Sep 14

Learn From My Racing Mistakes

Every article I get paid to write comes from my experiences. My most favorite pieces are based on the mistakes I’ve made and, the bigger and more spectacular, the better. After running and racing for almost 20 years, I think I have made every mistake there is but, I have also learned from those mistakes and now you can too.

My most recent post for Training Peaks is titled 5 Common Mistakes When Training for a Half or Full Marathon.  What I couldn’t write in the article was all the behind-the-scenes, real stories those lessons were made from. I think it’s far more entertaining and memorable if you know the stories since, at the very least, you can get a good laugh at my expense.


The following are all the lessons I wrote about in the Training Peaks article but you get to read the best parts that I couldn’t include:

Avoid Overtraining

This is probably the hardest lesson to learn. In fact, I’m still learning this one because, after all these years, I still have difficulty trusting my training. Avoiding overtraining has to do with only one thing – – having confidence. Any training program worth it’s salt will have a purpose for each run and will include hard and easy efforts.

Way back in 2005, when I was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I hired a coach. The first thing he said after looking at my training logs was “you’re doing way too much.” He incorporated more rest days and my easy run pace went from something like 8:30 minute miles to 9:00 or even 9:30. The elites do it and so should you.

The result? I shaved a whopping 27 minutes off my marathon time going from a 3:57 in my first marathon to 3:30 in my second and qualifying for Boston by more than 10 minutes. The biggest change I made to my training was rest and slower runs.

After finishing the Boston Marathon in 2007. I was just a tad excited.

After finishing the Boston Marathon in 2007. I was just a tad excited.



Test Your Clothing and Running Shoes

How many times have you seen people racing, wearing the shirt they got in their swag bag the night before? How bad do you think their chafing is post-race? Repeat after me – – nothing new on race day. Nothing. Ever. Nope, not even that.

I found out about chafing the hard way, like most every other runner. I remember showing a good running friend of mine the line of scabs where the bottom of my horrible (cotton) sports bra met my chest. It was very ugly and very painful.


The day of my first ever marathon I decided it would be a great idea to wear a cotton sports bra because it matched my shorts better. It was pouring rain. Not only was I carrying an extra five pounds of water in my sports bra after the first half-mile, I was chafing so badly on my inner thighs that I had to wear skirts for two weeks after the race. Besides childbirth I have never been in so much pain. Ever.

Make Your Easy Days Easy

We kind of covered this in number one but it bears repeating. In fact, when you make your easy days easy, it becomes very hard to overtrain since your body and mind are well rested and ready for the hard, long and fast days.

This is one of my favorite quotes from elite runner Tina Muir:

It takes more strength and courage to run easy than it does to run hard; anyone can run hard…..just look at new runners, they run every run hard, and end up paying the price, but you have to be confident enough in yourself to be able to back off the pedal and run easy.

Tina has written extensively on running easy days easy and here are two great ones:

Three Ways to Make Sure You Run Easy on Recovery Days

5 Reasons Why Running Easy is So Hard

Bonus tip: Leave your Garmin and ego at home.

Proper Pacing

Most all of us are guilty of going out too fast. It’s very hard, especially if you have been tapering, to hold your running legs and lungs back when you’re all keyed up at the start line. It has taken me years of practice and I still don’t always get it right.

The biggest problem is usually ego. We think we can all of a sudden magically run faster than we have trained for. There is something about a race that makes us feel as if a PR is possible, even when we know we haven’t put in the work.

The best advice I can give on this is to stop looking at your watch during the race and just run by feel. That is exactly what I did at the Colchester Half Marathon this past February and I had a PR by three minutes.

For the three minutes I took of my course PR baby!

For the three minutes I took of my course PR baby!


Nutrition and Hydration

I have gotten a lot better about my nutrition and hydration in the past few years but I’m still experimenting here and there with pre-race and race fuel. It’s all a game really and most definitely depends on what your body will tolerate. Too much of any one nutrient and you can feel depleted (fiber) or bloated (carbohydrates) which leads to a lot of frustration.

I have felt both too full and starving during races and I’m not sure which is worse. What I can tell you is how horrendous my body felt when, just last year at the New York City Marathon, I failed to take in enough electrolytes prior to the start.

My goal was a 3:15 and I came about 16 minutes shy with a 3:31 finish. I’ve finished around 3:30 before with a 3:28 PR but, I have never felt like I may not even finish until I ran that marathon. It was brutal.

However, in the final miles, I forced myself into happiness and I’m so glad I did.

It wasn't pretty but it wasn't a DNF.

It wasn’t pretty but it wasn’t a DNF.

Now, go forth and run like the wind (except on easy days), eat, drink and be merry (except when you’re pre-race fueling) and throw caution out the window (but not on race day).

Good luck!

What lessons have you learned the hard way when it comes to racing? Life?

What can you add to my list?


