You Cannot Fake a Marathon

An ironman triathlete running a marathon in Kona, Hawaii
January 30, 2017

D3 Staff


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So, I hope the title has grabbed your attention. What exactly does it mean? Are we discussing cheating here or the necessity of putting in the work and training properly to complete 26.2 miles of running? Well, it's the latter! What does it really take to finish a marathon within your perceived capabilities as an individual? I'll share my insights to help both first-timers and seasoned finishers with some considerations during training and racing the 26.2-mile journey to glory!

First, let me preface this by sharing that I've achieved a personal best Marathon time of 3:03 and have completed a total of 6 marathons, with 3 of those within an Ironman event.

Recently, my wife and I trained together for the Denver Marathon. Here's what I learned as both a coach and an athlete during our training and race:

We agreed to do all of our training together and run the Marathon side by side. This was her first Marathon, and qualifying for Boston was within her reach. So, most mornings, we'd rise at 5 a.m. and tackle mile repeats, tempo runs, and pacing workouts. On weekends, we'd do our long runs together. Ideally, I wanted us to complete at least 1 or 2 20-mile runs to acclimate to the distance and being on our feet for 3 hours. However, due to our schedules, we only managed to fit in 1 18-mile run a few weeks before the race. While the other runs during the week were sufficient for her to finish, qualifying would require sheer determination for the final 6 miles.

Race day arrived, and we started running in cool 40-degree temperatures, cruising through the first 13 miles. We focused on our pacing strategy to hit her target time of 3:50:59 for a Boston qualification. However, at mile 18, she experienced some leg issues, causing us to slow down briefly before regaining our pace. By mile 20, we were still on track. Yet, at mile 23, my legs started cramping, and I had to walk. I urged my wife to continue as I struggled with cramps in both quads despite trying to hydrate and replenish electrolytes. I ended up walking, running, and hobbling the last 3 miles, finishing in 3:53:30.

As I crossed the finish line, I saw my wife with tears in her eyes. I feared she missed her cutoff time, but she showed me her watch, reading 3:48:03. She had done it! She was crying out of concern for me, not disappointment in her time. That day taught me invaluable lessons as a coach and athlete.

The title of this article, "I Tried to Fake It," reflects my unintentional lack of respect for the training and the distance. You might wonder, since my wife and I had the same training, why did I struggle? Truthfully, our training was barely enough for a qualifying time at that point. However, the biggest lesson I learned was the importance of proper fueling during the race. My wife followed her nutrition plan diligently, while I fell behind on electrolyte intake and hydration, especially as the weather warmed up during the race week.

Here are some key points I overlooked, which led to my struggles at mile 23. Keep these in mind as you train for your first or next marathon:

1. Ensure you include 20-mile training runs in your preparation.
2. Start your nutrition plan from the beginning of the race and stay hydrated.
3. Respect the distance and the demands it places on your body.
4. Recognize and admire mental toughness, as it can make a significant difference in your performance.

As a coach, I know all these factors, yet I failed to follow my own advice. Learn from my experience, and approach your marathon training with dedication, respect, and proper preparation.

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