I Just Can’t Quit You: Why I’m Not Ready to Give up on the Marathon

olive runs a marathonI’m not a quitter, but last year I decided that I was done with racing marathons.

When I was in high school, I was the captain of the swim team, even though I was a terrible swimmer. I spent four years trying to improve but it never really happened. After the league championships senior year, I threw my goggles across the gym floor and swore I’d never swim another lap.

In similar fashion, I’ve spent the last year consoling myself with the thought that I’m just not cut out for marathons. A marathon is too time-consuming to train for, anyway. And I always end up injured when training for one. We all have our strengths, and I’m pretty decent at the half marathon. I’ve told myself that I should just focus on improving my half time instead of forcing myself to get better at the full.

And yet…

My history with the marathon is not quite as long and torrid as much as it is disappointing and heartbreaking. By 2013, I took my first half marathon time of 2:07 and, within just a few short years, got my PR down to 1:34. I decided that the next logical goal was a full marathon.

I trained for the Baltimore marathon, thinking that my 1:34 half-marathon time would get me into Boston no problem. Instead, I finished with a 3:35:44, narrowly missing the qualifier. Discouraged, I decided I needed a coach. I trained for an entire year for the 2015 Houston marathon with the expectation of running a 3:15, a time my coach and I agreed was achievable. But dreams of that 3:15 were crushed, when one week before the race, I injured my hamstring doing one last tempo run. (PSA: you don’t need a year to train for a marathon).

Not one to walk away easily, I recovered, fixed my form, and set my sights on the Napa Valley Marathon in 2016. This time, my training times were so impressive to me that my coach and I thought a 3:10 was within reach. Instead, yet again, I overtrained and finished disappointed with a 3:25. Sure, I qualified for Boston, but I thought I was capable of a much faster time.

Disappointed marathoner
OMG I’m never doing this again.

And that’s when I’d had enough and I gave up on marathons. Yet, lately I can’t get a fast marathon time out of my mind.

I ran a half PR in November after some laid-back training; who’s to say that I don’t have a marathon PR in me too? Is it possible that the third time is a charm? I’m ok walking away from a goal if I feel like I’ve reached my potential, but I don’t have the feeling that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my marathon career. I feel like a great time might still be out there for me, and I just have to try once more to get it. After all, two attempts might just not be enough to determine whether or not I’m successful at something. Even though I had success in the half after two tries, I can’t assume that will hold true for me at every distance.

On the other hand, it is true that I don’t enjoy training for a marathon as much as I do shorter races. I love running, but running for three hours every Saturday isn’t my favorite. The recovery from a half is much easier, and I could run one every weekend if I wanted to. There are more half marathon races nearby, and I’ve done so many of them that I can usually finish somewhere near the front of the pack. My husband has encouraged me to walk away from the marathon distance as well, saying that it’s too hard on my body and he’s tired of watching me get hurt (emotionally and physically).

That time I threw my goggles and swore I was done swimming? I picked them back up. I went on to swim in college, and though I wasn’t breaking any records, I swam faster times than I thought I was capable of and went on to become the captain of the team my junior year. I wonder if a fast marathon is out there too.

Have you broken up with the marathon? Or do you have a great make-up story for me? 

I am a stay at home mom and group fitness instructor from South Texas. I love reading, wine, and travel. I write about trends, injury prevention and maintenance, and satire. I am training to break 1:30 in the half marathon sometime soon, and for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

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  1. That’s so interesting! I ran 3 marathons pre-kids, PRd at the last, and decided I was satisfied. After a 6 year hiatus and 2 kids, I caught the bug again (and had a schedule that made it possible to train again) and ran my fourth in December and am running my fifth next weekend. But I don’t have huge expectations. I ran a 3:45 in December and am going to try to chase after my 3:39:15 PR this time, but I guess for me, the journey is more important than the actual race. It sounds like times are really important to you (for good reason, you’re crazy fast!!) but maybe setting a different marathon-related goal would help so you could focus less on time?

    1. That’s a good point! I don’t have a specific goal time in mind, but I think I’d just like to feel like I did my very best, and I don’t have that feeling yet.

  2. The ups and downs with the marathon is what makes it so appealing. I’ve “broken” up with distance running a few times and tried other things, but always come back for more. Good luck with your Boston training!!

    1. Thanks Maple! I’m running it for “fun” with my best friend from California, so I won’t be worried about pace (which will be kind of nice!). I’m thinking about the Houston Marathon next year as an “A” race.

