17 Marathons = 17 Lessons Learned

Since my first marathon in April of 2005, The Shakespeare Marathon, I’ve learned a lot about running a marathon.  One could question, what can you learn about running a marathon?  You simply put one foot in front of the other and continue that process for 26.2 miles.

Nearly 500,000 Americans finish a marathon every year, in view of the popularity it might seem simple enough.  Did I mention you have to continue running after your body has run out of fuel. You have to continue moving while chaffing in the most outrageous places. You have to keep up the forward progress when every natural instinct tells you to stop, to quit, to just give up.

Not so easy is it?

I’ve learned a lesson with every marathon I’ve run. I thought I would share with my:
The Marathon -17 Lessons Learned.

Lesson #17. 2016 Medoc Mountain Trail Marathon:  No matter how you feel, it will all be over before you know it.


This is an old lesson, one I think about often, but one I re-learned again at Medoc.  No matter how bad you might feeling during a race.  No matter if the race feels like the miles are dragging on and the finish line is off in some distance galaxay.  If you just keep working, if you keep the wheels turning, before you know it, your sitting in your car thinking….wow that was not so bad.

Lesson #16. 2016 Tobacco Road Marathon: Anything and everything that can go wrong, just might. 

Friday night before this great race a slight tickle in my throat turned into an all out sinus infection that nearly took me out.  In the face of a high temperature and blocked up sinus I did not give up on the idea of running this race.  Saturday night I felt a ton better and on race morning I felt fine, at mile 20 and 21 I thought the world was going to end.

Lesson #15.  2015 City of Oaks Marathon:  Be Ready For Anything. 

If you have ever run a marathon, you know anything can happen over the course of 26.2 miles. I found out at City of Oaks that anything can happen at the start as well.


My wife asked to recommit our wedding vows, with our son a good friends present….oh and a marathon crowd.  I said Yes…..

Lesson #14.  2015 MEDOC Trail Marathon:  Lift Your Feet.


Lesson #1 for the day, Rocks, Hills and Roots over a 8+ mile trail marathon get harder with each successive lap.  Lesson #2 watch where your going…keep your eyes on the trail. I’ve never crashed during a race and only once in training. I credit much of that with my natural ability to keep my eyes on the trail. This trait was first brought to my attention at my first military duty station. As I was walking from one hangar to another, an old wise (?) SSgt gave me the jollies because I always walked with my head down. I did not debate with him but I wondered silently inside how would I keep an eye on the surface I’m walking on if a daze off into outer space.  Back to MEDOC and during lap three I took my eyes off the trail and the next thing I knew I was in full Superman mode flying to the ground.  Lucky only my pride was hurt and “only” a few layers of skin were removed.  Watch where you’re going….

Lesson #13.  2014 Air Force Marathon:  Read ALL the reporting instruction e-mails.

AF marathon bling

Lets just say that I thought I was some veteran marathoner, that I knew what to expect come race day.  The drive to Wright-Patterson AFB (home of the marathon) went well, the expo went well, dinner the night before was awesome and I got a good nights sleep. The next morning the drive to the Air Force Museum even went off without much of a hitch.  Then we hit the parking mess and was informed we had a disseminated parking area. “Ahhhh what?”  In the final reporting instructions for the marathon I was sent a color coded parking pass and without that I could not park on the marathon/museum grounds.  We were left to sneak parking off site…  Lucky we found a spot (a mile away from the start) and hoped our car would not get towed.  Lesson learned read all of those e-mails!

Lesson #12.  2014 Windamere Marathon:  Don’t be a Jitterbug.


During the start of most races, your bound to run upon some slower runners.  This happens a lot during the start when all the runners are so tightly packed together and some do not line up in the proper starting corral. This is a very frustrating time, your trying to establish your running rhythm, yet you’re log jammed behind slower traffic.  Don’t let this frustration turn into a drain on your energy reserves by Jitterbugging your way around the slower runners.  Take your time moving around the pack…any time lost will be minor compared to the time lost if you burn out early.

Lesson #11.  2013 Niagara Falls Marathon:  Be Ready For Anything.

1382906069320(And in the end, it was my first sub-four marathon)

We train for months. We log the miles. We practice pacing and we fine tune our refueling/water stops.  We do all of this so on race day everything goes along as planned. At mile 20 your feeling great and then you see a young smiling face along the course with their hand raised waiting to give you a power boost with a well timed high five.  As you approach this youngest out of now where a group of cheerleaders jumps into the road, right into your path, and begins to give out a cheer.  To avoid the on coming collision, you break out your best pirouette and avoid contact.  Now your right hamstring is about to explode.  Anything can happen during a marathon, be ready for it.

Lesson #10.  2013 Cleveland Marathon:  Strike up a conversation.


(Parts of this race, I wished I had someone to talk with)

26.2 miles is a long way to run.  It is a long time to be alone.  Running a marathon you’ll find you have plenty of time on your hands (unless your racing for a PR or Boston). To help pass the time, find someone your comfortable pacing with and strike up a conversation.  Ask them why they are running the marathon, which marathons they have run in the past etc.  You might meet a new friend and the time and miles will roll on by.  Run a marathon and start a conversation.


Lesson #9.  2013 Shamrock Marathon:  Have an “After” marathon plan. 

Shamrockfinish20(Taking on Shamrock again)

After all the training miles have been put in, after you’ve run the good race, after you have scored that PR…did you have a plan for meeting up with your family?  Do you know where you parked your car?  Where are you going to meet your friends?  Don’t let a poor “post race” plan spoil a great day.  Plan your race, and plan your “After” marathon.

Lesson #8.  2012 Norfolk Freedom Marathon:  Don’t forget the supporting crowds and volunteers.

