Marathon Lessons

In my Chicago Marathon Recap, I talked about how I have learned something from every marathon I have ever run. The funny thing is though, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. It seems like I am able to take even more away from each subsequent race. So I thought it might be fun to go back through each marathon one-by-one and think about the lessons I learned from each one and how they have manifested into where I am as a runner today.

Marathon #1: Indianapolis Marathon: 4:23:35

Race pic

Oh, where do I even start. In your first marathon, no matter how experienced you *think* you are, in reality, you have no idea what to expect. The main things I learned:

  • Don’t do every single long run at marathon pace. (yes, this happened)
  • Don’t go out too fast.
  • You never know what will happen in those last 6 miles.

It’s funny looking back now because the list of things I did wrong could be MUCH longer, but at the time, once the initial disappointment passed, these are the things that I knew to be true.

Marathon #2: Kiawah Island Marathon: 3:46:00

Char and Corey Kiawah running

  • Fueling is everything.
  • Long runs are for training not tests. (And one bad long run doesn’t kill the training)

My first BQ attempt (when 3:40 was the qualifying standard). My last 20-miler was a disaster. Going into the run, I looked at it as the one true test of whether I could BQ or not. That pressure combined with traveling for work, being up late the night before and not eating a good dinner resulted in me walking most of the last 4 miles. I lost all confidence and almost gave up on my goal. Thankfully Char talked me into going for it anyway (sound familiar?!). While I hit a wall after mile 22 and didn’t BQ, I was still very proud of the race and knew that fueling was the key to finishing strong in the future.

Marathon #3: Houston Marathon: 3:43:59

There is Nuun in that handheld!

  • Stay off my feet the day before the marathon.
  • I need to learn to be mentally tough in the last 6 miles.
  • Sometimes changing one little thing can change your attitude and turn things around.

The Olympic Marathon trials were in Houston the year I ran the marathon. I woke up really early the day before the race to spectate the trials (i.e. standing on my feet), walked around the expo for a few hours with Laura, then ended up at the mall later that afternoon. It’s no wonder that I never felt fresh from the beginning. I had a low point at mile 13-14 and took a cup of Gatorade and felt immediately better for several miles, which was a great lesson for me at the time in “getting a second wind.” This was also the marathon where I finally didn’t bonk super hard, but in the last 6 miles, when I knew I would PR but not break 3:40, I kind of gave in. I could have given more at the end. I knew I had to learn how to get mentally tougher when it hurts if I wanted to run a strong marathon in the future.

Marathon #4: Eugene Marathon: 3:57:12


  • Stress causes very real fatigue.
  • Strong training does not guarantee marathon success.
  • Never take a marathon finish for granted.
  • Don’t stop for the bathroom until I am sure I really need to.

My second BQ attempt. I ran this marathon the week after moving to Chicago and my body was just flat out exhausted. Despite an excellent training cycle, I did so many things wrong before the race. The one thing I did right was finish. From mile 15+, I questioned whether I could keep moving forward and I was very happy I finished instead of taking a DNF.

Marathon #5: Bayshore Marathon: 3:30:04

bayshore chute

  • Lose the Garmin.
  • I have a good feel for pace when I don’t obsess over the watch.
  • It is possible to feel amazing in a marathon.
  • Running a redemption marathon CAN work, but only under the right circumstances.
  • Having a pacer is game changing.

There isn’t a great deal to say about this…It’s as close to a perfect race as I can imagine and having Molly pace me gave me the confidence I needed to have a big breakthrough day. I do want to note that I don’t at all recommend running another marathon 6 weeks after the first one (it took a toll on my body). BUT since Eugene wasn’t a *real* marathon effort (i.e. 11+ min/miles after mile 18), I believe that my body wasn’t as fatigued as it normally would be after a typical marathon effort.

Marathon #6: New York City Marathon: 3:33:38

photo 5 (1)

  • No really, DITCH THE GARMIN. Running on feel is fun.
  • I can lock into a pace without a watch telling me how fast I am running.
  • I can run a solid marathon without running a 20-miler in training (if I race smart)
  • Cross training works.
  • I still need to learn to get tough in the final miles of the race.
  • Don’t cut the start of the race too close. 

I was injured 7 weeks out from the race. I never ran over 18 miles in the cycle and never ran over 15 miles in the 6 weeks before the race. But I had more fun in this marathon than I ever thought I could and I was shocked how well my body held up in the later miles despite a lack of long runs. I still think I could have pushed harder from 23+. And also…I missed the start of my wave – I don’t recommend that to anyone 🙂

Marathon #7: Boston Marathon: 3:41:45


  • Adjust goals based on weather.
  • The Boston Marathon course is brutal.
  • Don’t try to do too much in the days leading up to the marathon.
  • I need to try to keep my emotions in check until I really need them for a boost or after the race.
  • Sometimes the body you want to race just doesn’t show up (I seem to need to keep re-learning this one).

Oh boy, this was a tough one. I did many things wrong in the days leading up to the race and I could feel how tired I was emotionally. I even told Kevin a couple of days before the race that I was feeling a little like I felt in Eugene. That, combined with the weather, should have given me the information I needed to have to make major adjustments to my race plan.

Marathon #8: Chicago Marathon: 3:26:52

corey smile

  • Stop thinking so much and just run.
  • Working together with someone helps a ton.
  • Hometown races are amazing.
  • Sometimes running a little faster feels better than slowing down.
  • A mid-race low point can be turned around (hmmm…seems to be the second time I have had to learn that one!)