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  1. The running easy part is so very hard and so hard to teach! There’s no shame in running slower than you usually do. And #2 – YESSSSSS!!! I can’t believe how many races I’ve seen bloody nipples and bloody thighs because of chafing. Not on me, but others.
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted…Mattress Confessions with OSOMy Profile

    1. I know!!! And when I see people wearing the race shirt during the race I just cringe!! I also have this weird thing where I don’t wear the shirt until AFTER I finish the race. #freak

  2. This is awesome! I would love if you would link it up with Running Coaches Corner!
    SPeaking of bloody nipples… Alex and I saw a BAD case of them this weekend at the race. Alex was rather flabbergasted as to why anyone would allow that!
    Susie @ Suzlyfe recently posted…Good Sportsmanship after a Bad Race (Coaches Corner)My Profile

    1. YES! I definitely want to. I will go check it out and see if I can still link up. If not, next time for shizzle!
      And too funny about “allowing” the bloody nipples – HA!

    • Jess on September 14, 2016 at 7:39 AM
    • Reply

    You are right on the money. I have been guilty of ALL of these in the past. I feel like I’ve finally gotten ahold of the running easy part and I notice a huge difference. It’s like night and day with what I can do in my training. The nutrition bit I’m slowly coming around with. I have a love relationship with pizza. This is a problem. 🙂 But, I recently bought Run Fast Eat Slow and have been working on my daily eats. I’ve learned to love beets. Maybe I could make a beet pizza?? Lol
    Jess recently posted…#MarathonMonday {{WK 12}} Thank God!My Profile

    1. When there is pizza involved, there are no problems 🙂 I totally hear you on that one…even with beets!
      I’m holding off on buying the cookbook since, I hate to cook and I need there to be like VERY easy recipes I can follow!!

  3. Who would have thought it was so hard to run slow? That is my biggest challenge. I love speedwork and I love to run fast. But those long slow distances really challenge me, which is why I’ve never been able to achieve my BQ!

    Chafing? I get it in the worst places–the ones you can’t see….
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Teaching An Old Dog New TricksMy Profile

    1. I know, right? I have to run with someone who is slower because I tend to just pick up the pace.
      Don’t give up on your BQ dream. The older you get, the closer you will be to achieving it 🙂
      And oh I could write the most TMI post about chafing. In fact, I’m sure most runners could!

        • Jess on September 14, 2016 at 1:18 PM
        • Reply

        You know I hate cooking too lol like seriously. I thought I was a terrible woman for this. But I enjoy eating!!! I have found success with Matt Fitzgerald’s book, Racing Weight cookbook. It’s so easy a caveman (or in this case cave woman) could use it lol
        Jess recently posted…Why I Won’t Be Running Boston in 2017 & a Crazy Confession My Profile

        1. Thanks for the suggestion! I love all his stuff so I just might need that 🙂

  4. oh yeah, i’ve done all of these and then some. the sad thing is i have made them more than once. actually more than i can count, yup guilty.
    when i used to run just for fun and fitness, i never got injured and ran probably 3-5 days a week about 6 miles a run. i always felt excited and never worried if i missed a run. boy do i miss those days!!! it wasn’t till 2007 when i signed up for my first half marathon and got a taste for actual running with people again. i had’t run a race since i was a teenager and i loved it! and unfortunately/fortunately met all the crazy running people. people who cared a lot about time. GOSH i miss not caring!!! oh well.
    i will say that i am fine going for a run without my watch. i make myself do it because a) it feels good, b) i have not pressure, and c) i have no time nor desire to risk injury.. i swear!
    now the part i have trouble with is adding too many miles too soon. i went from 3 to 20 suddenly and knock on wood so far it’s ok, but i’m taking my rest seriously and spinning as well. i love everything i do and don’t get as much time as i used to. it’s actually a good thing for me! it’s so hard not to run a bit more one week because if given the chance i’ll run my ass off! time is such a luxury. this morning i got in 9.5 miles before the hubby or baby noticed and i gotta say it felt great. now i won’t do that more than once or twice a week. and honestly i went from 3 mile runs to suddenly 8 miles without even thinking about it. i’m certainly not leading by example 🙁
    the sports bra thing is still a work in progress. i have some great ones that are fine one day, then chaff the next time. sports glide is worth more to me than deoderant!! i use that stuff and am painfully reminded when i don’t. ouch.
    yeah, why is it so stinking hard to run slow??? when i was pregnant and running i swear i had a blast. i ran slower than molasses and LOVED it. i felt amazing. why can’t i do that again without caring?? i guess since i gave birth i feel so excited to run that i run faster than i should. whelp, whatcha gonna do? i guess i run fast one day, then the next run i go slower. that’s the plan at least 🙂
    danielle recently posted…WIR sleep less play moreMy Profile

    1. 3 to 20? OMG be careful woman! I know your a new mom and need to run off all the crazy but…:-)
      And I guess you will just have to have another one so you can find that pregnant running bliss again! HA!