105706-234-021f(My 8th marathon and my 2nd run within 7 days)

On race day there are a lot of things the marathoner must remember to have a successful race.  The marathoner must mind their choice of race gear, breakfast foods, timing of using the porta-pottie, starting corral placement and running the correct pace.  Awash to all of these important items, the marathoner must not forget about enjoying the well wishes and vocal support from the race day crowds.  To have a successful race and to fully enjoy the day the marathoner should embrace the crowds, read the signs and high five the little kids standing alongside the race course.  A sub four marathon is awesome, but remembering the high five you gave the six year old Boy Scout or the sign that read “Run faster I just farted” will make you smile for years to come.  Run the marathon according to your plan and high five all the kids along the way!

Lesson #7.  2012 Marine Corp Marathon:  Run for someone else.


Sept 11th 2012, I noticed a tweet on Twitter from a father who lost his son.  His son was around the same age of my son and his son was, his hero.  Christopher Blake Rodgers was a U.S. Marine.  That tweet called to me for days, I thought about it when I went to sleep, when I drove to work and when I ran.  Months earlier I had signed up to run the Marine Corp Marathon on Oct 28th in Washington D.C.  With a heavy heart I asked Christopher’s father if I could run this marathon in his son’s honor.  The marathon is a moving event, Run for someone who can no longer run for themselves.

Lesson 6. 2012 Shamrock Marathon: You need to run but you also need to glide. 

finish5shamrock2012(my 6th marathon finish)

Constantly moving for 26.2 miles puts a lot of stress on your body.  I’ve found thru my 12 marathons that unless you have zero body fat and are of the perfect build parts of your body are going to rub.  This simple chaffing, after nearly four hours on the go, can become as tender as a shot gun blast to the face.  If you have ever had chaffing in “manland” well….you don’t want to.  Body glide is your friend.

Lesson 5. 2011 Richmond Marathon: Put your name out there and be known.  

316389_305007182843778_100000034959277_1206763_136580650_n(Happy Birthday to me)

Today most marathons feature outstanding crowd support.  Spectators get up really and line the streets to watch and urge on family, friends and the anonymous other runners.  The well wishers are nearly as much of the event  as the people running the race.  Take advantage of this good will and energy, put your name or some other meaningful slogan on your bid, race shirt or some place visible.  This will enable the cheering crowds to call out to you by name.  At mile 22 nothing can be more up lifting then hearing a perfect stranger cheer you on by name “Come On Brian You Can Do It.”  Or as I did for the 2011 Richmond Marathon, run on my birthday.  Instead of my name I had “Birthday Boy” emblazoned cross my chest.  During my time on the course I had 100s of birthday well wishers cheering  me on.  Put your name out there and be known.

Lesson 4. 2010 Shamrock Marathon: Run The Shortest Course

61524-1737-016f(2010, Shamrock Marathon)

Marathon runners need to learn something from NASCAR and it’s not turn left, left, left and left again.  Marathon runners need to lean how to run (race) the shortest distance around the 26.2 mile course.  When the race directors measure out the marathon distance they mark the shortest tangent around the turns.  And if you watch any average marathon you will see runners running wide turns around each turn on the course.  That little extra adds up over the famous 26.2 miles.  Your goal should be to run the inside tangent of each turn and run the shortest 26.2 possible.

Lesson 3. 2009 National Marathon: You can’t fake a Marathon

2009nationalmarathon(2009, National Marathon)

I thought I was training, and it felt like I was training.  I was just not getting in the number of miles I needed.  Between 2005 and 2009 life changed.  My interests changed.  I was still running but nowhere near the quality miles I needed to truly be in marathon shape.  I barely managed a single 40 mile week and that came just three weeks before the big day.  Standing on the starting line of the National Marathon I figured I could fake it. After all, I looked like a marathoner.  I talked like a marathoner.  In all the excitement of the starting line, I even felt like a marathoner.  At mile 16 my inadequate training showed up and revealed who I really was.  Not a marathoner.  I finished but I was exposed.  I had not logged the miles I needed to be a marathoner…and I could not fake it.  At 26.2 miles, you can’t fake a marathon!

Lesson 2.  2005 Richmond Marathon:  Have a plan and Run YOUR plan

9568-154-005f(2005, Richmond Marathon)

  During the course of marathon training, you’ll undoubtedly come across numerous training and pacing plans for your race.  No matter what plan your following or your goals, once you select a training schedule or pacing plan stick with it.  Don’t let some new training fad distract you in the middle of your plan.  Don’t get caught up in the excitement of race day and decided to run a time that you had not planned or trained for.  I’m not saying don’t push yourself but there’s a fine line between pushing yourself to run faster and trying to run a finishing time you have not trained for.  Have a plan and RUN your plan.

Lesson 1. 2005 Shakespeare Marathon:  You Need Rest


(2005, Shakespeare Marathon)

  Running a marathon for most of us is a daylong affair. For the majority of the 500,000 annual finishers you’ll finish around the 4+ hour mark and for some it may take a bit longer.  This means the marathon will take up a good part of your day.  On marathon morning you’ll be waking up around 3 hours prior to race start to fuel and get ready.  Including the time spent on the starting line and running the race, the time on your feet could be anywhere from 4, 5 or 6 hours. Once it’s all over, and the medal is around your neck, even if you head right home there’s another hour. If you hang out for any of the after race parties, showing off your bling, add a hour or more. Your marathon day could be anywhere from an 8 to 12 hour event. Lesson number one, you need your rest.


4 thoughts on “17 Marathons = 17 Lessons Learned

  1. Christopher Bielinski

    Nice post! I still learn something from every marathon (just did #27 a few weeks ago) I run which is what makes them so fun!


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