14 Lessons From My 14 Marathons

Marathons are my favorite. The distance itself is always challenging, the race day brings excitement, and you get to learn about yourself along the way. A marathon finish line is also never guaranteed and I think that’s why I feel such gratitude every time I cross one. 

I finished my 14th marathon (California International Marathon) a little over a week ago and it had me thinking about each marathon I have run. Each one has taught me it’s own lesson because no marathon is the same. 

Here’s a list of a lesson from each of my 26.2 mile adventures:

1. You are capable of more than you think. (Chicago Marathon 2014)

2. If you have to pee during a marathon, just stop early. Don’t wait until mile 24. (Prairie State Trail Marathon 2015)

3. Running a negative split is a much more enjoyable way to run a marathon. (Naperville Marathon 2015)

4. It takes guts to go for your dream goal. Don’t be afraid to take that risk. (Chicago 2016 – first BQ)

5. Don’t be a hero. Overdoing it got you here, but you get to race, so be grateful for your body. (Rock N Roll Nashville 2017 post-injury)

6. Let the supportive people in your life help you. I wouldn’t have done this without my incredible friends. (Grand Rapids Last Chance BQ 2017)

7. It isn’t just about you. I ran step by step with my friend Cait and was reminded yet again we can be stronger together. (Chicago Marathon 2017)

8. Living a dream you’ve had for a long time cannot be dampened by even the worst weather. (Boston Marathon 2018 – first Boston)

9. Trust yourself. Even when you are not feeling your best, it isn’t necessarily a sentence for a terrible race. (Chicago Marathon 2018)

10. You do this for fun. Remember? It’s fun. Time goals are not always the most important thing. (Boston Marathon 2019)

11. Taking the pressure off helps you run stronger. This was my bonus spring marathon where I had no intentions of going for a PR, but having that in my head actually worked out well for me. Also, FUEL WELL during. (Copenhagen Marathon 2019 – holds my PR of 3:21)

12. It’s like riding a bike? Be grateful for the chance to run. After a 2 year hiatus thanks to the pandemic, I showed up to run the marathon distance again with no goals in mind other than to finish. It just felt so GOOD to be back out there. (Canberra Marathon 2021)

13. Yes running a marathon successfully is because of training, but it’s also a lot of heart. I was undertrained, overtired, and stressed at this start line, but I ran with heart and I enjoyed myself. (Boston Marathon 2021)

14. Marathons are a gift. Treasure them. (California International Marathon 2021)

I could go on and on about each and every one of these marathons, but this is the short version. I didn’t include my finish times for most of them because I don’t think that is all that important here. I wanted to show how you can always learn something from a marathon no matter your pace or if you reached the goal you set for yourself. There really is some magic in the journey. I can’t wait to see what my next marathons have in store for me. I hope yours hold some lessons and some magic for you too. 

Building a Strong Running Base: A Quick How-to and Why You Should.

Build a base! Now is a great time to. Base building isn’t sexy. Most people don’t brag about their weeks on end of easy to moderate runs for time, but I strongly believe proper base building helps set you up for successful training cycles. 

Reasons you should build a base:

  • You will increase aerobic efficiency. You will get your body used to using oxygen in its most efficient way possible. 
  • You can see an improvement in your VO2max (especially new runners!).
  • If you don’t gradually build a base before jumping into training, you risk an adverse reaction when stressing your body.
  • Taking time to build a base helps set you up for success with your next training cycle.
  • Consistently running again will help your body get used to the stress without unnecessary risk of injury.
  • You will work on your mental strength without the added pressure of racing.

How-to start incorporating more running:

  • Start with easy runs. Save speed/high-intensity for your next building phase.
  • Run for time. Set a goal of running for 15 minutes, get outside, and do not worry about the distance you cover.
  • Aim for one longer run a week. Make it work with your schedule. If you have more time to run on Wednesdays, then make that your long run day. Set yourself up for success.
  • Alternate with cross training days. If you enjoy cycling, swimming, yoga, etc — make sure these activities have a place in your schedule. Try not to run many consecutive days in a row in the beginning.
  • If the weather is extra terrible, sub for cross training. The beauty of not officially ‘training’ means you can let yourself skip running in the blizzard and cross train any time you’d like. Cross training is a key part of base building. 
  • Make it fun. Have a run date with your partner. Run to the library to pick up a book. Use your running time as podcast listening time. Think of ways to make each run more fun or productive — it can help make sure you don’t skip it. 

If you get back to consistency, you will have fewer runs where your mind tells you “I want to stop.” You will be building mental toughness, even if you are not running hard speed workouts. Consistency BEFORE intensity.

