What I’ve Learned From 50 Marathons

Ten years ago I started training for my first marathon. We had just moved from Montana to Missouri, I had a toddler and baby at home, and I was feeling a bit depressed and needed something big to challenge me.

At that time I didn’t know anyone who’d ever run a marathon, didn’t have any friends who were runners (and Trevor wasn’t a runner at the time), and had only done two 5k races. Clearly this was pre-MTA days.

What I’ve Learned From 50 Marathons

I signed up for the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, TN in April 2008 and my mom paid for my race entry because I couldn’t afford that and the running shoes to train in.

After my very first marathon (Nashville 2008). I still wear my “lucky” hat from that race.
We only had 2 kiddos at the time
Trevor = total non-runner

I remember printing off a training plan and running that winter through the dark, cold, and rain. As spring came the long runs started to get warmer and I learned most things the hard way. Things I knew nothing about at the time included proper running shoes, anti-chaffing ointment, when to eat pre-run, fueling, and cross training. This of course led to injury and a lot of nerves going into the race.

A few things stand out vividly during that first marathon: sleeping poorly in a seedy motel the night before, being nervous about getting to the starting line in time, the morning being a bit rainy, and an out and back section where I was impressed by the lead runners being so far ahead. My finishing time was 4:10:15.

You never know where running can take you.

I wish I’d made more of an effort to do a race recap, take pictures and make notes from my first race. I didn’t know at the time where running would take me. But I did have a sense that even though the marathon contained a lot of discomfort, I would be back for more. But first I had to deal with some severe ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome) which required taking about 3 months off from running and focusing on yoga and other cross training for the first time.

I didn’t run my second marathon until December 2009 at the St. Jude’s Marathon in Memphis, Tennessee, and was able to break 4:00 for the first time. In early 2010 we started the MTA podcast and Trevor started his journey as a runner. I was pregnant with our 3rd son at the time.

My third marathon wasn’t until March 2011 –The Little Rock Marathon and at that time my sister Autum ran her first marathon, Trevor did his 1st half marathon, and I was 5 months post-partum.

At the Little Rock Marathon with Trevor and Autum. They both say I inspired them to get into running.

Since that time running has become an integral part of my life and I’ve been able to run marathons in 39 states. Some have been slow, some fast, some hot, some cold, some high, some low (this is starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss book). I’ve been able to meet many incredible people along the way. In fact, many of you in the MTA community have been a huge source of inspiration to me. Thank you so much!

Running Highlights:

At the Boston Marathon finish line

The marathon reveals what is inside.

If you have mental or physical weaknesses, lack of preparation, fueling issues, etc, the marathon will let you know. That’s why it is important to respect the distance.

If you run enough marathons there will be a point where you realize that with the highs often come a lot of lows. There’s been points during races where I’ve promised myself that after I finished I’d never run another marathon. There have been many miles where every step felt like agony, there have been falls, chaffing, numerous black toenails, sore muscles, and various niggles.

There have been times when I didn’t know if I wanted to keep on running marathons. Yet something always keeps brings me back. This reminds me of a quote from author and TV producer Shonda Rhimes,

“Sometimes you have to say yes to something that terrifies you. Sometimes yes feels like the sun.”

Continuing to say “yes” looks different for every person. But the point is to avoid becoming stagnant. After all these races I am more convinced than ever that long distance running can transform you into a better version of yourself.

Continue to be a learner.

I’ve been able to run 50 marathons without any serious injuries (knock on wood). I think running helps you to get to know your body better . . . and the smart runner doesn’t ignore warning signs. Small things turn into big things.

If I start feeling a little plantar fasciitis in my right foot (where it usually crops up) I know I have to start working on it immediately, not just ignore it and hope it will go away.

I’ve struggled with hormonal issues in the last couple of years which forced me to take about a year off from racing. During this time I dropped my mileage down and I kept my focus on being a healthy person -which included letting some stressful responsibilities go. I also started the practice of meditating daily.

The lesson here is be a constant learner and remember that you are in partnership with your body. Your running volume will fluctuate, it’s your overall health that matters most.

Marathons are a privilege and reason to feel gratitude.

With my kids after the New South Trail Marathon in North Carolina

No matter how miserable I am at any particular point during training or a race I can always fall back on the fact that being able to do marathons is something I’m incredibly thankful for.

There are many areas of life where we don’t get to choose our pain. But the marathon is something that I’ve chosen and the pain lets me know that I’m not settling into a comfort zone—that I’m fully alive.

Long distance running has enabled me to build resilience, stay in shape, meet epic people and go on many adventures. I couldn’t imagine life without running.

One final word . . .

I believe that with the right training you too can be a prolific runner. You don’t have to run 50 marathons. Everyone’s journey will look different and that’s good. What matters is that you live up to your potential as a runner and remember YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES!

We are here to have your back! The Academy exists to help runners avoid the mistakes I made when I started. We’ve seen runner’s from all over the world go through our training and successfully finish their first half marathon, marathon, ultra, etc..

I also believe it’s wise to learn from people who have been where you want to go. That’s why it pays to hire an accomplished running coach to help you train strategically. As MTA has grown we’ve been able to assemble a team of coaches to help our runners get results. You can see how coaching works here.

I’m excited to see what the next year holds!

7 Responses to What I’ve Learned From 50 Marathons

  1. MIKE P PURCELL November 10, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    Great write Angie, thank you for all that you do. I am approaching 50 and I am just getting started!

    • Angie Spencer November 11, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      The thing that matters is that you’re starting! I just heard from a 68 year old man whose goal is to run his first marathon by age 70. Wishing you the best as you pursue your running goals Mike 🙂

  2. Stephanie Laska November 10, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    Congrats! What a wonderful article. Say yes to the sun! Love all your tips and inspiration.

  3. Trevor Spencer November 10, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

    I’m trying to get Angie to wear all her medals like Mr. T.

    • Tom Willson November 12, 2017 at 8:39 pm #

      um YES! We need that picture on social media! How can she turn down an invitation like that? I’m waiting to see the Mr. T photo in my Christmas stocking!!

  4. April Sweet November 13, 2017 at 1:20 am #

    Great article, love your work. Well done Angie.

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