Practicing What I Preach Isn’t Always Easy

As a running coach, I have studied the sport for years, attended clinics and conferences and worked alongside other coaches to hopefully learn as much as I can to help my athletes.  I spend a lot of time here on the blog and working with groups, offering up running advice.

I hear from so many concerned runners who are worried that they won’t be able to finish a marathon on just 20 training miles, or that by slowing their long run down, they fear they won’t meet their finish goal.  I always answer with confidence and good evidence that there is nothing to worry about.  I have studied these things and sat through courses that emphasize the importance of slowing your pace down or how a marathon can be completed on a maximum run of 18, 20, or 22 miles.  I send repeated e-mails to clients reminding them that they need to hone their fueling plan and make sure they are fueling properly during long training runs.

So would you be surprised that after all of these discussions and e-mails I send, all of the classes I have sat through and books I have read, that I have those same self doubts?

Two weeks ago, I headed out the door for an 18 miler.  I was emotional for some crazy reason and this was totally unlike me.  It struck me that I had that run and a 22 miler left before my mileage would start to drop and race day was quickly approaching.  I started questioning if I was ready.  Despite the fact that I ran a solid 20 miler a few weeks before, I started panicking about the eighteen.  The number started to feel large and I headed out counting each mile.  I always tell my runners to settle in and let the miles pass.  Don’t start worrying too much about how many miles you have done and certainly don’t start worrying about the ones to come.  Trust your training!


I speak a lot about the importance of slowing your long runs down.  It isn’t a dress rehearsal for the race.  Instead it helps your body build endurance, it makes your muscles stronger and teaches your body to use fuel more efficiently.  So would it be a surprise that I find myself on long runs looking at my GPS to see how fast one mile was and sometimes comparing it to other long runs?  I start doing the math and figuring out if I have slowed down or gotten faster.  Then I have to stop myself and get back into the correct state of mind.  The long run is not a dress rehearsal and it is not indicative of how you will perform on race day.  I can also tell you that the athletes I have to remind the most to slow down and not treat these as race day preps, are often the ones who are most likely to get injured.


So many times on a long run, an athlete will express concern about how their 16 miler was such a struggle and how will they possibly get another 10 miles in.  Would you be surprised to know that during my 22 mile run this past weekend, I got to mile 18 and began playing that game?  I wasn’t even having a hard run.  In fact, it was one of my strongest runs to date and I did all of this through 3 hilly laps of Central Park.

Didn’t I just say you should never worry about those upcoming miles?  Don’t I tell athletes that on almost a daily basis?  I did it and then stopped myself and removed that crazy noise from my head.  Stay in the moment and stay in the mile that you are in.


I send repeated reminders to focus on fueling.  Find what works and make sure you use it during your training runs.  Rock got after me on this one because I was skipping fuel for shorter runs at the beginning of training.  He was totally right.  The whole point of these long runs and building the mileage up is to train your body to handle the conditions and learn to use fuel (both stored and what you consume) more efficiently.  If I am not practicing that, I am not doing myself any service during my training.

The point is, we all question ourselves.  Even the greatest athletes question their abilities.  I’m sure many of the top runners have those moments where their hearts race as they think about the daunting task of tackling 26.2 miles.  It is normal.  But the key is to trust your training.  These are proven strategies that will get you to the start and finish.

Take a deep breath.  Follow your plan.  And go get it!

What causes you to question yourself during training?  How do you get yourself back on track?

Good luck and congrats to everyone running Boston today!  


22 thoughts on “Practicing What I Preach Isn’t Always Easy

  1. Oh, when I was in deep in the middle of marathon training last year, I was full of self-doubts. I was wondering how on earth I was going to get through 26.2 miles at a faster pace when I could barely handle a 20-miler at a slower pace. At the start line, I muttered to myself, “Trust the training. Trust the training. Trust the training.” Somehow on race day, everything came together and I did it.