A sample week for someone coming back to running after an extended break:

  • Monday: Run 10-15 minutes
  • Tuesday: cross train
  • Wednesday: Run 20 minutes
  • Thursday: rest day
  • Friday: Run 10-15 minutes
  • Saturday: cross train
  • Sunday: Run 30 minutes

Don’t be afraid to throw in some walk minutes. Do not stress about how fast you go! This isn’t a set example for every runner. Some people can jump into more time right away. Some need a little less. Depends on your running history. But for example if you have been running 0-10 miles a week, do not try to automatically jump back into 40 miles a week. Or if you have been running 40 miles a week, do not jump right up to 80 mile weeks. Gradual is the key word.

Work on your mileage base for 4-8 weeks before progressing, if time allows. Then move into the next phase of building where you add speed back for 4-8 weeks. 

You can do it. 

Start now. It is a great time to build a base. Try to hold yourself accountable and work on making running a consistent part of your routine again. 

Base building is not always the ~fun part of training, but it is an essential part. Do not be afraid to dedicate real effort to building a strong base. If you feel really good some days, go a little faster and if the easy days feel good, enjoy the easy. Let this base building time remind you why you love to run in the first place. 

And if you want a little extra guidance and accountability, coaches are out there to help you reach your goals.

What I Think About Run/Walking

Let’s talk about the run/walk! This post is way overdue, but I am happy to post in a time where most of the United States is facing extreme heat. Now is the perfect time to try the run/walk method.

I love run/walking. If you know me personally, you still might be surprised to hear me say this. I used to be the QUEEN of running my easy runs too fast. I thought if I wasn’t running fast, I wasn’t running. What was the point? 

Not shockingly, always running too hard and not taking recovery seriously, led me to an injury back in March of 2017. I decided to start working with a coach in January of 2018 and the first thing he told me was that he was going to make me slow way down for a lot of my runs. I did not love that idea. And he can tell you how much I pushed back that first month or two. The best way to make me take easy runs truly easy? Introducing the run/walk as part of my training.

A run he would often plan for me was 60 minutes easy: 9 minute run, 1 minute walk, repeat. I remember the first time I saw this, I thought excuse me, you want me to take walk breaks on the Chicago Lakefront Trail? Let people pass me? What if I don’t need the breaks? 

That was the point. Run/walks are meant to help you get in time on your feet, while keeping your heart rate lower, and therefore requiring less recovery time. You should end a run/walk feeling like you want more. 

As Eric (my coach) says, “This type of running forces you to take a break and reassess what you are doing. There is no mentally slipping into a pace that is just a little bit faster than what you should be doing and before you know it you’re 45 minutes into an easy run with a HR pushing zone 4. The secret here is that these 1 minute breaks aren’t nearly enough to actually recover. They’re enough to stop and catch your breath, remember what you’re supposed to be doing and that’s about it. Most people’s heart rate slips barely back down to zone 1, if it slips at all, before they are off on the next 9 minute jog.” He wrote about this topic for the Runners’ Report, find more here

It took me a while to get used to this type of running. I felt like I was “cheating” at first. And I fought the urge to pause my Garmin while I walked (you should just leave it on). But I slowly started to realize that over the course of an hour, I was only walking for 6 minutes total. That’s not much at all. Those 6 minutes were just brief opportunities to drop my heart rate a little and reset my pace to make sure I was not moving too quickly. And it also served as a reminder to really take in the views and the nature around me.

I even started to look forward to these days. My hard days were HARD. They required a lot of effort. So, my easy days had to be easy. It was the perfect balance. And once summer hit, I realized run/walking in the summer heat was a way better idea if only just to convince myself to get out the door. 

Running in the heat is hard. You naturally have to slow down a bit to sustain similar efforts. Run/walking helps keep your heart rate in check while allowing you to be running out in the hot sun. If you are having a hard time motivating yourself right now, please try this approach!  Do not worry about what your overall pace is. I try not to even pay attention to it at all. Some days for me this can be an 8:50 overall, other days 10:30 pace. Doesn’t matter. 

Garmin run walk photo

Over two and a half years later and still at least two of my weekly runs are run/walks. Doing this helps prevent risk of injury, while maintaining high mileage. Since Eric introduced me to this type of training, I have been injury-free and set PRs in almost every race. This type of training can make you faster. 

