Lessons Learned: Takeaways From My Latest Half Marathon

As noted in my recap from the recent Navy Air Force Half Marathon here in D.C., while I may not have hit my goal time I did learn some valuable lessons to take with me in the final month of prep for Marine Corps Marathon.

Yikes, one month – this was the first thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning causing simultaneous excitement and full-on panic!

The Takeaways

Nathan Pack
My main takeaway and the first thing I blurted out when I saw Ian at the finish line was, “I need my water pack for longer races!” I wear a Nathan Hydration Vest when I train and have also worn it during my last three marathons. They are the only three of the nine I’ve run under four hours and have been under four by a big chunk of time. Granted, I was better trained for those races also, but I do think the vest makes a big difference.

Unlike some of my older camelbacks, this vest is so light my neck and shoulders aren’t a bit sore even after running 26.2 with it on. Well, at least not any more sore than running 26.2 normally causes. It doesn’t bounce or move around at all and feels as if it’s barely there. I’ve learned to do the whole pinch the water cup thing and drink on the run, but I don’t like doing it and I don’t like depending on water stops. I’m much better at getting water down in frequent small sips then gulping down a cup every few miles at an aid station.


There were a lot of points along the half where I wished I could just have a sip of water meaning that each time I got to an aid station I gulped down too much water knowing I wouldn’t have another chance for a couple miles leaving that uncomfortable sloshing feeling in my stomach. I also didn’t memorize where the aid stations were so it ended up being 10 or 15 minutes after taking my Honey Stinger bites before I had any water. The pack also has an easy access pocket on the front strap to hold all of my gummies.

I know a lot of people think the added weight slows you down in races, but it just works for me and has proven so in the past, so I’d like to stick with it. That said, a week after reaching this conclusion I saw talk on Twitter about MCM banning camelbacks this year. It appears to be a new security  measure because of the Boston bombings. It’s buried on their website, so I’m not sure how serious they are about this. I have a tough time seeing how this could be a real security threat, but I also don’t want to cause any issues, so now I’m at a loss for what to do.

I debated before the half whether or not to wear a watch or just go by feel. I was all set to go without, but let my coach convince me to just wear a regular stopwatch. He’s not a fan of Garmins, which I understand, but for me I feel that I would have been better keeping the Garmin on or going completely without. The in-between just meant I was doing more math in my head along the course to determine my pace and kept me from just running on effort. Since I plan to run with a pace group at MCM, I’m not too worried about having to look at my watch much anyways, but will go with the Garmin so I can have a record of the race.


Eat a Bigger Breakfast
I don’t think I had enough fuel in me for the half. Part of it was that I forgot the Honey Stinger waffle I packed to eat once we got into D.C., but I’m also getting up much earlier for races than I used to. I used to cut it pretty close so a bigger breakfast wasn’t always smart or just wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t going to have 2 hours to get hungry during. More calories on marathon morning will definitely be important, especially since I’ll be going twice the distance. Bonking in a goal race because I didn’t eat enough beforehand seems silly!


Start Slow, Finish Fast, Start Slow, Finish Fast, Start Slow, Finish Fast
I figure if I say this enough times I’ll follow through with it. This year’s Cherry Blossom race was one of the first times that I was able to actually follow through on this plan and boy did it feel good to fly through those last few miles. The beginning of a marathon should feel easy, so I’m going to do my best to stick with the pace group rather than jump out too fast leaving me exhausted later in the race.



Have you learned any big lessons on race day that you used to get better in your next big race??



8 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: Takeaways From My Latest Half Marathon

  1. The last race I ran I tried a new fueling method and it REALLY helped me out. Instead of taking an entire Gu at miles 6 and 10 like I’m used to, I opened one at the 5K point and just basically sipped on 2 the entire race at mile markers. It helped to keep my energy up the entire time!

  2. I’m starting to enjoy and perform better without a watch and just going by feel. Not only that but I think I enjoy the race experience better too because I’m not checking my watch every 30 seconds.

  3. Which pace group are you running with? A lesson I’ve learned in marathons is: Don’t run with a pace group. Ha. In my experience, they are crowded with anxious runners (who only make me more anxious) giving the pacer a hard time. “That mile was 3 seconds slower than it was supposed to be! Are you sure we’ll reach our goal? Do you know what you’re doing?” And, I do a lot better/have a lot more fun starting slower than goal pace and picking it up.

    And, I once ran with a pacer who took us out in a mile 20 seconds faster than it was supposed to be. That race did not go well for me. I should have listened to my body and not to her! (And she didn’t even end up finishing under the goal time.)

    • Really good points. I’m planning to run with the 3:35 group and hopefully pick it up as the race goes on and run 2-5 minutes faster than that. I hear you on the anxious runners. I like to stay on the fringe of the groups and just keep the pacer in my sights, because it bugs the heck out of me when people complain about being seconds off pace!

      I definitely worry about the starting too fast even with a pacer too. One of the years I did the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler here in D.C., the 7:30 pacer ran the first two miles sub 7, then shot off ahead of us. I try to give him a break b/c the pacers were all HS cross country kids, but I still joke that his reasoning had to be, screw these losers, I can win this thing. Naturally starting that fast was impossible for me to keep up.

      I’m so bad with starting too fast though, so I’m really hoping starting with the 3:35 group will help me with that. Initially I had a goal in the 3:20s, but it’s been a pretty tough training cycle and that just doesn’t seem realistic or smart to shoot for anymore.

      How has your training been? Your marathon is coming up soon, right??

      • Ha! “Screw these losers.” I often feel like pacers have that mentality!

        My training has been pretty good. My first marathon is actually this Sunday in NH — ack! — but I haven’t said a lot about it because I’m trying to avoid the “I had a bad race and now everyone is asking me how I did” effect. 🙂

        I do feel pretty well prepared and confident. We’ll see how the weather is. If it’s not a great day, I may just run easy(ish) and save my racing chops for Philly on 11/17.

        Happy last week(s) of hard MCM training!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s