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Top 10 Lessons Learned from NYCM

Top 10 Lessons Learned from NYCM

Hi, everyone! Thank you all so much for the supportive comments on my New York City Marathon race recap (in case you missed it, you can find it right HERE.) You guys are the best!

So even though the race is over, I’m still prancing around in my NYCM marathon jacket and tech shirts (and, um, the limited-edition Brooks NYCM sneakers that I may or may not have purchased from a local running store…). I’m still reveling in the accomplishment and enjoying reading everyone else’s recaps.

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But in the days after the race, I’ve also done a LOT of thinking. As most of you already know, my race-day performance didn’t exactly turn out the way I hoped. Not only did I miss my time goal of a sub-five hour marathon by about 15 minutes, but I also struggled a heck of a lot more than I thought I would.

I think I learned a LOT on the race course that morning. Quite possibly more than I’ve learned while training for and running my previous two marathons combined: the Walt Disney World Marathon and the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the top 10 lessons I learned after conquering marathon number 3. :)

10.) Sometimes, things just don’t go according to plan.

You can train as hard as you possibly can for a race. You can log all the miles and subject yourself to god-awful long runs weekend after weekend. You can obsess over every morsel of food that goes into your mouth and put yourself to bed at 10pm and hydrate until the cows come home. And, yes, your hard work will likely get you across that finish line on race day.

But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. And it DEFINITELY doesn’t mean that everything is going to go according to plan.

My training wasn’t perfect (is it ever?) but based upon my performance in the majority of my long runs and my average paces in even 70+ degree temperatures, I thought for sure that a 4:45ish marathon was well within my reach. And maybe, technically, it was.

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But I didn’t train on the rolling hills of New York City. I didn’t train in 30 MPH winds. And for whatever reason, my body just didn’t want to cooperate on November 2nd.

Sometimes, that’s just the way it is, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. We’re not robots, and no matter how much we prepare for any given race, your body may not always want to cooperate on race day.

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Whooooooo’s in pain?!

9.) There’s always going to be another marathon.

As I was beating myself up in those final miles when I knew I didn’t reach my goal of a sub-five hour marathon, I let a crappy, negative attitude get in the way of what was supposed to be this triumphant moment of personal accomplishment.

But in the days after the race, honestly, I couldn’t really care less about my finish time. I don’t wear my NYCM “marathoner” shirt or look at my race medal and think, “if only I could have finished 15 minutes sooner.” Instead, I think…I DID IT. I think about what an amazing experience it was, and how it’s something I will never, ever forget.

And I think about how I will take what I’ve learned and apply it to the next marathon. I’m not an elite runner. I will never be an elite runner. And, hell, even Meb and Kara have their “off” days. So I need to accept that I’m GOING to make mistakes in my training and on race day, and all I can do is learn from it and try to do better next time.

Because let’s be honest…for most of us, there’s ALWAYS going to be a “next time.” I’m pretty sure I said “NEVER AGAIN” at least 3-4 times as I fought my way through the second half of the marathon. But the second I crossed that finish line, all I could think was “I can’t wait to do it again!”

8.) You MUST pace yourself.

I know this was one of my downfalls in this race. And most races. When I’m at the starting line and it’s time to go, I am filled with this surge of energy and excitement and adrenaline and, as much as I try, it’s SO hard for me to reel it all in and start out with a conservative pace.

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For this race, I read all of the countless articles and books and fellow blogger recaps that warn not to let yourself get swept up in the crowds and the cheering and the excitement. I read all of the advice that the spectator support at the NYCM marathon can be overwhelming, and cause anyone to make the mistake of going out too fast.

Well, surprise, surprise. That is EXACTLY what I did, and by the halfway point, I feared that I didn’t have enough left in the tank to get me to that finish line. I know it’s a big part of the reason why I struggled in the second half of the race, and I’m fairly confident that if I had been more strategic when it came to my pace, then I probably would have met my goal.

7.) Expect the unexpected.

I was hoping, praying, and keeping my fingers crossed for cool temperatures on race morning. I told myself I would run in ANYTHING — rain, snow, whatever — as long as we didn’t end up with one of those 70-degree November afternoons.

