25 Reflections on Marathoning

Yesterday’s Wineglass Marathon marked my 25th marathon. I didn’t realize I’d reached a milestone until I was updating my personal records page with the number of marathons I’ve run. When I started running recreationally about 10 years ago and seriously about three years after that, I could not have imagined how much running has come to define who I am and how I live my life. It made me a healthier, happier person. It helped me stop taking antidepressants and led to some of my best relationships. Now, in a post-marathon high, at that great time when my endorphins are still surging, I’ve jotted down 25 things I’ve learned about running marathons.

  1. During taper week, keep your nerves in check. Don’t take out your nervous energy and/or trouble sleeping on your significant other. Be really careful if your significant other is also tapering.
  2. If you’ve never run the course before, look at the course elevation profile before the race. Is there a big hill or two? Go check them out ahead of time. Doing this saved me from making a huge mistake in the Delaware Marathon in 2012. There is a huge hill in the middle of the park that doesn’t look terrible on the map because it is so long. This thing is no joke, and I wouldn’t have known about it until race day if I hadn’t checked it out early.
  3. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask for a wake-up call, and set your alarm. I almost overslept because my phone alarm had a glitch for Daylight-Saving Time for the New York City Marathon in 2011. Belt and suspenders with the alarm.
  4. Making a marathon packing list pays off. Being obsessive about said list will leave you at the head of the Porta Potty line with a handful of the toilet paper you packed when everyone else has turned away. You win.
  5. Speaking of the bathroom, look for the hidden Porta Potty or the ones near the start line. At the Marine Corps Marathon and at Boston, there are lines of potties near the start. The lines tend to be shorter there if you’re in a pinch.
  6. At the starting line, you’ll get butterflies every time. You will worry you haven’t prepared or that the one speed work session or 20-miler you missed is going to be your undoing. It never will be.
  7. For cold races, stay warm as long as you can. Bring warm clothes that you can throw away, or stay in your car. Don’t use your energy being cold if you don’t have to.
  8. You can’t tell how fast someone is just by looking at them (most of the time). Except you kind of can tell that the Kenyans lining up at the start of the big city marathons are probably going to smoke you. For the most part, you can’t tell whether someone is going to be speedy when you line up next to them at the start. You’ll easily pass the chiseled blond wearing a matchey-matchey sports bra and booty shorts, but at mile 21, some dude who looks like Kevin Federline wearing basketball shorts will just trot on by. What.
  9. Not every race will deliver perfect conditions no matter how well you plan. Adjust your expectations accordingly. You might choose a marathon that promises an average high of 60 and low of 40, and race day comes with highs in the 90s or lows in the 20s. Roll with it. You’ll run another race.
  10. You can master the water or Gatorade hand-off by making eye contact with an alert volunteer. You or the volunteer will still drop a cup every now and then.
  11. Drink a beer during a race some time. If you aren’t going for a specific time or if you’ve given up on meeting your time goal for some reason, find one of those crazy people giving out beer on the course. There are usually a few. Drink the beer, and wait for the next few miles to float by. Woo!
  12. Most men don’t like to be passed by a woman. Most men will charge if you try to pass them.
  13. Most women encourage you when they pass you or when you pass them.
  14. Sometimes when you try to encourage someone else on the course, they might not understand you. My favorite story: In the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2009, with about a half mile to go, I look over at a guy I’d been running next to for about a mile. “Let’s bring it on home!” I yell, enthusiastically. “Huh?” says the guy. “You know, bring it on home! Bring it hoooome!” “What does that mean?” Sigh. I sprinted ahead in shame.
  15. If someone is offering GU, take it. Unless it’s Strawberry Banana GU. Throw those back. They don’t have caffeine.
  16. If someone is offering Vaseline and there’s even a slight chance you might need it, take it.
  17. After the race, you’re either starving, or you won’t want anything but maybe a banana or a bagel. When you do finally want food, the cravings will be intense. I can only imagine this is what pregnancy is like.
  18. There’s always that one person who throws their arms up at the end of the race like Rocky and flat out stops in the chute. That person is usually right in front of me. Don’t be that person. Please keep moving through the finish line area.
  19. Have a plan for the finish line. Make the plan with the person(s) you’re meeting when you’re of a sane mind, not sometime in the middle of the race. Things you say in the middle of a race don’t count.
  20. You may curse at small children in the middle of races because they didn’t hand you Gatorade and they were the only people handing out Gatorade at the 23-mile mark. Sorry, small children. Who put you in charge of something so important?
  21. You also may select only the most adorable children to be deserving of hand slaps. Note: most of them are adorable, so you’ll slap a lot of hands. Kids are really psyched for a sweaty hand slap.
  22. If you see a photographer, attempt to look happy to be running. After 20-some marathons, I finally got a good photo. This was not for lack of trying.
  23. Run the same race a few times. Multiple runnings of the same course will build confidence. In looking over my race logs, I notice a trend that I run most races better the second time around. For me, not knowing what to expect is what makes me most nervous. That’s why Boston is my favorite race — because after running it four times, I know exactly what it should feel like.
  24. Bring comfortable shoes for after the race. If you’re allowed a gear-check bag, consider a change of shoes and/or socks for just after the finish line. Once I realized I should be doing this, my post-race life changed. Same goes for dry clothes.
  25. Active recovery and stretching are your best bet in the days after the marathon. After the race, foam roll the crap out of your legs even if you don’t think you need it.

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Amanda runs nearly every day. She likes data and avoids deer at all costs.