Marathon On My Mind

Good morning!

Today I have Marathon Training Brain, so that’s what we’re going to talk about.

In December of last year, I finally “qualified” for the 2012 New York City Marathon. I ran nine New York Road Runners races, I volunteered at the New York City Marathon Expo, and I was finally — as the three-times-a-week emails reassured me — “in.”

My last race of 2011: The one that secured me a spot in the New York City Marathon

But the marathon, which is on November 4, always seemed so far away.

It still seems far away now, but my inbox is flooded with NYRR emails reminding me about the marathon (I know, I’m in, please cool it with the emails, we have plenty of time here), and fellow runners are starting to think about training plans, goal times and race day outfits.

OK, maybe not race day outfits. That must just be me.

I want to wear red.

I don’t have a training plan set yet, and I don’t know what sort of weekly mileage I’ll be looking to throw down. I don’t know if I’ll do two or three 20-milers throughout training, or if I want to go for a 22-miler, which I know some people choose to do. The actual training numbers aren’t my priority.

Before I can map out a training plan — and by that I mean before I have someone else do it for me, because no one should take my advice, ever, and I should not be allowed to make a training plan in hopes of race day success — I need to get my brain ready to go. Most times it’s not my body that holds me back when I’m racing — it’s my crazy little brain and all its irrational thoughts.

So while yes, my big New York City Marathon Goal is to run a sub-4 hour race, I have lots of other goals to help me get to that point.

Now is the part where I tell you those goals:

Back off at signs of injury. After a tiny brush with injury this winter/spring, I know I don’t want to be back in that dark, scary, emotional, I-will-kill-everyone place. I know that aches and pains during training are inevitable and most times they are nothing to worry about. But if something feels more injured than sore, I will back off, take days off as needed and basically not be an idiot.

Stretch. Foam roll. Yoga. Ice. I always say I’m going to do these things. I bring my Stick to work with me, and it just sits on my desk, feeling sad and neglected. I really need to be better about stretching after my runs, foam rolling once or twice a day and making it to, like, one yoga class a month. That seems reasonable.

Don’t obsess over every single run. Sometimes a run is just a run. Sometimes it means nothing. Bad runs over the course of 16 or so weeks are inevitable. So are good runs. I think it’s important to evaluate and analyze the important runs, but every single one is not worth a scientific dissection. There are times when I can pinpoint the reason behind a bad run: I did a strength class the night before (I’ll never learn), my stomach was acting up, I drank a bottle of wine for dinner instead of eating food. Then there are times when a run just sucks. That’s OK.

Run with faster people. This includes Coach Cane’s Thursday night running group, which I am scared of, and my fast fast friends. I feel fortunate to have so many speedy humans in my life, and I think I need to take advantage of that.

This is Nicole. She is one of those fast friends. She doesn't need pants.

I’m always afraid of holding people back, or going out to run with them and not being able to carry on a conversation as I huff and puff and they cruise along at a “comfortable” 7:30 pace. But running with these people will make me stronger, faster and more hardcore. Right? So friends, can I tag along? Gian, maybe next time you win a race and a trip to Portugal, I can try to hang on to that 4:50 pace for a few seconds? (J/K, me and my cowbell have other plans.)

Man up and register for some races. I haven’t run a race since January. I haven’t raced a race since December. Honestly, I’ve been scared. I’m scared of going out for a race and doing a bad job, and being slow, and feeling disappointed. But I need to get over it. When did I become such a little wimp?

Last night I finally logged onto some sites with grand plans to click that tempting little “Register Now” button. Maybe tonight. Somehow last night’s “Register Now” pages turned into “Click here to submit your order,” and it’s weird because instead of a race registration I now have a pair of purple running shorts coming my way. Oops?

This is fun, right?

Spend a decent amount of time outside my comfort zone. I run comfortably almost all of the time. I need to let it hurt a little more. I need to not fear the numbers on my watch, and not force myself to slow down when I’m supposed to be doing speedwork or tempo runs. Pushing is good for me.

Focus on my training and no one else’s. Ah the comparison trap. Let’s save that for another day, OK? But this is an important point, and one I need to remember.

Everyone is different. Some people can handle very high mileage. Some people can run marathons every weekend. Some people only can — or choose to — run three times a week. So when Long Run Saturday rolls around each week, I need to not log on to Twitter and panic when I see that a fellow NYCM runner is doing a 20-miler the same weekend I’m doing a cutback week. My training is my training. My training is what will get me to the start and finish lines. Your training is fun to read about and stuff, but your training does not affect me.

Don’t race my training. Guilty as charged. I do my long runs too fast. I love knowing that I can hold an 8:44 pace (slightly faster than my marathon goal pace) for 15 miles.


