Marathon Game Changers

The Eugene Marathon 2013 wasn’t my first time in track town. I went last year…twice actually. Once for the whole Eugene Marathon weekend (I ran the 5K) and then for #totallytrials with Oiselle. I distinctly remember watching SarahOUAL, Sweaty Emily, Faster Bunny, Skinny Runner and company all tear it up in Eugene, yet all I was thinking was “thank God that isn’t me.” I swore of marathons and found a new friend in 5Ks and 10Ks.

"5ks are rad. The marathon is stupid."

“5ks are rad. The marathon is stupid.”

Now, a year later, I’m all “the marathon is magical and you’ll find unicorns on the course and forest fairies and it will be amazing so just keep running forever and ever and ever.” In fact, if running and I were in a relationship, we’d be on our honeymoon in Fiji, where it’s beautiful even when its monsooning.

"Unicorns do exist!"

“Unicorns do exist!”

What changed? Probably just finding running friends who helped me like running for intrinsic reasons versus extrinsic gain. But, I’ve been thinking about a list of “game changers” in the past year that helped me go from marathon hater to BQ’er.

I owe my marathon love to these girls.

I owe my marathon love to these girls.

CAVEAT: I’m not going to impart any words of wisdom that aren’t already out there in the universe. I’m not going to tell you any brand new information. These are just the few things that worked for me and, hopefully, can help you, too.


Tempos aren’t might strong suit. Or, at least, in the past they weren’t. I used to freak out over hitting paces EXACTLY (I’m very literal and specific with most things) and a deviation in a few seconds would derail me (it sounds silly now). I used to stop very frequently during tempos, which I’m fairly sure is against the whole point of the run. Taking breaks during a harder effort isn’t exactly confidence boosting for a race either. There are time outs in a race.

I used to think that each workout need to be great – spectacular even – to produce a good result in a race. About a year ago I changed my whole attitude. I told myself that I didn’t need to be great, I just needed to be consistently good. And a lot of good workouts would lead to a great race.


So, before tempos, I’d tell myself to “just be good” and to “not stop.” A good many were slower than I would’ve liked, but I didn’t stop. And then not stopping became routine, rather than the reverse, and I found myself running a 6.5 mile tempo nonstop by September.

The whole “learning to tempo” bit not only helped improved the physical systems that it works (I don’t know what these are, this is why I have the RC), but it also helped my mental focus. Focus upped my marathon game for sure.


When I first got a Garmin, I’d try to run to make the Garmin say something. For instance, I’d want to make it say 8:10/mile during a tempo. If it was too slow, I’d try to make it say 8:10/mile even if that meant stopping because it was too hard for me at the time.

I’m not sure which the mental switch occurred, but sometime last fall or this spring I got good at using the Garmin as a tool. I’d run the pace at which the effort felt appropriate for the what the workout called for. And the Garmin would tell me what that was. It’s a really subtle difference that is somewhat hard to articulate, but, basically I dictated a run, not a Garmin.

"Yes Garmin! I'm in charge! I didn't care that you told me I ran a 6:50 mile for the first mile!" That one didn't turn out so hot. Maybe I should pay a tiny bit more attention to it...

“Yes Garmin! I’m in charge! I didn’t care that you told me I ran a 6:50 mile for the first mile!” That one didn’t turn out so hot. Maybe I should pay a tiny bit more attention to it…

I’ll even wear a Garmin in a race now as I know I won’t have any mental breakdowns over it. I can see a pace during a race, but won’t mount an emotional response to it until after.

I’m not even sure if the above makes sense. Just go with it.


I drank a lot of nuun before and after both long runs and the marathon itself. The discovery of banana nuun while in Eugene was clutch. Although I’m drinking more banana nuun now than I care to admit.

I don’t drink nuun while I run mostly because I don’t carry my own water (in case you were wondering).

I, too, was a banana skeptic. I am now a convert.

I, too, was a banana skeptic. I am now a convert.

Read this study on how under-hydrating affects your run the next day.


I started running in 2009 and started taking the “getting faster” thing more seriously in 2010. I have no idea why, but for a long time I felt like I need to prove myself as a “good” runner, mostly to myself. I think I doubted my abilities for a long time and wanted race times to show me that I was a runner (vs runner-poser?) and, maybe, an “average” or “above average” one at that. [What the definition of “average” and “above average” runner is, surely, subjective.]


For a while, I think I wanted a BQ to prove something to myself, to show myself that I was “good” or “above average.” Sometime this spring, my attitude changed. I wanted a BQ because I knew I was those things – “good” (to me) and “above average” (again, to me). I started thing about myself differently as a runner, as someone who was capable and strong. This sounds terribly conceited, but, in other words, I wanted a BQ because I knew I could do it not because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

[If that makes any sense whatsoever.]


I wouldn’t have even signed up for two marathons in the past year if it weren’t for Gia and Jocelyn. Both run marathons because they love to run and it brings them a lot of happiness. And they showed me that I could learn to love the distance and have more fun than I could have imagined training for it.

So thankful for my #sisterinsport Gia - friends make a workout fly by! After 6 x 1 mile on a cold day in February!

So thankful for my #sisterinsport Gia – friends make a workout fly by! After 6 x 1 mile on a cold day in February!

We're running 20 miles! Who's excited?! Who's scared?!

We’re running 20 miles! Who’s excited?! Who’s scared?!