I haven’t used run/walking in a marathon, but I did use this method to complete my first ultra marathon last August. I signed up for a 50K (my first) with only a couple months to ‘train’. I had a marathon base already. I knew it would be a hot day being an August race in the Midwest, so my coach and I decided I would run/walk this from the start. Every long run leading up this race was a run/walk of either run 19 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat. Or run 14 minutes, walk one minute, repeat. Again, not a ton of walking time, but enough that I looked forward to it every time I had a ‘walk minute’. This paid off for me. Race day was 85 degrees Fahrenheit and I do not think I would have covered 31.50 miles so well if I hadn’t run/walked. I went with the 14/1 approach. Did I want to walk after only running 14 minutes in a race? No. Did I have a little bit of a hard time letting people pass me every time I walked in the first half of the race? Yes. But the thing is…I passed them all eventually. I rigidly stuck to the 14/1 for the entire race. And I ended up catching every person that had passed me before and I felt GOOD. I mean as good as you can on that hot of a day running the farthest you ever have. I finished in 4:48:17 (9:09 average pace) – 3rd female overall. I never would have thought I would run/walk a race, but this was the perfect opportunity to try it out and it worked well.

So, saying again: I love the run/walk. This is something I have all of my athletes do too. I truly believe it helps keep you healthy and helps you get faster. I know it can be hard to get used to at first, but it is worth trying. Eric and I joke now about how I am the one convincing runners to try this, when I used to think he was crazy for even suggesting it to me. We can all learn if we are open to trying new things. This is one thing I really will utilize forever. I want to run throughout my entire life, so smart training is really important to me. This is why I became a coach myself. I am so passionate about taking care of yourself while also hitting the fast time goals you want to. You can do both.

Happy run/walking. Let me know if you try this out!


Ideas to Make Running Fun In The Midst of a Hard Time

I don’t know about you, but running really has not been very enjoyable for me for most of this lock down/pandemic time. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me as I watched the Boston Marathon get postponed, my flight home to see family and friends for the first time in 6 months cancelled, and I began living this new “stay at home” way of life. I needed time to adjust. And running (something I love) just didn’t sound fun most days. 

I had been training hard for Boston since November. Training in Sydney, Australia through the summer. It was HOT. It was hilly. It was hard. Having a goal race kept me out there doing hard runs, long runs, and uncomfortable runs. But once I didn’t have a marathon to train for anymore, I felt kind of lost. And I knew my body needed a break. Five months of hard marathon training is a lot. I knew I should not continue training through this pandemic at full capacity, especially if I will start training again in June. I need the break. I need the time to focus more on strength, yoga and chilling. THAT IS OKAY! But that does not mean I have to stop running completely. 

Now what? I love to run just for running sake. It isn’t all about races for me. But that said, getting out for runs anyways when you do not feel like it, is a lot easier when you have a date on a calendar you’re working toward. Speed work in heat just isn’t going to happen for me if I’m not racing soon, because it isn’t enjoyable for me. And all I want is for running to feel enjoyable. I had to reset my mindset. I wanted to just run for my mental health. To get outside and get fresh air. To run for pure enjoyment. And for me, that means not forcing anything.

For the last two weeks of March and first three weeks of April, every single run felt frustrating. Despite stay at home orders in Australia, there were more people out running and in parks than ever before. Running paths I used to have to myself were now flooded with people (groups of people!!) who were breaking the rules and oblivious to those around them. Most runs were flat out angering. I didn’t feel like myself. And having something I love that usually brings me peace all of a sudden bring me panic and frustration is just a terrible feeling. 

I had to kind of trick myself into enjoying running again. I am still working with my coach, but he is letting me lead what I want to do at the moment. I do still think even in spite of the uncertainty, now is a great time to work with a coach. They can hold you accountable, challenge you (if that’s what you want), encourage you, and make sure you don’t over train (huge right now). My athletes have been inspiring me with the work they are still putting in day after day. And I truly believe running is a good thing right now. You might just need to frame it differently in your head. If virtual races and normal speed work is your jam, then go for it. If it isn’t, that’s okay too. I came up with some ways to make running feel “fun” and wanted to share if you also are in need of some inspiration!