It’s kind of fun to look back through each of these races. It shows me how far I have come (57 min. from #1 to #8), but I also know my marathon days still have so much more to teach me. And hopefully faster times to come along with it…

It also reminds me that there are a few lessons that I have had to learn more than once. I might have to revisit these thoughts before #9 so that I can put these little lessons in my pocket and remember them when things get tough.

Tell me…what is the biggest lesson you have learned from a marathon?

About Corey

I am a 30-something swim, bike, run addict married to my best friend and in love with my two schnoodle doggies.
This entry was posted in Goals, Races, running, training. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Marathon Lessons

  1. Great post and very timely for me as I can learn from you going into CIM!

    I’ve learned A lot of the same lessons, especially the one about the impact of stress on racing. My number one lesson has been to run my own race and not focus on what others are doing.

  2. I love that your happiest races were the ones where you forgot about the watch and didn’t stress over splits. My best half marathons were the same way, but every other distance – marathon esp. since I’m so inexperienced, I can’t imagine ditching it! It’s reassuring to think I’ll be that way one day though.
    Having done only 2 marathons, I’d say I learned it’s about more than the miles. Going into my first marathon, I thought as long as I literally did the miles that my training plan called for, I’d be ok. Cue showing up to the start like without a fuel or pacing plan. Oops 🙂 I think my 2nd marathon showed me the value of taking in salt during the race – it’s something I plan to experiment with on my next training cycle so I can hopefully avoid leg cramps on race day.

  3. elizabeth says:

    LOVE this. I hope I can switch to racing without the garmin. I’m really not sure. 3 of my 5 were with team in training and 1 was more for the scenery (big sur). So really, I’ve only raced 1 marathon with the intentions of doing really well (don’t think the first marathon ever counts even though you always think it does for “racing”). I still have SO much to learn and can’t wait to see what this one has in store for me.

    • Corey says:

      Friend, don’t discount the experience you have with all of your half marathons. You have put on many, many bibs is your running days and that is a HUGE piece of experience that you can take with you into NYC. The marathon is not different from any other of those races…it’s just longer. But guess, what?! You get to run 30+ seconds slower too! You are going to absolutely crush this race this weekend!! (And you CAN run without your Garmin. You are a strong, smart, experienced runner.)

  4. Very cool to see your progression and everything you’ve learned! I think most runners need to re-learn the same lessons over and over 🙂 One big lesson I’ve learned is to believe in yourself and that you can do the things you want and to stop the self doubt.

  5. I adore you on so many levels and wish we lived closer. What fantastic lessons and it’s been amazing to see your training over the last few years!!

  6. Sandy says:

    Very impressive progress! I wish I could pace myself without my Garmin to relieve some of the race day pressure and stress.

    • Corey says:

      I think you might surprise yourself with how in tune with your pace you are without a Garmin. I still train with it and probably wouldn’t have ever stopped racing with it unless I had my friend Molly to pace me for Bayshore. I was shocked with how sensitive I was when we sped up 5 sec or slowed down 5 sec and I would ask her and she would tell me that I was spot on. I still wear my lap watch so that I can lap at every mile marker so I do get some feedback on pace. Plus it avoids me going crazy with my Garmin isn’t synced with the course mile markers or loses signals. It’s hard to practice with it in training runs though, because I find I don’t lock in nearly as well during training as a race! Maybe give it a shot on a half or something that isn’t an A race and see how it goes?! Good luck!!

  7. Marcia says:

    This was so much fun to read and I can totally relate to much of it! I am encouraged you mention how hard the Boston course is (agree) but not the NYCM course, which I’m running in 5 days (who’s counting?). This Chicago flatlander is stressing a little about all those bridges!

    • Corey says:

      Thank you so much! I trained here in Chicago for NYC too and was completely stressed about the course profile. And it was fine! Not even as close to as brutal as Boston with all those downhills in the beginning. The one thing I will say is that I was completely mentally prepared for the bridges so they didn’t bother me that much, but I was less prepared for the kind of constant long steady uphills/downhills. I thought it would just be flat except for the bridges. But the crowds and atmosphere is SO amazing that you will likely forget all about that! The one other thing I wish I had been mentally prepared for is the long (not steep) climb at mile 23…I think if you are anticipating it, it won’t throw you off like it did for me though. It kind of caught me off guard and felt like it wouldn’t end! GOOD LUCK!! I am jealous because that is my absolute favorite marathon of all time.

  8. ErinAMG says:

    oh man, I really like this post. so much good stuff here!!!! (and a great posting idea!)

  9. Wow, such a journey! I was at the Houston Marathon that year and got a BQ there the next. Going back this year too 🙂 Really cool to read short recaps on what you learned as the marathons passed. Thanks for sharing, we can always learn from each other! And congrats on busting out some major fast races!!! Wow!

  10. Jodi says:

    Besides the lessons your talked about, I love the picture progression. Amazing how you can see how much stronger and more confident you became with each race!

  11. evamadera says:

    I absolutely loved this post! It is so cool to be able to step back and look at the progression and see how far you’ve come. Thanks for sharing!

  12. erin says:

    What a fun post! Love seeing your progress and improvement from marathon to marathon! It kinda makes me want to run a standalone 26.2 soon, too 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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