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Top Half-Dozen Things I Learned During My First Six Marathons

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon 2014

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon 2014

You’ve completed the training for a marathon. But don’t toe the start line without planning your race, choosing a mantra and remembering to have fun.

By Henry Howard

Yesterday I completed marathon number six, the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. It’s actually the third time I’ve run 26.2 at the Monumental. But, hey, it’s a wonderful race and only 60 miles from my house, so it figures to be a constant for me.

This blog post isn’t intended to rave about the Monumental (but I could) or replace Angie Spencer as a coach (which I could not). Instead, I wanted to share the top six things I’ve learned since completing my first marathon, roughly two years ago today.

Six Things I Learned During My First Six Marathons

  1. You can finish a marathon.
    Sometime in the spring of 2011, I strapped on new running shoes and set out to run down my street, turn around and return home. The route was about 1.6 miles. I had to stop three times and almost puked when I finally reached home. This was very weird to me. I had played sports while growing up, every intramural sport in college, and pick-up basketball and rec softball in my 20s. I was out of shape and saw a foreboding item on my bucket list — “Run a marathon.” After that dismal run, I felt determined to get back into shape. Soon the runs became not only easier but longer. About 18 months after that first run, I crossed the finish line after 26.2 miles in the Monumental. If I can do it, you can do it.


  2. Pick a mantra, or two or three …
    There’s no question doing the same activity for somewhere between three and six hours can be mind-numbing. Find a mantra that you can repeat quietly to yourself, or say out loud, if you so choose. Focusing your mind on a positive message will definitely help you persevere. Somewhere in the second half of my first marathon, a spectator was clapping, cheering and encouraging runners by repeating, “You can and you will.” Boom. It stuck with me for the rest of the race, and I’ve used it since then to get through other tough times.


  3. Plan, plan and plan some more.
    This pertains to race day. Most races provide great information on the web. Learn everything you can from packet pick-up to the race to the post-race events. Be sure you figure out transportation and parking, for starters. I have parkphobia — the fear of having to drive around in an unfamiliar area after discovering that no parking spots are available near the race start area. Personally, I would much rather have time to wander, warm up, talk to other runners or just relax in my car, instead of getting stuck in traffic. During the race, plan out how you are going to refuel. Beyond water, is the race providing Gatorade or Powerade? What about gels, hard candy like Jolly Ranchers or other easily digestible nourishment? Make sure you practice using your race day fuel during your long runs.


  4. RICE, RICE, baby.
    Every runner will deal with an injury from time to time. From tendonitis to IT band issues to inflamed tendons, runners will get injured. But, as is the case with life, it’s how we deal with troubling issues that really counts. I made the mistake last July of ignoring an injury and trying to run through the pain. The result was severe IT band pain, which knocked me out for a month and forced me into a DNS at a half-marathon trail race I was eagerly anticipating. During my month off, I applied the RICE principle — rest, ice, compression and elevation — and stayed somewhat active by doing exercises focused on my core and upper body. Seven weeks after my DNS (and five weeks after my return to running) I completed the very hilly Akron Marathon. That five-week period was also around the time that Angie became my coach, and I couldn’t have gotten to the start line, much less the finish line, without her.


  5. Have fun.
    Soak it all in — the views around the race course, the spectators, the signs. Whether you’re in a small race or a large one, there’s usually someone near you. Strike up a conversation — how did you get started running — is usually a good ice-breaker, and everyone has a story. At yesterday’s race, one of the spectators was standing next to his enormous dog. As I passed, I said, “Hey, I like your bear!” That brought out laughs from spectators and runners alike, and started a conversation about dogs for a mile or so.


  6. Don’t sweat what you can’t control.
    A few days before my most recent marathon, the weather forecast called for the coolest temperatures we’ve seen since spring and winds around 20 mph. The outlook was for a wind-chill temperature of around 20 degrees for the start of the race. The forecast hadn’t changed the afternoon before the race so I decided to control what I could, instead of getting pissed at Mother Nature. I did break one rule — “Never do anything new on race day” — and bought my first pair of compression tights to wear at the race. They fit well and performed well, much better than just wearing shorts or wearing non-moisture-wicking long pants that I reserve for the coldest winter runs. I’ve also run races during the rain, 80+ degrees and in freezing rain. But never encountered what Adam Campbell dealt with during his third-place finish in the Hardrock 100 this year.

During these last couple of years, I’ve learned so much about running, training, racing, nutrition and myself. And as I plan out my racing calendar for 2015, I’m sure there will be new discoveries along the way.

For those who have finished marathons, what would you add to this list?

5 Responses to Top Half-Dozen Things I Learned During My First Six Marathons

  1. Trevor Spencer November 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    Congrats on finishing marathon #6 Henry! I just completed my 9th marathon and, believe it or not, they are getting easier. I would echo everything you have said. If I had to add to this list it would be the importance of cross-training on non-running days. In the early days I neglected my cross-training and paid for it.

  2. Angie Spencer November 6, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    You’ve learned some great lessons along the way. Congratulations on another successful marathon. And thanks for putting one of my fears into words: “parkphobia.” Race morning logistics are almost more stressful for me than the marathon itself 🙂

  3. Stacey November 6, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    whars DNS mean?

  4. Henry November 6, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Did Not Start.

    I didn’t want to risk a more severe injury doing a very technical trail race. Turned out to be a good call because the next day I tried a 3-mile road run, and it did not go well.

  5. Pat November 22, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Really practical advice, Henry! Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned from your experiences. I really like #5–what a great reminder that running is supposed to be fun!

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