  1. Random Directions – Set out to run with no total time or mileage or route in mind. Try to run down some streets you haven’t run before, or at least don’t run often. Every time you get to a stoplight or stop sign, just choose a direction. Go right, stay straight, etc. Just use your gut instinct and go every which way with no real plan. Turn around and run home when you want!
  2. Run/walk – (I promise I will actually get my blog up soon about the benefits of run/walking.) I am a huge proponent of the run/walk approach. Especially in a time like this. If you’re struggling to get outside because running feels daunting right now, try this: run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat. Or run 9 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat. The walk breaks are short – just enough to drop your heart rate a little and help you reset your easy pace. They make a big difference in effort and are so great on the days you think a run won’t feel good. Try it!
  3. Photo hunt – If you run with your phone and like photos, try to set a silly photo challenge before you get out to run. Choose an object like trees, street art, leaves, anything you want and plan to take X number of photos on your run. I think this is a good reminder to look up, take in nature and scenery around you and be willing to press pause. It’s a nice little distraction. The purpose of this run can just be to go take some photos, and however far you run is however far you run. 
  4. Errand run – I love the errand run. I use my Camelbak pack to carry things when I run and it’s great. I often run to drop off a library book, pick up something from the store, etc. I have been doing this for years, but I have found it especially nice in this time. We are all staying inside more, as we should be, and time in stores or visiting restaurants is limited. But if you choose a run once a week where you can run to go leave a book on a family members front porch, or a card in your friends mailbox – go for it! You might not even think about the running part. It’s just something on your to-do list and maybe a nice gesture.
  5. Fartlek – If you are wanting to get some speed back in your legs, but don’t love the idea of structured speedwork, try a fartlek run. You can set the “hard” minutes and “easy” minutes for however long you’d like. Try a 10 minute easy warm up, 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, 4 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, 10 minute cool down. Really any combo you like! Just make the hard a hard effort, don’t worry about paces. 
  6. Stair/hill climb – I am lucky I am surrounded by SO many hills and staircases, but I think most people can find a good staircase somewhat close by where they live. If you can, try a stair workout. Maybe run 10 minutes easy, climb the stairs 4 times, run 10 minutes easy, climb the stairs 4 times. However many stairs or hill reps your heart desires. Different terrain is really good for you and now is a great time to work it in if it’s something you usually avoid. 
  7. Podcast length – I have been “saving” my favorite podcast episodes for runs. Since I know I can only listen to them while running, I look forward to the run. And I set out with the intent to just run for the length of the episode. I might pick a 20 minute one or an 80 minute one, it doesn’t matter. I just put on my headphones, and run until it’s over. This lets me really disconnect and not even think about the running part. Highly recommend it. 
  8. End at a coffee shop – You might not all love coffee, but this could be anything really (a doughnut treat, a smoothie..). Start out a run with a final destination (that isn’t your home) in mind. Mine lately has been a coffee shop a few miles away. I run there, grab a coffee, and walk home as I drink my coffee and maybe call a friend. I love walking almost as much as I love running and coffee, so this way I get all three. You can support a small business, get some exercise and get extra time outside. I find having a place to ‘go’ on a run really helps. 


I hope you try some of these and find new vigor in your running. Run for fun! Run for your mental health. Run for alone time. Run to run. Now is the time to just enjoy it and remind yourself why you love it in the first place. But also, just one more reminder that now is also a great time to take a break. On the days you don’t want to workout, don’t. It will be okay. Just do what you feel like, when you feel like it. If you feel like running, but need an extra reason to get out and enjoy the run – I hope one of these ideas helps. 


Tips For Sticking To Your Training While Traveling 

Marathon training while traveling isn’t easy, especially when you’re in an entirely different time zone and your body is craving extra sleep and a normal schedule. I went to Ireland for about 10 days this past August when I was in the heart of my training cycle and I made it work.

I was not perfect and definitely made adjustments as the days went, but I did what I could. It is possible to still get the work in while enjoying your vacation, so I thought  I’d share some tips that worked for me with all of you.

I truly think you can make it work, enjoy your vacation, and still hit your goal time at your race!

  • Get a key workout in before you leave

If you are able to switch around your schedule to get in a key workout BEFORE you leave, you should. I was flying out on a Friday afternoon, so I moved my Saturday long run to Friday morning so that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting in 17 miles as soon as I got to Ireland. I obviously wanted to go straight to a pub for a Guinness (and I did – photo below). To make this work I had to start my long run at 4:45 AM since I was still working a half day before my flight. I don’t like getting up this early, but I knew it would be worth it. I had good friends to meet and a sunrise to see. These two things made the early alarm clock worth it. I got my 17 miles in and felt much more at ease about getting on the plane that afternoon. If you have the chance to be flexible and get it done before you leave, I highly recommend it.

Ireland 2

  • Try to find a local race

I knew I would still have to complete one long run on my trip even with moving one up before I left. I could have done this regardless, but I decided to find a race because that would make it more fun. And it just so happened when Kyle had the idea to go on this trip that he knew I’d want to run Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin. I wouldn’t pass up my first chance to run an international race. So, I signed up for the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. I was at ease about getting my running in from the start of the trip because I knew I had these two races planned. Even if I hadn’t run on any other days during this vacation, I would have these 17 miles and that would keep me on track. Being signed up helped me relax about not necessarily running super high mileage. If you’re planning a major trip during your marathon training, search for local races and sign up. It will hold you accountable!

