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.


[Tweet “Lesson #1 avoid overtraining. You only need (to read this) and confidence! #train4life”]


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!

[Tweet “Do as I say and not as I have done, if you want to have a great #race! #20yearsoflessons”]

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

What can you add to my list?