Well, I got my wish. It never broke 50 degrees that day, and the wind chills made it feel like it was in the 30′s. But what I couldn’t have planned or prepared for was the wind.

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Some runners don’t seem as bothered by weather conditions as I am, but feeling the force of the wind against me for the majority of those 26.2 miles really took its toll. Mentally, I hated that what was already a challenge was made that much harder. And, physically, it was my upper body (shoulders, neck, back) that ached the most in the days after the race!

I never expected to have to deal with this particular factor on race day, and I learned that sometimes you’re going to be thrown for a loop…and all you can do is the best you can in those circumstances.

6.) Every race is different.

One of the things that frustrated me most about my performance was that I kept thinking about how I ran the Dopey Challenge without any major issues. I know it sounds crazy, but I fared SO much better in my first marathon, and that was after already completing a 5K, 10K, and half marathon in the three days prior to the race!

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I’m guessing it’s probably because I frickin’ love Disney SO much that I literally don’t even feel pain when I’m running through the parks. But I let my finish in the Walt Disney World Marathon — and, to an extent, the fairly comfortable Rock ‘n’ Roll USA marathon I ran two months afterwards — cloud my better judgement when it came to taking on the NYCM.

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What I neglected to consider was that every marathon experience is going to be different — and in this case, there were so many factors that ended up affecting my performance, from the stress of getting myself from New Jersey to Staten Island at 4am to the NOT flat course to climbing over bridges to having to sit on the ground in the cold for 4 hours prior to the race. Next time, I will take a hard look at the course and make sure that I am trained as best as I can be to the specific conditions.

5.) Keep things in perspective.

When I started to struggle, all I could think about was how disappointed I was going to be with my finish time. Boohoo, woe is me, I’m going to have a “5″ in front of my finish time instead of a “4.” Wah.

That’s all I could think about in those final miles, and I tried so hard to stop beating myself up so I could savor the moment.

For most of us, we’re not always going to meet that time goal. But when you cross that finish line, something else far more important takes over. And I wish I had kept things in perspective a bit better during the race.

After the fact, all I could think about was that I was now a three-time marathoner. This girl who once couldn’t climb a flight of stairs and whose only source of personal satisfaction in life came from tearing through a bag of Doritos just crossed the finish line of yet another marathon.

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This girl just ran a marathon. ‘Nuf said.

Now, why on god’s green Earth should I feel anything but satisfaction for the sheer ACCOMPLISHMENT of the race, whether I finish it in 4:30 or 5:30? Why should any of us EVER lose that perspective? Not every runner had a sad little weight problem or “former fat girl” mentality like me, but we ALL have our stories. We all have our reasons for why we subject our bodies to the demands of marathon training over and over again. And, at the end of the day, that reason is all that really matters.

4.) Respect the distance.

Okay, I have to admit something. I thought this marathon was going to be a piece of cake. Not that running 26.2 miles is easy or anything, but I just kept saying to myself, “eh, I’ve already done this twice, I’m pretty well trained, I got in my long runs…what more do I need?” My final 20-mile training run went swimmingly, and my performance in the Hershey Half Marathon just two weeks prior to the race — which we ran at a very comfortable, easy pace on a pretty hilly course in around 2:20 — just added to my confidence.

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I’m not saying you shouldn’t be confident going into a marathon, but I think I may have forgotten to respect the distance. A marathon is not a half marathon (duh). It isn’t a 20-mile training run. It is unlike anything you will ever experience, and it’s basically like riding a rollercoaster of emotions while you subject your body to the rigors of nonstop running for several hours.

I let myself forget that, and I ended up getting a very rude awakening that day.

3.) Karate and running don’t mix…and…YOU MUST LET YOUR BODY REST!

Another lesson I learned the hard way. As you may recall, in the months leading up to the marathon, I earned my blue belt in Taekwondo and tested for my black belt in Thai kickboxing.

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After I got my blue belt, I was so excited that I was finally gaining some momentum in my martial arts training. I could make a lot more of the classes each week because they were later in the evening. So I did.

