Marathon Lessons



There is a learning curve to every facet of our lives and it’s amazing how quickly we learn when we have to.  Motherhood was like that; our short but anxious drive home from the hospital holding my daughter’s tiny hand left me wondering, can I really do this?  My first year of teaching was the same; no college class can adequately prepare you for the moment you have 25 pairs of eyes staring back at you.  No memorized facts or rote book knowledge can prepare you for the dive-right-in-head-first kinds of real life experiences.  But of course these sink-or-swim challenges are the things that really help us grow and over time we realize our knowledge has increased and our results have improved and we’ve caught up with the curve a little.

My running “learning curve” has been acquired more slowly, but with the intensity of my training over the last 6 months, and racing two marathons in 20 days,  I have plenty of fresh data with which to evaluate and assess my running curve. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Take risks:  I love this advice from the book Running Within, “Remember that what’s lost by not trying and what’s lost by not succeeding are two very different things.”  If it’s a setback, we will learn from it, a failure really is a gift to figure out how to do it better.  My friend Amber, who was the first female at the Mt. Charleston Marathon, spoke with our coach the night before the race.  She was so happy that the course wasn’t as steep as she had feared.  His advice was to go for it, put it out there, because even if you blow up the last few miles it’s worth the risk.  She ran a personal best best of 2:35.  We have to war against those fears and remember that racing is about celebrating our own indomitable spirit because in those moments we break out of the limits we put on ourselves is when we achieve our greatest successes.

Visualize Success:  I always find some quiet moments to visualize a successful race.  I listen to one of my favorite songs and go through as many parts of the race as I can in my mind.  I visualize the moment to moment excitement, feeling the flow of a well executed race, and imagining that it’s unfolding the way I have hoped for and trained for.  I usually do this the day before or the night of the race to put myself in healthy state of mind.  It really helps me to handle the pre-race nerves and set my tone and intentions for race day.

Don’t stress about race water:  I used to really get hung up on water.  I would coordinate with my husband to meet me on the course with a Smart Water sports-top bottle.  In retrospect this caused me more stress.  I would worry that we’d miss each other, I ended up ignoring my body’s signals to drink because I knew my husband was only a mile or two away, and I’ve learned I don’t need special electrolyte water.  As it turns out, plain old H2O works just fine.  And it’s also fine to come to a full stop and drink.  I cannot drink on the run, the water gets on my face, in my nose, and very little actually gets in my mouth.  Yes, you’ll lose a little time, but without proper hydration you risk losing the race.

No music until mile 6:  This was the plan at Boston because I wanted to have time to take in the race, the people, and the energy.  In a marathon, it always takes a few miles until I’ve found my running groove, so once the music goes in everything starts to feel like it’s clicking.  Music is a great race tool for me and delaying that assistance means that it’s still aiding me when I really need to dig deep at the end.

Plan for panics:  These are the moments in a race that can creep up or come abruptly where you question for a minute or a mile, can I keep going?  “Panics” feels like the best word to describe these emotions because you can fight through them.  Say to yourself this is a panic.  Identify and acknowledge what is causing it, for example: My calf feels like it’s cramping up and I don’t know if this a sign of dehydration or if it’s really hurt (Real self talk during the Mt. Charleston Marathon, there may have been a few “s-h” words that followed).  Take some deep cleansing breaths, slow down, relax and assess, and hopefully you’ll be able to push through.  It sounds simple, but it’s helped me a lot.

Don’t let problems ruin your race:  26.2 miles is a long way and there are bound to be problems.   They can be minor things like a dropped GU (but it’s okay because you always pack an extra…I do now), a side-ache, a playlist that is on shuffle, or even a quick bathroom stop.  They can also be major things like your Garmin won’t link up, you’re battling a new pain, or you have a stomach upset.  We try to plan as best as possible to mitigate those unforeseen obstacles, but the best thing to do is to not allow it to ruin your race.  I have adopted the mantra of “This will not ruin my race.”  Whatever problem I encounter that is my first response I think it, I say it, I believe it, and it really helps.

Listen to your heart:  In the book, The Zen of Running, the author states, “There are no victories except the joy you are living while dancing your run; you are not running for some future reward-the real reward is now!”  This sums up the heart of running and racing; the reward is in the moment you conquer fear, you meet a goal, you learn a valuable lesson, you grow, you change. Let your heart and your mind guide your body to do what you trained it to do, that is where the magic is.


And those moments, win or learn, well you just bumped up your overall running curve.  Happy running friends!

What’s a lesson marathon running has taught you?

Have you ever faced a “panic” during a race?  How did you overcome it?







6 thoughts on “Marathon Lessons

  1. Jennifer says:

    I will be running my second marathon at Chicago – I’m so excited. I’m nervous I will get hurt and not even make it to the start line – but I remind myself every day not to panic. One day at a time! These are wonderful tips.

    • Katie Guisinger says:

      I always get those worries and “what if’s” too, I think it’s totally normal. I’m so excited for you! Chicago will be such an amazing experience. Happy running Jennifer!

    • Katie Guisinger says:

      I always get those worries and “what if’s” too, I think it’s totally normal. I’m so excited for you! Chicago will be such an amazing experience. Happy running Jennifer!

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