Now, let’s get real. The stars aligned for me in Eugene and, of course, it’s very easy to say “of course I could do it” after the fact. I was definitely a tiny bit doubtful leading up to the race. It’s a marathon after all. It’s a long time to run. A lot can happen in 3 hours (I mean, in Titanic, Rose and Jack fall in love and Jack dies all in that span of time). Could I have run 3:38 or 3:45 that day? Absolutely. But, I knew deep down before this race that I was trained to run 3:33-3:34 because of the above mentioned aspects IF everything went right on the day. I’m lucky it did.


Until next time…


11 thoughts on “Marathon Game Changers

  1. For me, the key learnings that got me successfully through my first marathon with a BQ at NJ were:
    1. Learning to be ok with running my easy and longer runs easy and slow. For many years I felt like all my runs needed to be at an 8:XX pace with workouts done faster. I finally got comfortable starting many runs with the first mile as slow as a 10:XX and averaging 9:XX on the long runs. At the ripe old age of almost 50, I need to ease into it now, I can’t just start out fast/hard. Having the confidence that this was building my base and saving the 8:XX for tempos and 7:XX for track and 5Ks has helped me run longer and stay healthier.
    2. Building Confidence. I ran the Boston Buildup series (10K, 15K, 25K and 30K) this spring as well as a half marathon and built my self confidence by seeing my paces increase as each race went on, with my last mile or two usually my fastest. This allowed me to be cautiously optimistic that I could hold steady and strong through a full 26.2 (actually 26.5 according to the Garmin).
    3. Getting smarter about fueling and hydration. Over the last year I’ve started using electrolyte drinks (G2 and/or EFS) the day before a race as well as morning of, and it’s made a huge difference in staving off race day dehydration. I also started taking my gels every 30-35 min during a long race instead of 40-50 min and that has helped as well. I never hit any sort of wall during my marathon, the gels and alternating water/Gatorade helped me keep my energy levels in a good place.
    4. Desire/maturity/experience and a bit of luck. Running Boston has been my goal since I first watched from the sidelines as a college student in 1985. Life got in the way and this was the first time I was finally able to fit in truly serious training (based on Pfitzinger 18 week/55 mpw, but my peak ended up at 48). I have a real appreciation for how lucky I am to be able to be healthy enough to run, and I felt incredibly focused throughout the race on getting it done that day. I was fortunate enough to have near-perfect weather (other than the wind, which slowed my pace about 20 sec/mile for the last 7 miles). I have lots of years of experience of feeling bad in races and how to cope / work through it – if it gets really bad, I actually count my steps, knowing I take about 400 (x4) steps per mile. So it turns into “only 2000 more steps to go” and I focus on counting them out. Crazy, but it helps.

    Joy and friendship definitely played a role for me as well – I was lucky to have friends to train with and who came and watched, cheered, ran the half, etc. to make it a fun weekend overall and to reinforce that I was loved and supported.


  2. I really need to work on using the Garmin for good. I do what you used to do and get upset when I see my pace even a few seconds over what it’s supposed to be. I ended up having a breakdown in March because running was becoming so stressful. I’ve been working on not being a slave to the Garmin but it’s hard.

    • seriously. ditch the Garmin until at least July. learn to run by feel. read “Run: The Mind Body Method of Running by Feel” by Matt Fitzgerald. Run races with out your watch. Just go watchless until July. I did that in 2010 and 2011 and it helped immensely.

  3. I’ve been drinking a lot of Nuun this time around (though I’ve always drank tons of plain water every day). I only drink lemon-lime on the run, though, just in case I find myself without some at the marathon and am forced to drink the Gatorade, haha. Current favorite is watermelon, sometimes mixed with lemonade, or lemonade mixed with tri-berry. Haven’t tried banana but I’ve never really been a fan of banana-flavored anything…

    Where is that photo from #2 from? I can’t believe I never took advantage of the Astoria Park track when I lived there. I did zero speedwork whatsoever before my first marathon.

    Also, what made you decide to run the marathon in compression socks? I’ve only ran in mine maybe once…I think my legs would get hot and uncomfortable in them on a long run!

    No huge game changers in this training cycle. Mostly I’m just appreciative that I had time to recover from injuries and properly base-build so that I didn’t deal with any troubles this time around. The heat’s been killer on a couple of long runs, but I feel mostly ready to finally run another marathon in two weeks.

  4. I am totally a skeptic of banana nuun! My favorite flavors are strawberry lemonade and lemonade. I just hate banana flavored runts and I imagine that is what it would taste like.. am I wrong? I love all the pictures of you in those post, you look so happy! ONE DAY i will run a marathon.. maybe after residency?

  5. I like that you mentioned intrinsic motivation. My coach seems to think I have a problem with that which is why I have been an emotional head case the last 6 3-4 months. He wanted me to see a sports psychologist, but in Spokane there are few options. I just think my problem is that I don’t love the marathon anymore. I definitely don’t see unicorns or puppies and I have hated the training. I never used to dread long runs and now I do. I will take that as I sign that after this weekend I need to focus on shorter stuff.

  6. I LOVE this post Meggie. I still fight the tempo and do what you said – try to hit a number and sometimes need to stop. This makes me think about that not-so-great-strategy and how to do it better.

  7. Love this a lot! I’ve noticed such a difference in you compared to maybe a year ago when it comes to running. You seem so much more confident and relaxed now, and your outlook is awesome. Everything you’ve done has seemed to work so well for you, and I’m so happy your running has really “clicked” 🙂 I think I’m still working on my “game changers” …

  8. love this post-i think so much of it truly is believing in yourself and pushing that mental aspect of it all. for me, i think that weight loss will help my speed, once i can run again. i’m pretty good about following a plan and not beating myself up if it’s not perfect.

  9. Pingback: Pain Brain | The Thinks I Can Think

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