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And for Thai, I started attending 2-3 classes a week again, which I had pretty much stopped doing ever since running took over my life. There were weeks when I was squeezing in extra sparring practice sessions, taking the candidate classes, squeezing in at least 1-2 Thai and Taekwondo classes each, AND logging my 25-30+ weekly miles on top of it all.

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(For the record, I NEVER did this much karate while training for my first two marathons. Not even close.)

Meanwhile…rest days? What are those? Most weeks, I was lucky to have one complete rest day. In many cases, I was either running or taking a karate class all 7 days of the week. I definitely didn’t take the importance of the rest day seriously.

Needless to say, I started to have all kinds of physical ailments. Not serious, mind you…but I was coming home at night with a sore lower back, my knees were constantly aching, my legs were ALWAYS in agony from all of the kicking and running. And, stupidly, I thought it was only making my legs “stronger.” Meanwhile, I suffered through a lot of training runs with tight, sore, heavy legs, and I started to feel twinges in parts of my body that never bothered me before.

On race day, my back was probably my biggest problem. I’ve never had an issue with back pain before, but it hit me somewhere around mile 12 and didn’t go away. I’m going to karate classes and feeling pain and tightness in my lower back every single time now. Methinks I might have injured myself due to the karate/running combo (this wouldn’t be the first time), and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I more than likely sabotaged my performance on race day with all of the brutality I inflicted upon my legs in those extra karate classes.

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Probably not the smartest thing to be doing before a marathon…

I love them both. I’m not giving up on karate. But, next time, I need to learn how to strike a better balance, and possibly focus on ONE at a time. Karate is NOT the ideal form of cross-training for a marathon, and I know now that it ended up doing my body more harm than good.

When you’re training for a marathon, I learned that giving your body the rest it needs is sometimes just as important as the running itself.

2.) Enjoy the experience.

I know there are some people who look at me like I’m some kind of psycho for wearing costumes during races. Surely, some of you read that I carried a plastic torch or fought with a crown on a windy morning for 26.2 miles and thought, “WTF?”

For me, the EXPERIENCE of running a marathon is just as important as the race itself. It’s why I love runDisney, and it’s why I thoroughly enjoy wearing silly race costumes. It’s why I stop for so many pictures along the course. And I know it’s definitely why Todd and I enjoy planning “race-cations” so much.

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I like to set and reach time goals as much as the next person. But, at the same time, I know there are some runners who focus a lot more on their performance than I ever will. For me, I can’t possibly allow myself to be disappointed in how I performed on race day because, no matter what, I got to experience the New York City Marathon, from the expo to the spectators to, yes, even shivering in the cold at the starting village.

For me, a race will never be just about the miles I cover or the time on the clock at the finish line. This race helped me remember that the experience is ALWAYS going to be more important than my performance, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just like we all have our reasons for running, we all have our reasons to travel all over the country (and the world) to participate in certain races.

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Yeah…this is normal…

And for me, it’s just as much about the experience of seeing a new city or shopping at the expo or planning a fun costume as it is the race itself. Could I have shaved a few minutes off my finish time just by not stopping for photos along the way? Of course. But having this photo is more important to me than seeing a 5:05 or 5:10 next to my name on some results list.

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And, the number one most important lesson I will be taking into my next marathon…

1.) Running 26.2 miles is just as much mental as it is physical. Period.

I hate to be the one to admit it, but I KNOW that the biggest reason I struggled during the marathon is because I let my self-doubt take over.

I like to think that the “old me” is a thing of the past, but in many ways, I know I will always carry her around with me. And, sadly, I let that girl who used to just love to doubt herself and tear herself down take over on race day. My body started to fail me, and my first thought was “I can’t do this,” “what am I doing here,” “I’ll never make it to the finish line,” etc. etc. etc.

I let the mental overcome the physical, and I think that’s where things started to go horribly wrong.

We’ve all seen those quotes about “mind over matter” or “running with your heart” and as your body starts to fail you in the epic distance that is a marathon, you really do have to keep your head on straight. Getting to that finish line is just as much about your mind as it is your body, I don’t care who you are or how fast you run. I let my negative attitude get the best of me that day, and I paid for it.

