Respecting the Distance

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After 42 marathons and ultras I’ve gotten to the point where finishing a marathon is not in doubt. Dare I say that I became a bit overconfident about marathons since they’ve gotten fairly easy for me if I’m not trying to set a PR.

The New South Trail Marathon was a good lesson in respecting the distance and the course for me.

With this marathon, and as I continue my running journey, I realize more and more that running teaches us about ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally and presents many character building opportunities.

Respecting the Distance

You may remember back to when you first got started on your running journey and it was agony to run for a solid minute. Then there was the process to build up to running that first mile. The next milestone distance is often the 5k. Maybe you’re currently somewhere in this process right now.

I remember being terrified before my first ever race, a 5k. And I remember going into my first marathon with so much trepidation. I couldn’t help thinking that everyone else at the start line was surely a better runner, more experienced, and more confident. But I know now that’s simply not true.

Everyone has their own set of challenges to deal with on race day. It’s important not to let fear take hold but simply respect the distance.

Somewhere along the way to running 40 marathons and 3 ultras the marathon started to seem less daunting. Thinking back I believe the Leadville Trail Marathon is what made that happen. I was truly uncertain whether I would finish that marathon since it started at 10,000 feet, went up to nearly 13,200 ft and had 6,000 feet of elevation changes. But I finished and it gave me a huge boost of confidence that was key to going on and doing my first 50k, 40 miler and 50 miler.

Since then I haven’t been overly concerned about marathons especially since I haven’t been trying to set a PR. So I have to thank the New South Trail Marathon for changing my perspective and giving me back my respect for the marathon distance.


This quote comes from runner Olga King as she was getting ready to do her first 100 miler:

“As I stood at the starting line quietly imagining the hours ahead, looking back and making sure I had done a proper job to prepare, reminding myself to take all the experiences in and to have the best day out there, a little healthy fear rose up in my heart and it whispered, “Respect the distance. Go within. Don’t be cocky. It’s not you against something. It’s you AND the strip of the trail ahead. Live every moment.”

Maybe you’re at the point where you’ve lost your respect for the 5k, 10k or half marathon. It’s easy to do this when you have a few under your belt and are hearing about people running marathons and ultras all the time. So I’d encourage you to continue to respect running and the distances you’re currently able to take on. Here are some tips to help you respect the distance:

  1. Enjoy the journey. Even if you have a personal goal to get up to the marathon or beyond there’s no rush to get there. When you hurry you tend to take shortcuts which can come back later to bite you. Taking shortcuts can be a temptation for the newer and experienced runner alike. I know personally with my 50 state goal that it would be easy to just try and knock out states without truly enjoying the process. I want to guard against that and enjoy the journey and lessons I’m learning along the way.

  2. Don’t get lazy. Make sure you’re not getting lazy with your training. If you’re struggling with injury be sure that your body can handle the distance you’ve chosen. You may have done multiple half marathons or marathons before but if you’re dealing with an injury currently you really need to take the time to let it heal. If you’re coming back from injury or time off from running be sure to build back a solid running base.

  3. Don’t neglect the basics. Things like cross training, foam rolling, stretching, cold therapy, rest, massage and other injury prevention techniques may be what keep you running happy and healthy for many years. Listen to your body and train accordingly.

  4. Respect the course. Train specifically and try to match your training to the course and conditions that you’ll be running. If you have a trail event coming up do some of your training on trails. Likewise, if you have a road event be sure to do some long runs on the road. If the course is hilly you’ll want to do hill training.

  5. Celebrate new milestones. Sometimes it can be easy to minimize or pass over your accomplishments because you’re comparing yourself to others or you’ve already moved on to the next goal in your mind. Be sure to take time to enjoy what you’ve accomplished and thank your body for getting you there.

    I found this quote on the blog- Entirely Amelia and it really fit well with what we’ve been talking about. She says,

    “For almost three years now, when asked what my favorite distance to race is, my answer has been the marathon. I don’t even have to think about it. I love this distance. I love it because it’s hard. I love it because it not only demands your respect, but it requires your respect. The marathon can and will kick your ass. The marathon makes you work hard and doesn’t allow for dishonesty. If you don’t do the work, the marathon knows and will punish you for it. Even when you do put in the work, the marathon may still find a reason to send you to the corner to think about what you’ve done (or haven’t done). Anything can happen on marathon day.…. I love the marathon because I respect the marathon…Nothing is a given and you can take nothing for granted”.

    So, this is an encouragement not to take your health, running, and your ability to take on new challenges for granted. Respect your body and respect the distance and you will hopefully be rewarded with a lifetime of happy running.

  6. Quote Sources:

    Also Mentioned in This Podcast Episode

    My Recap of the New South Trail Marathon (with pictures)

    Generation Ucan – the fuel I use for all my marathons and ultras. It contains a patented super-starch that keeps your blood sugar stable and allows your body to burn fat. I usually take two servings before a marathon and carry two servings with me in an eight once bottle. Save 15% when you use the code “MTATRAIL”

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4 Responses to Respecting the Distance

  1. Kate April 10, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

    Great advice. Thank you. I’ve just run my second half marathon and I think part of my problem was I didn’t respect the distance. I’d done a few 2 hour training runs so I knew I could cover it. But I didn’t really remember just how hard it was to run for that long! I had been feeling disapointed as I could have run that race better than I did on the day. But just chalking it up to experience and I have some work to do mentally before the next half (7 weeks time). Have you got any articles/blog posts for mental tricks?

    • Angie Spencer April 11, 2016 at 8:55 am #

      Congratulations on finishing your 2nd marathon Kate! The amazing thing about running and challenging yourself with races is that it teaches you so much about your capability and potential for growth. Here is a blog post about conquering the long run: You’ll also enjoy the interviews we did with Dr. Jeff Brown about his book “The Runner’s Brain” (which we highly recommend). All the best!

  2. Sam Pfanstiel April 21, 2016 at 5:31 am #

    Thanks for this reminder to respect the distance. I fear I may be starting to get to the point of overconfidence on this distance. I keep reminding myself of the challenge that each marathon provides, and the importance of remembering the small things like nutrition, stretching, and tapering properly. This weekend I tackle my first back-to-back marathons Saturday and Sunday, and I hope to do so with joy and optimism, but also with focus and respect.

    • Angie Spencer April 21, 2016 at 7:12 am #

      Hi Sam. I’m glad that you’ve been able to think a little differently about the marathon distance as you go into your marathons this weekend. Keep that attitude of joy, optimism, focus and respect and you’ll have a great experience. All the best!

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