Lessons learned: Marine Corps Marathon, one year later

This time last year, I thought I’d failed.

I was picking up the pieces of a traumatic Marine Corps Marathon, and trying to make sense of the months of training that led to what seemed at the time to be nothing but heartache, pain and a totally undeserved finish time.

I was devastated I failed to reach my goal time last year. Steve, and the rest of the world, could have cared less about that.

When you hang out with runners all the time, it’s easy to think that anything less than a Boston qualifier is unimpressive, and that anything less than your goal time is worthless. Watching my amazing friends battle through their own Marine Corps Marathons yesterday made me realize all over again what a crazy adventure of a race the marathon is. It also inspired me to train for another myself—but not without keeping the following lessons in mind.

1. If everything goes right on race day, training and previous race times can tell you a lot about your finishing time.

2. There’s a good chance everything will not go right on race day. In a race of any distance, it’s possible to fall victim to cramps, digestive issues, dehydration, blisters and regular aches and pains—or just have a bad running day. Over the course of 26.2 miles, these issues can become major problems.

3. When things go wrong, you can literally add an hour to your overall race time. That means that rather than trying your absolute hardest for four hours, you might be trying your absolute hardest for five hours or more. Then, even after trying your absolute hardest for an extra hour of your life, you might finish feeling conflicted, or even disappointed, about your finish since your time wasn’t what you expected.

4. The rest of the world could care less about your time, and is more impressed with the fact that you simply finished than you could imagine.  I realized this for the first time last year, at a Halloween party a week after the marathon, when my non-running friends’ proud, enthusiastic expressions faded to blank stares when I started talking about my time. I saw it again this year, when I was inspired and impressed by every single runner I saw on the course. It’s normal and healthy to feel disappointed when race day doesn’t go the way you’d hoped. But in retrospect, I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to wrap my brain around the fact that crossing the finish line under less-than-perfect circumstances is a far bigger challenge than running a race quickly (it’s easy to keep going when things are going your way!). Congratulations to all Marine Corps finishers—you’re my heroes!

My 10K performance: The 10K was fabulous—well-organized, fun and maybe a little faster than I expected, despite my plan to jog it slooowly. I finished in 53:56, which isn’t bad considering a recent training hiatus for a broken toe (and considering the actual broken toe). The best part: the finish festival, where we got the same perks as marathoners.

Posing with the "Udder Cream" cow at the finish festival before cheering for the marathoners.

Quote of the day: “You know you’ve been cheering at a marathon too long when …” The “when” refers to “when runners who you cheered for at mile 23 are slightly freaked out when they hear the same random strangers calling out the names on their shirts at mile 25.”


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9 responses to “Lessons learned: Marine Corps Marathon, one year later

  1. ally


    I could have written this, seriously. That is how I felt yesterday, tears, frustration, the lot. Today I feel much better though. I still will keep working towards my Boston goal, and if I get there fine, if not, fine too

    Good job on your race yesterday!!!

  2. amy

    Thanks for this post today! You summed up perfectly the way I feel about my own finish yesterday and you’re right about the shift in perspective. Congrats on the 10K!

  3. katekirk

    I got a lot of perspective on things this year when I didn’t even get to start the marathon – it felt like everything I cared about and had been working toward was being taken from me, but ultimately, it led to some focused training, a few shorter races I’m happy with, and what I hope will be a smarter start to 2011. You’ve described the feeling so well…sometimes, you do the best you can with what you’ve got and then, you try again.

    I agree that the 10k was a well-run event…I’d be happy to do it again. (How the heck did I not see that cow?)

  4. There is a lesson here which goes well beyond running. Sometimes, or perhaps even often times, you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. You will have to work longer and harder than you planned on.

  5. I agree with you on No. 4: The rest of the world doesn’t care about your time and is just extremely impressed that you finished at all (as I am 🙂

    It’s also awesome that your husband shares your passion and talent for running 🙂 Congrats to you both!!

  6. Liz

    I’m so glad your toe didn’t hold you back in your race. I never realized how many things could go wrong during a race. I was expecting to maybe get stress fracture pain again, but I never expected completely new pains.
    Thanks again for all your posts during the week. They really helped me prepare mentally for the race!
    Good luck on the Chesapeake Lottery! I think it is in a few days…if not, disregard that sentence 🙂

  7. Great post-marathon perspective – bet this will be just what many need to read.
    Glad you rocked your 10K Amy!

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more. I had a horrible, tearful, agonizing performance at the Outer Banks Marathon last year. It took me a good 6 months and a better marathon performance to get over it.
    I missed my goal time by 5 minutes at MCM this year and honestly, was totally 100% fine with it because I’ve finally learned that it is ok. It’s not the end of the world. No one was judging me or questioning my training. I know I gave it my best and that’s all that matters. Runners are really good at beating themselves up.

  9. Really enjoyed reading Amy’s comments about her marathon experience…and the contributions from everyone else. It’s easy to find runners who only want to discuss their awesome performances. It’s not easy to find runners who can write openly about disappointments…and what they’ve had to do to overcome. That’s the group I think I’d rather have a beer with…

    One of the things I continue to work on is my ability (or lack thereof…) to be calm, completely relaxed and ready for whatever the ‘God’s of race day’ have in store for me when I’m at the start. My recent run in Philly was the best yet at achieving this, and I have myself convinced that it absolutely positively impacted my performance!

    When I work with other runners, I spend just as much time talking about emotions, expectations and energy…as I do about all the X’s and O’s of the sport. One most definitely impacts the other.

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