  5. This is perfect reading for me as I sit here this morning, having made the decision to skip my pre-work run this morning, because I’ve been tired lately and I just feel like my body needs a little rest…. I’m going away this weekend for a reunion with a couple friends, and I’m going to listen to a post you had last week about sometimes just missing a scheduled run and not worry about making it up…. My long run for this weekend will have to be a short one, and I’m not going to worry about making it up…. I’ve definitely learned to trust the taper and not start out a race too fast…. recently posted…Going The DistanceMy Profile

    1. Good for you in every respect! It’s so, so hard sometimes to skip those runs but you will come back with stronger and with more energy. And yes, enjoy your weekend and know that your fitness is THERE. Read the post again and know that I have been where you are now, made the same decisions to miss or downgrade mileage and have killed my race. You can too! Have a great weekend!!

  6. I love these tips! I learned my lesson quickly after I got my first real chafe last year–I have special race bras now, 2 to be exact that will take care of me no matter what the weather! Leaving your ego at home is HUGE…some days I look at my watch and wonder “was I even running or was that in my head?” LOL
    Nellie recently posted…Why I am obsessed with Skirt Sports Running Skirts + A Discount!My Profile

    1. LOL!!! I have those same thoughts sometimes when I’m running uphill – I think “should I just walk? Am I even still running?”

    • Suzy on September 14, 2016 at 10:20 AM
    • Reply

    I ran my first marathon in 1998 where they didn’t have moisture wicking fabric or any of that techy stuff. They didn’t even make jackets for women–it was all unisex. I wore blue soccer shorts and a cotton tee-shirt! I don’t remember chaffing that much, but I sure have chaffed many times since then. OUCH.
    Suzy recently posted…Skagit Flats RecapMy Profile

    1. Totally!!! My sports bra was made by Champion and had so much stitching under the boob area it was ridiculous! They should have just stuck some razor blades in there.
      We have come so far 🙂 LOL!

    • Ana on September 14, 2016 at 10:58 AM
    • Reply

    Thank you for this awesome tips! I’m sending this to my sister!

    I used to think I was immune to the “nothing new on race day” and last Saturday, I was reminded that nobody is immune to this! I wore a new hat, it was a small light hat, but it was new. My head got so hot by mile 1 that I almost threw it out in the middle of a farm in Bird In Hand! but decided to not litter their corn fields, and tucked it in my shorts instead. I think I have learned that lesson now! I needed to get over my cocky self!

    This is a silly one, but checking that leggings and shorts are tag free is a huge one! Last year I ran 5 miles on a pair of leggings I had worn to zumba many times before. But 1 hour of zumba is the equivalent of .50 slow running, my leg was horribly chaffed by this tiny tag on the side of my leg!! It left a scar!
    Ana recently posted…BIH Half MarathonMy Profile

    1. I’m so glad you said that because we are all susceptible to it! I tried a new GU DURING a race last year and, luckily it was fine for me (in fact, I loved it) but it could have been disastrous!
      And yes to checking tags or stitching, etc which is why Zumba is not running!!…but now you know this. I have also learned that lesson the hard way…
      Thanks for this. Loved it!

  7. Love this post – and the Training Peaks article! Electrolytes and fuel were definitely my downfall at the Portland Marathon.
    And yes to running easy! I think part of the struggle is confusing running slow (objective) vs. running easy (subjective). I’ve noticed with slower runners I’ve worked with, they are reluctant to run the easy paces I prescribe because they already feel like they’re slow (to which – who cares! You’re running a marathon which is a huge accomplishment!) and don’t want to go even slower. But the notion of easy is relative and applies to every runner.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…The Case for Moderate Mileage in Marathon TrainingMy Profile

    1. Yes! I know you actually talked about “relativity” in your GREAT post today. It is definitely hard to translate this to newer (and especially slower) runners. Running really takes a long time to figure out because your body and mind have to get in synch with your paces and, just when you think you have it figured out, it changes.
      Great points, as always Laura. Thanks!

  8. Holy cow on that shaved-off time. Razor clubs everywhere could stand to learn a few things from you! Seriously, though…I’m impressed.
    Yum Yucky recently posted…Tinie Tempah – Girls Like | Easy Dance Workout to Burn FatMy Profile

    1. LOL! And, I live to impress you.

  9. Ugh, I dislike it when I see people wearing the race shirt during the race. I mean, it breaks SO many runner rules!
    And, I’ve learned the electrolytes/hydration thing a couple of times even though I know better. We all make mistakes.
    Great post! 🙂

    1. So glad you can relate/agree! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  10. Great post and I completely agree with all of these. It’s funny because I know about not wearing anything new while racing but I’ve run races in new sports bras and chafed so much….it’s a lesson I might never learn.

    I think running easy is one of the best things you can do for yourself. There is no shame in running easy. Like others, I’ve found leaving the Garmin at home to be the best option.
    Hollie recently posted…Saucony Zealot ISO 2 ReviewMy Profile

    1. I know, right? Why do we still do stuff like that?
      And yes, I’ve gotten so much better about not even looking at my Garmin. I can wear it on a long run and never check it, which is a great thing!
      Thanks Hollie!

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