Find Success In the Chase: Learning From Mistakes in Marathon Training

In many ways, just getting to the starting line of a marathon as an elite athlete was success.
In many ways, just getting to the starting line of a marathon as an elite athlete was success.

61 baby! That’s was magic number for Pittsburgh. On May 3rd, I pinned on the first elite bib of my life: F61. It was a race that didn’t come together. In fact, I didn’t even end up finishing. But this article isn’t about that race; I already wrote about that. Often, I’m realizing, the best part of running isn’t necessarily achieving a goal time in a race, although that is pretty amazing! Instead, the best part is often found in the every day struggles and striving as we chase our big dreams. In that vain, today I want to tell you about some of the lessons I learned this season while I was chasing down this elite dream of mine. 

Lesson 1: Surround yourself with a group of runners who share your passion. When you doubt that you’ll make it to the starting line, they will remind you that this is supposed to be fun. When you are lining up next to women who are 30 minutes faster, they will remind you that you worked just as hard to get to that starting line.

In addition to the other Salty writers, I meet my running group in Cleveland for a run and bagels every Sunday, rain, or shine, or blizzard. But I also have a little virtual running group that stay in contact by email. We’re all chasing some version of elite qualifying times, and even though we have never met in person, we email each other several times a day. I even asked them which houses I should look at in Michigan, and what do do when I was having meltdowns.The Salty bloggers, my local running club and virtual gang helped me balance out the seriousness of going for a big running goal with the fun that running is supposed to be. Perhaps even better, they also softened the blow of my disappointing race and helped me keep it in perspective!

Lesson 2: Sometimes it just doesn’t all go as planned. There are job changes, rough winters, injuries. I don’t know … all sorts of stuff that pop up in the training cycle. Some of this stuff is more important, and sometimes it gets in the way.

Lesson 3: Do your own thing. I love the running group I found in Cleveland, but relying on others to dictate my long run pace just didn’t work for me. Even when I showed up to the Hanson sunday runs and took off with the elite women in the front, which by the way was totally awsome, it was a bad idea. The lesson I’m taking is that my workouts and long runs need to be on my own so I can be more consistent and run the right effort and pace for my training, not someone else’s. Sunday morning with the Solon gang is a great social event if I go to run my recovery pace, so I think next cycle I’ll do my long runs on Saturdays on my own. But when we all show up and ask each other “what are you doing today?” it seriously interfered with my plan to be consistent. To train well, you have to do what you need to do.

Lesson 4: Use a training plan…. any training plan. I kinda skipped this. Last season, I very-very-loosely followed Hanson’s Marathon Method. This time I attempted to throw together a series of training weeks with various workouts and instead couldn’t consistantly get any of them to come together.

Lesson Five: Back down and and climb back up.  When we talked about why we never had any good spotlight opperators at my school theater, my tech director used to say, “We all rise to one level above our own incompetence.” As soon as one of our theater geek kids was good at spotlight, we’d find something more challenging for that kid to do. We all tend to advance one step beyond where we should be. When you find that your workouts are ending in meltdowns, back down one stop and keep going until you are nailing them again.

BONUS: Something about a cart and a horse, but I hope to see you all going after your own dreams in the fall. A bigger bonus would be seeing you alongside me on the Columbus Marathon starting line!

I'm a subelite marathon runner, but I didn't come from a collegiate running background. Instead I'm trying to break into competitive running in my thirties. I write about chasing the dream of running with the elite girls and tell stories of adventures along the way. Watch me chase the next big thing.

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  1. Great lessons. I have been thinking about “doing your own thing” and struggling with the fact that running with others is more enjoyable (and isn’t part of the point of running that we enjoy it?!) but would generally progress and perform better if I run at my own pace for long runs and races.

  2. I agree with you about finding and doing your own thing. I definitely followed the lead of my training partners when I really should have been setting my own paces and workouts because I love running with others. However I put their training above my own and I think my race performance was ultimately affected by that. Good reminder for the next training cycle.