I have been told over and over to save that shit for race day, and yet I keep doing it. Why? Who am I trying to impress? I don’t know. Can I just say it’s “because I’m new to running” and you’ll let me off the hook? Great, thanks. I need to slow down my long runs. I like doing the kind of long runs that end with a few miles at marathon goal pace. I also like having someone smarter tell me what to do instead of trying to figure it out myself.

Maintain perspective. It’s just a race. Yes, I’m going to put everything I have into running a strong race in November. But I’m not a professional runner. I’m not getting paid to do this. I do it because I enjoy it and because it’s fun. How I do at the marathon does not determine my overall success or happiness in life.

Remember that most people do many marathons before finally reaching their goals. This will only be my second marathon. I read so many blogs and talk to so many people who ran track in high school and have been distance running for years. I didn’t even run my first race — a 4-miler — until four years ago. I’m still so new to this sport, and I need to remember that and keep my goals in check. I’d love to shave 14 minutes off my marathon PR, but I need to prepare myself for if that doesn’t happen. I know I won’t give up. I know there will be more marathons.

So those are my goals for now. What do you think?

Oh also remember I have no idea what I’m talking about. I guess a lot. I’m not a coach. I’m new. These are my goals, not necessarily ones you should adopt for yourself. That’s your friendly weekly disclaimer reminding you “don’t do what I do.”

Basically, I want to train smartly, I want to stay healthy and I don’t want training to be stressful. I want to run, I want to love it, I don’t want to burn out and I don’t want to over-think things and obsess over them.


Folded, piled and ready for you!

Get ’em while they’re there. I Heart Sweat shirts are on sale now at If the size/color combination you’re looking for isn’t available in the drop-down menu, it’s not because “my site is broken.” I assure you the site is not broken. (Right, Brian?) It’s because that size or color is sold out. Sorry.

And because I promised a giveaway winner, congratulations to…

This is so you know I didn't just make it up or whatever.
You crazy kids and your Crossfit obsessions. I can't say I get it, but I'll still give you a shirt!

Madi, you’re the proud (I hope) new owner of a hot little I Heart Sweat shirt. Please email me at with your preferred shirt size and your mailing address. I hope you love it!

Happy shopping, happy sweating!

NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT TRAINING: If you’re gearing up for a fall race, what’s on your mind? Thinking about goals? What’s most important to you right now?



58 Responses

  1. Hi Ali,
    I’m catching up with your blog post-so this response is very late but here goes…I finally signed up for a few nyrr races after spending last year “thinking” about it and I’m so nervous. First race August 25-Harlem run. It’s just a 3k but it’s my first 3k…ever. I’m scared of being the slowest or of getting hurt. I’m just starting out, so I’m relieved that my concerns are the same concerns shared by seasoned runners. I’m also inspired by your resolve to learn along the way. Your blog rocks by the way. Take care of yourself :-)! Now for my run.

  2. thanks for this – it reminded me that I need to start setting goals for New York as well. July 4 = 4 months out! Definitely want to try to PR (duh) but aside from that, I gotta start thinking. Foam rolling is def a good one to have!

  3. Ali, I really like your blog, but recently I’ve been wanting to just slap you in the face and say “SNAP OUT OF IT”!
    You have been complaining about injuries and sickness, I get that.
    But whenever you talk about not doing enough speed work, or running hills, you sound like a child. Stop thinking about it so much and do it!
    Negative spliting isn’t that hard to do, just pace yourself from the start! You know you’re making mistakes but you don’t try to change them.

    1. My runs lately have actually been pretty good. That 15-miler wasn’t from yesterday — it was just an example I had on hand. Yes, I complained about being injured and sick — I think most people would — but my runs over the past week or two have been pretty great, so no complaints there! I haven’t started doing speedwork or hills, but I of course will once I begin marathon training. Last week (or the week before?) I actually set out to do some “light speedwork” and got ripped on and critiqued from people saying I shouldn’t be doing that. I’m just going out and doing my best and learning a lot along the way. I do try to change and learn from my mistakes — it just doesn’t always happen overnight for me. That’s why I’m reflecting now and making goals before training begins. Thanks for your comment. You can still slap me in the face if you’d like.