  3. I could have written this post! I haven’t raced a marathon in over 5 years, but I can’t say I’m done. It’s such a challenge to get right and the training is fun! I think the important thing is to not be so wrapped up in the end result and be a little open-minded. I’ve never really run one with that mindset before, though, so I know it’s easier said than done!

  4. I keep telling myself I’m going to retire from marathons after I run Boston in 2018. I love the training for them, just don’t love racing them. Who knows if I actually will?

  5. YES on so many levels!!! After running marathon after marathon (13 total with 3 50k’s and several halfs thrown in there) since 2010 with a year of miscarriage/pregnancy/infant taken off, I am quitting. *For one year. I just kept running more and more, with harder and harder workouts, no injuries, and higher and higher goals… that I still haven’t hit. I need a break, and some perspective since I feel like I’ve been so one-track-minded for so long I am missing other things in life. So 2017 will be my year of running to just run because I love it, with no racing. January 2018? We’ll see whether I want to quit for good.

    1. I think that lack of perspective was what made the DNS in Houston so tough…I’d only thought of that goal time for months, so it was heartbreaking to never hit it!

  6. I broke up with the marathon after Boston 2014–it was the third marathon in a row where my training had been great, I’d run well in tune up races, and was convinced I could easily go low 3:20s….but ran almost 10 minutes slower and felt terrible doing it (walking up Heartbreak Hill two years in a row, not fun). Like you I decided to just focus on the half–had run a bunch in the low 1:30s and decided I would not even think about running another marathon until I broke 1:30 in the half.
    Then last spring I broke 1:30 in the half with a big 3 minute PR and also wondered if, since I was in the best shape of my life, it might be worth trying the marathon one more time. I bumped my mileage up a little, ran two 20 milers, then signed up for a smaller local marathon about 5 days before the race. I ended up running a 14 minute PR, a time better than I had ever dreamed, and enjoyed the experience much more (okay, easier to enjoy the end of a marathon when you’re going to hit your goal, but still). I also recommend picking something small enough you can sign up the week of so you can check the weather first.

    The moral of my break up/make up story is: keep it laid back like you did for your half. When you feel you’re in great shape and are motivated to try it, sign up for something and go for it–but don’t force it.

  7. Yep, I have definitely done this too. I ran Boston a few years ago, underdressed for the weather, soaked, nearly froze and had what I think was hypothermia (the nurse in me comes out). I swore never ever ever again. I would never do that to my body again. Then a month later, I ran the Cleveland marathon. Ugh. It’s a love-hate relationship. I hate running 26.2 miles until it’s over and the aches go away, and then I want it back again. The one true break-up I had with running was during my senior year in college, I tried out the steeple chase and was terrrrrrible at it-I ran it one last time, sat my butt on the track when it was over and swore I would never jump over another barrier again. And I never have!

  8. I think the marathon is just such a different beast than half and lower that it becomes easy to forget that the progression/success might not come as quick/easy at the 26.2 distance. After my first I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do another, I didn’t run what I expected but also knew there was a lot of room for improvement in training, fueling, race plan…basically everything. I took that summer and focused on shorter speed and enjoyed myself, but than last minute trained and jumped into another early fall marathon. It was a PR but again not what I wanted or expected. I swore off the distance and said they just aren’t for me…until that night when I registered for one 9 weeks later but with no time goal (like Lauren said, can be really good way to change things up mentally). I ended up having a PR and much more successful/happy race experience which allowed me to really analyze how/why I was doing things and what lessons I could use going forward. The following spring I took an unplanned hiatus from marathon as I broke my foot in a car accident. The time away allowed me to really think and reflect and made for a kick ass strong and smart comeback to the distance which was the first real big marathon breakthrough.

    Basically, I agree that the time away from the distance can be good, and allow you to focus on something else and reflect on things you have learned from past marathons and training cycles. maybe you’ll go back to the marathon, and maybe you won’t. Doesn’t really matter to anyone but you- my only thing I say to people about it is….it’s very rare to nail the marathon in the first few tries (not including pros). I get annoyed when people give up the (or any) distance after 1-3 tries when they say they “aren’t good” at something. (I don’t count taking a break from the distance as giving up FYI) I think especially when it comes to a 26 mile race, it’s gonna take more than that to really figure out what works for you and what will make you more successful. Trial and error, but learning to bounce back from the errors is where you really succeed.