There Is Always More To Learn

There Is Always More To Learn

On Sunday morning I waited mid-pack for the start of my fifth marathon.  I had gone over my whole race plan with Coach Joe on Thursday and kept reviewing it Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning.  I was ready and anxious to get this one going.

The response I get from a lot of people is that because this is my fifth marathon I should know what I’m doing, this should be nothing new for me, no surprises.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  If you’ve done more than 2 or 3 of any type of race, or enough to get beyond “I just hope to complete the distance,” you start to figure out how much more there really is to learn.

Rewinding back through my training, my early goal-setting, and my decision to run this particular marathon, I took some risks. I decided to run a course knowing that it was hilly and probably not a PR course.  I decided to hire Coach Joe–the risky part of that is handing over the reins to something I thought I could do myself pretty handily.  And this year I was training with different nutrition than I had used in previous years.  I took these risks not because I was bored with the marathon, but because I thought these things would make me better as an athlete and a coach.

I’ve learned something from every marathon I’ve run.  When I ran Chicago, my first, I learned that your time is not nearly so important as finishing hand-in-hand with your best friend who struggled through the middle half of the course.  When I ran Quad Cities in clear skies and 85 degree heat, I learned the value of having good friends to run the last six miles with.  When I ran Green Bay, I learned what happens when you get the perfect day.  Phoenix taught me to plan the race and race the plan (and what happens when you don’t).  And Rockford…

When I trained for this race, I did a lot of flat running, but I also did a fair bit of NW Suburban hill running.  I knew the course was hilly, but it didn’t really register how hilly until I realized that the Rock River flows through downtown and we would be running across it three times.  Adding hills to a marathon is something most people try to avoid on their quest for a BQ (Boston Qualifying time), but if you’re looking for a challenge this is one way to do it.

What I couldn’t plan for, though, was the headwind.  Weather is always a game-changer on race day and you can’t change anything so you have to be prepared for it.  I run outside in the cold and I run outside in the rain–if you never train in those conditions you won’t be prepared if your race is cold or rainy.  And you’d better believe your competition is training in those conditions too!

Part of your training should also be getting to know your body.  It’s easy to plug in the headphones and cruise through your runs, but don’t forget to listen to what your body is telling you.  It’s easy to assume that the race crew will handle all the nutritional aspects of the race, providing you with properly mixed sport drink and gel at the intervals that you need it…..but what if they don’t?  How will you know when your hydration is becoming critical?  When you’re running low on sugar?  When your sodium is low?  It sounds crazy, but if you never push the envelope with your nutrition you never learn what is important and it’s so critical in events of this duration.  When I started trying new things with my nutrition, I encountered huge issues in my training that some people just write off as limitations and reasons not to run long distances.  If I hadn’t accidentally created those opportunities, I wouldn’t have realized that the calf cramp at 18.5 meant that I needed to take my spare electrolytes…..and that gel that I needed to force into my unwilling stomach at 20 would be the hardest thing I had to deal with in the whole marathon.

I’m not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind and try everything you can think of to give yourself a challenge.  A better option is to surround yourself with resources who can help you when you get into a jam and use them when you do find yourself with a training issue that you can’t solve on your own.  I had Coach Joe, who got me to my fifth marathon without a single injury–a first for me, and helped me have fun with the process.  I also had Laurie Schubert, our ET Team Dietitian, whose help was invaluable in sorting out some sneaky nutrition issues.  Huge thanks to both of you!  I also had the ET Team, who is an awesome behind-the-scenes cheer crew.

After five marathons I’m already looking forward to what I can learn from number 6…..when it’s time. 🙂

Enjoy your training!

Congrats Judie on taking some risks, following the plan and a podium finish!

Judie Refvik is a USA Certified Triathlon Coach with Experience Triathlon Coaching Services.   As leaders in the endurance coaching industry, Coach Judie and the Experience Triathlon coaching team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life.  Learn more about Coach Judie and Experience Triathlon at and


Share this post