      1. I think you rock. I wont slap you in the face…unless you dont make a trip back to Oz to run a race with me! I’m living vicariously thru you right now – I ran NYCM last Nov 2011, and it was incredible. I applied again via the lottery this year (I even used my Aussie address, hoping that it would give me better odds of getting in), but i was denied. 🙁 Enjoy every minute of training between now and Nov – it is a once-in-a-lifetime, magical experience. Looking fwd to following your journey and living vicariously thru you. xx carrie

  4. it’s a good thing im in los angeles, because the string of curse words that just happened when i realized i miss the damn shirts (again!) wasn’t pretty! i just came into birthday money, too! you just had this great master plan to release the shirts on my busiest day ever! 😛 *sigh* how long is “awhile”? as in “awhile until you release another batch?” 🙂

  5. This San Diego gal is also running NYC this year!!! Not sure if I’m more stressed about being currently injured or traveling to the great big city of New York solo!! 🙂

    May both of our marathon plans come together!! 🙂

  6. You’re reading my mind here. Why is it so hard to remember to and make time for foam rolling when I know it’s SO GOOD FOR ME OMG??

    In fact, aw hell, I’m going to get off my duff right now and go roll out my ITs before bedtime instead of, you know, reading more blogs. Like I always do.

  7. Ever since starting to train for my first half marathon (this October!), I’ve been SUPER conscientious about icing/stretching/massaging/etc. And then yesterday I didn’t get a time to ice for as long because I had to go to work, and sure enough, I could definitely tell today that my legs were not feeling as good. It’s crazy how much that helps!

  8. solid post girl. i’ve signed up for 2 half marathons for the fall. one in september (three days after my bday) and one in november. i just did my first 10k two weekends ago and am focusing on completing the distance, not the speed.

  9. I just signed up for my first race in a really, really long time (years) – the Fitness mag 4 miler in Central Park in September! I’m relatively new to both running outside (omg, how do I pace myself without a GPS device?!), and also increasing my distance, so I’m really focused on getting out there as often as I can and not psyching myself out.

  10. Training for my first half and focusing on three things: listening to my body to find a pace that’s truly sustainable but also challenging, believing in my ability to kick ass and AVOIDING INJURY.

  11. I hope you know that I full on LIED about “needing to prep for a phone call” so I could order shirts (success, finally!) this morning instead of attending our weekly all-staff meeting. Definitely worth it. I am debating whether it’s time to try a 4th of July race, or whether or not I’m far enough post-op to do so!

  12. Getting ready to start training for Philly in about a month, building a base right now. My ego is still bruised from a DNF in May at the NJ Marathon but determined to use it as a learning experience & not let it linger in the back of my mind. Positive thoughts!

  13. Hi Ali, I came across your blog as I will be a fellow NYC marathon runner in 2012 (it was my 4th year applying to the lottery)! What a great post… so many good points to keep in mind. I have been injured during my training for my last marathon in 2009 and am really focusing on injury prevention and having a good training and racing experience this time arond. Heading to a yoga class tonight! I will be following your blog and wish you all the best in your training!

  14. Great goals Ali! I’m doing the Hamptons half marathon which will be my first half marathon, and I’m already getting nervous and super excited about it. Just did my first 8 mile run EVER last week, which felt awesome. I know I shouldn’t have a goal time for my first half marathon, but I’m definitely hoping to break 2:15 and maybe even 2:08. I’m doing 9+1 in 2013 for the 2014 NYC marathon so I’m looking forward to reading about your training this summer and fall!

    1. Aw, I’ve heard great things about the Hamptons Half! Nerves and excitement are good — they’ll fuel strong training runs and a solid race day! Good luck and enjoy the training!

  15. I’m so stuck, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about like crazy. I vacillate between really pushing myself for speed (something I really never thought about in 6 years of running until beginning to race), or simply trying to enjoy the training, enjoy the run, enjoy the sport and see where it takes me. I DON’T KNOW! I’m not sure I ever will either. Constant state of torn-ness.

  16. You’ve promised to pace me in a race TWICE now and ditched me BOTH times. Should I start giving up on you?

  17. Great post, all things that I REALLY need to remind myself of. I have a half the end of August that I would like to sub 2:00 (I’m slow) and my first marathon in Oct. I just add track workouts because I really want to run faster.

  18. I’m also about to start training for my fall races and I think I’m in the same boat…I race my training runs! And I’m not mentally smart when it comes to pacing myself through a marathon. In the spring I did the national marathon and took off way too fast for too long and then seriously bonked at 22.5 miles. I’m just aiming to be smarter this time around!

  19. I, too, am aiming for a sub 4:00 this year (also, with a current PR of 4:14). My race is Dec 2 and I look forward to reading about your journey leading up to NYCM!

  20. Those are awesome goals in mind for your upcoming training. Long tracings like thy can be so hard… Well from what I hear. Ive never really done it. Looking forward to trying that soon! Can’t wait to hear Bout your progress 🙂 and then I’ll have some advice!

