.


Amy, My heart just went out to you. You have learned so much, and I appreciate you sharing all you tips and advice. I am so grateful to have so many venues for advice and guidance. If I ever decide to take the plunge you will be a numbero uno source.


Great post.

#11 and #14 are key. For me, I always tell myself the race really doesn't start until mile 18. The previous 18 miles are just warm-up.

#15 is key alos. You simply have to experience some races of any distance first.

I hope you try another marathon. It sounds like you weren't mentally - more than physically - prepared for the first. After the learning experience, the second should be a lot smoother...as far as marathons go.


Soory, I meant #13 not #14. (though it is also key to master the porta potty experience!!)


What a great post Amy! It's been 3 years since I ran my last marathon, and I swore I was done, but I've gotten the itch again! I just signed up for a fall marathon, so your tips are very timely. My tip would be to try all kinds of food fuel during training runs to find the right one for you. You never know what just might work for you! It turns out my favorite fuel is jolly ranchers! I use them as a motivating treat every two miles.

Runnin' Ragged

That is such a wise list! Thanks for sharing.

You are so right about mile 18 being the beginning of the race. I learned that lesson the hard way last year. But, after you cross the finish line it doesn't seem as bad as it actually felt! lol


This list is excellent. Thank you so much for sharing these great tips.

SJ Goody

I am so glad to have discovered this site...

#11 hits home for me - I just completed my first half marathon and TOTALLY underestimated the emotional impact and mental challenge.

One thing I did not prepare for (which seems totally obvious) was inclimate weather. During my training, if it was even remotely wet outside, I hit the treadmill... which made for a shocker when, on race day, it was torrentially downpouring.

Thanks for the great tips... I'm bookmarking in the event that I SOMEDAY decide to cross over to the FULL marathon. Yikes!!!


Great post, that's the one thing about the marathon just when you think you've mastered it it comes back to bite you in the...well you know where!


You missed one....buy lots of ibuprofen :)


Oh, poor Amy. I just want to hug you right now.


Great List. I can totally relate. And I should have done WAY more research before my first one as well.

God portapotties... I hate portapotties.


Oh my god, Amy, as I read through this, I'm sorry, but when I got to the portapottie part, I just started laughing out loud. I will need to give those spectator tips to my husband before the Maine Marathon. And maybe I should find a way to do a half-marathon then before October. Thank you so much for this great post. Truly, one of the best I've ever read. (Oh, and you're welcome for the shout-out the other day!)

The Laminator

Wow, Amy, that took a lot of courage. Kudos to you for spilling your guts like that for the benefit of fellow runners. It's not easy to realize you made mistakes and to actually write them down and analyze them takes more guts than running any 26.2. I'm glad you've learned so much over the years about how to overcome all those errors (which every newbie marathoner makes at one time or another...whether they'll admit it or not). I think you need to train and run another one just to get the bad taste out of your mouth. Either way, you're a saint for helping everyone!


Dear Amy,
The guide is very useful for me. I will be running the SUNDOWN marathon in Singapore end of the month! Wish me luck! :)


Amy, I've been so behind in catching up with Runners Lounge, but I'm so glad I picked today to catch up! I'm doing my first full marathon on Sunday, and this list (and the linked articles) were absolutely priceless. THANK YOU!!!

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Wow! God, yes, I sympathize! People who haven't been there may laugh at what happens to runners in the last 8 miles of a marathon, but people who have been there never will.

My first mistake: thinking I could run through any pain.

My second mistake: Not knowing my pace. I started with aspirations of a 7:38 pace and Boston qualifier, but those were visions in my head, not reality.

My third mistake: Holding to the vision in my head for 18 miles, then having my body seize up in the worst cramps I have ever had. (Mistake 1 and 2 became all too apparent then.)

For people doing a marathon for the first time, I would say this:

RESPECT THE DISTANCE. Think you're tougher? Ha! You'll find out otherwise if you start out like this is any other long run.

KNOW YOUR PACE. Yes, they say to take the long runs slow. But if you run 20 miles at 9 minute pace, how do you expect to hold 26 at much less? Do reasonable length MP runs and know what works for you. Try it on a longer run and see how it works out.

DRINK, EAT, EARLY. It's too late when the systems start to go down. What you do at mile 3 prepares you for mile 20. Don't forget that!

HAVE FUN. Marathons hurt, but you can make them a lot easier if you talk, joke, get to know people, and interact with spectators. Otherwise, it's easy to get depressed when your body is stressed,

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