Ireland 4

  • Be adaptable

If you take away one piece of advice from this post, it should be this one. Learn how to adapt. Be willing to change around your schedule. Skip a run. Have a double workout day if you find one day with less of a hectic schedule. I think not putting pressure on yourself during training can be wonderful thing – always, but especially on vacation. You want to be enjoying yourself, so if you are jet lagged and don’t feel like doing your speed workout, then don’t. It’s okay. Swap a scheduled run for a 3 hour hike. Sleep in. Go to a museum and then run easy miles in the afternoon. Do whatever you feel like doing! Adapt your schedule and you’ll be happier!

Ireland 6

  • Run with a buddy

I was lucky enough to have my favorite travel buddy with me on this trip. He’s not a long distance runner, but he’ll run with me for part of my runs. Last November he ran one mile with me over to the Eiffel Tower and then sat and read while I ran laps around for seven miles. I feel less guilty about squeezing in a run if he’s there enjoying the outdoors too, even if he isn’t running. And to be fair he did run 6 miles with me one night in Ireland because he was so obsessed with the area we were running in (and he’s more into running now). We couldn’t get enough and he agreed this was the most efficient way to see as much as we could that evening. Support is everything! If you’re on a solo trip or with people who think going to the park with you while you run laps sounds crazy, there are still things you can do. On Instagram? Ask if anyone in the area you’re traveling to would want to go for a run. This is a fun way to meet people IRL and you’ll be excited to run. Or you can meet up with a local running group. Look them up ahead of time and pick one or two to check out along your trip. If you add it to your schedule, you’ll be less likely to skip the run.

Ireland 1

  • Ask the locals for the best running spots

At most of the pubs I went to, I asked the bartenders or locals the best parks to check out. I didn’t necessarily say running spots, but they had great suggestions. I went to a few spots I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t asked. It’s a fun way to start up conversations with locals and get excited to lace up and explore.

Paris 1

  • Take advantage of the jetlag

One great thing about traveling abroad is that you’ll naturally wake up earlier in the day once you’re there. I was used to waking up early, so even when I “slept in” on vacation I was naturally waking around 6 AM their time. I used that to my advantage a few mornings and took my energy outside to get my run in. I didn’t feel like I was losing out on sleep or “wasting” vacation time because I was up anyways and might as well have taken advantage of it. It helps!

Ireland 3

  • Use your run as an errand

This is a fun way to get in some miles and save some money. Have an errand you have to run? You can literally run it. Last fall Kyle and I wanted to go to a show in London, so we ran from our hotel to the box office first thing one morning. It was about 2 miles away. We ran there, picked up our tickets, ran home, and didn’t spend any money on transportation. It was an effortless way to log some miles while making great use of our time. If you can plan to run to pick something up, you should. Honestly, it’s economical. And don’t worry if your plan said 6 miles and you only run 4 because it worked out better that way. Like I said before, be as flexible as you can and you’ll have more fun.

London 1

  • Make safety a priority

If you aren’t able to find a running buddy, you should still feel empowered to run and explore, but be cautious. Research the areas you’re staying in and look for parks. This is a great reason to use the locals recommendations because they’ll most likely be populated areas. Don’t run in the dark. Map out your routes ahead of time and send them to a friend or family member. It’s so fun to explore new places and it’s okay to deviate from your route a little bit if you find a new fun space to run along the way, but I think it’s really important to let someone know you’re going out for a run and when you’re back home safe. It might seem a little silly, but doing this at least makes me feel more at ease.

Paris 2

  • Have fun!

I honestly believe the best way to see a new place is to explore on foot. Running in new cities or countries is genuinely fun for me. I can’t imagine vacations without it, so I didn’t really consider it “marathon training.” I ran for fun. I ran to see the sights. I ran to pick things up. I ran to spend time with Kyle. This didn’t feel like training. If you focus on the fun in running and less on the scheduled miles, I think you’ll find it easier to get them in. I didn’t have a successful speed workout on this trip and I was definitely a little under mileage, BUT I still got in most of my runs, enjoyed myself, and had great fall marathons. It’s possible. I love marathon training, but I always say I wouldn’t do it if I felt like it took control of my life and caused me to miss out on living. There’s a balance. I work hard and I have fun. I don’t stress about a few missed runs. And I don’t shy away from a trip that will make me get a little out of my comfort zone. You shouldn’t either! Live. Travel. Run. PR. Drink the beer. Order the pasta. Spend quality time with the people you love most. It helps you get a little more life out of your days.

Ireland 5