  21. You are going into this thing SO SMARTLY. I love that!! I particularly love that you’re not focusing on the race as the be-all-end-all and remembering that at the end of the day, its JUST a race. All your training (at least to me) is far more important than the race itself. It’s the training that should make you the proudest. At least, that’s sorta how I’m going into first-ever marathon training over here, but what do I know?? (eeeek haha)

  22. Right before I read this, I was creating a training excel spreadsheet where I will track my actual training vs. the suggested training from CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association, aka, the group I’m running with this summer). I sometimes have a tendency to freak out if I don’t run exactly what’s on the suggested training guide. I feel better seeing the runs/workouts I’ve completed down on paper… no idea why. Plus, I’m forever shuffling runs around bc of travel plans, dinner plans, whatever plans. What’s most important to me right now, in the early stages of training, is listening to my body and keeping in mind the ultimate goal: 26.2 on 10/7. No need to start crushing every run or doing 2 a day work outs… I just need to get out there and run!

  23. Go, Ali! You are awesome. I’m in the thick (ok, 3rd week) of marathon training for my next race (Victoria Marathon in Oct) towards my goal of completing 50 by age 50. I’m a special brand of crazy. And I’m super slow so I’m giving you a virtual high-five for having a time goal.

    1. I saw it! You’re one of “those people” chatting up NYCM and making me think about it, too! So excited to follow your training this year!

  24. Wow, Ali, I love every single one of these and in part because they are universal, whether you are going to run a race, a marathon, or just RUN to RUN. These are all good things to keep in mind when you run, especially comparison and getting out of the comfort zone. I think I need to do some of these things too, as I work on getting out of my head as I run and keep working towards improvement. Well put and I can’t wait to follow your latest training journey!

  25. Thank you for this post! I just signed up for my second half marathon and I know what you mean about doing more, smaller races. I’m terrified of running just 5k’s, even though I always do so much better than I anticipate. Hopefully registering more often will help me get used to some of the big-day nerves as well!

  26. I am also running NY in Novmeber, so good luck! You are pretty far along int raining — if you can handle a 15 miler at MP now, before training really begins, that is great. I also have to remember to slow down (and don’t).

    One thing I always tell myself, Plan the Run, Run the Plan.

    That helps on the good days — and the bad ones too. Good luck!

  27. I’m training for a half in July but it’s hilly so that’s going to be more for the occasion and excitement (it’s the San Francisco one). But come October I’m running the Wine Country Half and I’m going Sub Two Or Cry!!! That will be a BIG deal for me!!!!!

    Wish I was doing NYC though!!

    1. Just think: Run faster, get your sub-2 and you’ll arrive at the wine-filled finish line quicker! You’ve got this. I’m sure of it. Happy training, Cathryn!

  28. I’m playing the “stalk the race site but don’t click register just yet” game with a fall half marathon. I’m curious to know what a training cycle without worrying about tests and hospitals visits could be like, and what pushing my body without these things could help me accomplish on race day. But, I’m also worried about all of the fitness I lost the past few months and whether I can get myself in gear to really truly train my little heart out.

  29. those sound like great goals! I’m also running NYC in November as my second marathon and agree with you that NYRR needs to CHILL OUT on the e-mails. I get it, I’m running the marathon, I’m excited, but I need some space in my in box.
    also, wore my I <3 sweat shirt to my club's track workout last Thursday and got lots of compliments on it.

  30. PANTS SLOW YOU DOWN. Once I stopped wearing them, I was at least 10 seconds per mile faster for a 10K. This is all you need, Ali!

  31. Right now I’m in the third week of training for the Hartford half marathon in October. I haven’t been doing any sort of real training since last fall so my goal is to take is slow getting back into running shape.
    And I’m totally with you about focusing on your training and not other people’s plans. I need to remember that more.

  32. I have to figure out my goals for training. I have ambitious time goals, but worry about burn out. I also have ambitious race goals (relays! other marathons!) and I worry I am going to get distracted so I cant meet my goals. Also known as, I don’t know what I want to do. Story of my life.

  33. I’m with you on the “don’t race my training” goal. I always feel like I need to run fast to be able to run fast (which I agree with when it comes to speedwork and such)…but I always underestimate the benefits of a long, slow run.

    YAY I heart sweat shirts are back!!

  34. I’m also running my second marathon in October, and my goal is a 4:00 finish (or faster, but let’s not get too crazy here.) I’m hoping to be better about sticking to my training plan and not forgoing as many runs as I did last year! Obviously marathon training > law school 🙂

    1. I haven’t decided yet. I trained with a coach for my first marathon and it was really helpful. So we’ll see!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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