It’s funny how I walked away from what felt like such a “painful” race with no injuries or lingering physical issues of any kind, and it’s funny how once I reached Central Park and KNEW I was going to finish the race, magically, I suddenly wasn’t hurting as much.758420-1130-0023s

Above all, I learned that there’s NO place in a marathon for self-doubt…and that a little bit of confidence can go a long way. :)

Now it’s your turn…what are some lessons you’ve learned while training/running a half or full marathon?!

Comments

  1. i love this! I had a great PR race a few weeks ago and ended up with sciatic nerve issues for wine and dine and ran a full hour slower but I finished. My leg is still sore so I will probably have a similar performance at Avengers this weekend but sometime it really is just about the finish line!

    • Yikes…sorry to hear that! BE CAREFUL! In that case, all you can do is focus on taking care of your body (and, of course, getting to that finish line, no matter what!) Have an awesome time at Avengers…looking forward to your recap!

  2. You still did such a great job! I would love to run through Central park. I good see where that would give you a boost of energy for sure!

  3. I meant to say “I could see”.

  4. Lovely post! It was well written and ALL so true. Now lets sign up for the same marathon next fall :D

    • Thank you! AGREED. After the Goofy Challenge in January, I have no idea what I’ll be doing — I need some ideas! :)

  5. What a great post! I could easily relate to every single word. I think, once we see our goal time slip away, the race becomes 20X harder in an instant. During my marathon I just kept telling myself that the final miles were the ones that prove just how tough and awesome runners are. We don’t need to win races or even PR every time, we fight through all the uncomfortableness to get to the finish line because that’s just what we do. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth it!

    …. And in the moment, like you, I was disappointed with my finishing time, but I’m still wearing my Portland Marathon jacket a month later and I look back on the day with all kinds of happiness and pride!

    • Thanks, Kristina! Ugh…tell me about it. I hated how negative I got just because of missing that time goal. But now…I just don’t even care. You can’t look back at finishing a marathon with anything but pride — it’s a HUGE deal, no matter what your finish time!

  6. Thanks for these! Training for the Goofy (my first full marathon) I’ve definitely been in panic mode. But it’s in Disney and I’m going to try and have as much fun with it as possible! I know #1 will definitely be an issue for me which is why I am soooooo glad I found someone willing to put up with my slow pace and run with me. I’m still sorry this race was so rough for you, but it sounds like you picked up some valuable insight and again CONGRATULATIONS!

    • Thanks, Kellie! I’m so hoping to catch up with you during Goofy! You can absolutely, positively do this. Honestly, I didn’t struggle with a whole lot of negative thoughts while I was running Dopey…I was having WAY too much fun. Makes it easy to ignore the pain, haha.

      Having someone to run with is going to help tremendously, especially on those long, boring stretches of highway. And, plus, you can’t NOT have fun in Disney!

      As your first full, it’s an automatic PR, so you don’t have to put a ton of pressure on yourself…just focus on getting to those finish lines and collecting all of that beautiful runDisney bling! :)

  7. Sounds like you learned some great lessons! Its always important to remember that no matter how much we prepare, the unexpected can always happen on race day. You and the other NYC marathoners were tough cookies to run in those high winds. Kudos to you for powering through and getting across the finish line!

  8. I can’t agree more with ALL of these things! It was a tough race, but the tough ones are where we can learn the most… So cliche but so true!

  9. Sooo many things I can resonate with in this post, especially respecting the distance – I’ve actually been having that trouble more with 13.1 than 26.2 because I think it’s “just” a half marathon…not so!

    And I experienced a similar issue as you did with karate with yoga, except the opposite, I noticed a huge difference in my running since I haven’t been going to yoga nearly as much since I moved!

    I’m so glad that you are able to still walk away from what wasn’t an ideal race day with such a great attitude and incredible memory of the experience!

  10. Congratulations on a job well job!!! Amazing accomplishments!! Any chance of a ‘Winter Running’ blog post? Curious to know your thoughts on clothing/ indoor training when it’s very cold out. Happy Running!

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