  2. I have questioned myself so many times but some magic happens when I pin a bib on. I ran one 5K and I was so scared… I averaged a 6:48 pace for 3.1 miles after struggling to hit sub-7 running 800m intervals just a few days before. I think of that particular race now, when I feel a little discouraged by a training run. You have to trust that things will come together in the race because those training runs all serve a purpose. You don’t want to run your race in training but so many runners do that.

    The thing about training is that you are running on tired legs and untapered, and possibly sleep deprived, have work issues, stress, etc. That cumulative fatigue (yeah, I’m a Hansons follower, I’ll admit) is what helps you on race day because you are a bit more rested and even though your runs were slower or shorter, the fact that they were strung together “trains” you for the race.

  3. It’s great to know that even coaches question running advice. I REALLY struggle with slowing down on long runs. Luckily I’ve only done half marathons so doing quicker long runs hasn’t caused me major injury, but it’s still difficult for me to tell myself that running slowly doesn’t mean racing slowly.

  4. Today, I wanted so, so sososososo badly to go out and run outside, but I knew that if I did, I wouldn’t do intervals. So I treadmilled it. I know how you feel–sometimes, we have to practice what we would be preaching to ourselves!

  5. Self-doubt is the worst! I just started to train for my first half. Since I recently had a baby and hadn’t run in a while, I decided to start with the plan for beginners which required to run for 4 minutes and then walk for 2. It seemed like such a big ‘downgrade’ from where I was pre-pregnancy. However, I’m glad I went with it. I slowly get back into shape and I’ll still have time from July till the end of September do work on speed. xoxo

  6. I really enjoy visiting your site and reading your insights and thoughts, and again this is right on point…I totally struggle with this issue. I just finished my 7th marathon so while I’m certainly no expert, I’ve been to this rodeo before 🙂 I read the articles, study the books, review blogs, other runner’s comments but for the most part, I still run my long runs too fast – I know that is my biggest problem and yet even on the 18-20+ mile runs, I am running the first 2/3 at target pace and then burning out. For this last cycle for Salt Lake, I did finally manage to check my pace on my final couple of long runs and while I didn’t quite make my target time, I was happy given the overall challenging course and racing at altitude which no matter what I do I cannot simulate in training. There is no doubt that there is a mental block on that LSR pace for so many runners – including the coaches! Actually curious how you advise runners trying to prep for altitude – as far as I know, there is not a good solution, but maybe that’s an idea for another post!! Have a great running/coaching week!

  7. i always question myself at some point in my training when my calves start getting SO SORE, b/c it just feels like i literally cannot push myself to run without too much pain…and then i freak out and am sure they’ll never recover and that this is the end of my running career. whoops. 🙂

    • I hate to laugh but it sounds so serious and sad! I know the feeling. My PT friend said he dreads working with runners because we are so aware of our bodies that we feel every ache and pain and worry about it.

  8. I’ve always wondered why on Earth all of the marathon plans I’ve seen don’t go to 26.2 and beyond. Your Trust Your Training motto is spot on.

    It sounds crazy that someone so accomplished doubts herself, but you’re human, too! Humans get nervous about the things we care about. I think you’re going to have a good time running the Poconos. We used to go hiking there a lot. Once we got rained out and were surprised to discover an abundance of adult hotels there. FYI, in case soaking in a champagne glass pool with mirror ceilings is part of your post-marathon ritual.

    • Haha, thanks. We are actually staying at a bed and breakfast that has little cabins. We got a cabin for us and my friend who will be the rockstar of the weekend and watching Mary. There are a lot of theories behind why you only do 20 or 22, but to sum it up, that is all your body needs to get that final push. Going for all 26 vastly increases your risk of injury. The Hanson’s have a very successful plan that only goes to 18 miles.

  9. Totally agree. I have a friend in my running club who runs all her runs FAST. Like, all the time. She ended up blowing her plantar at Phoenix Marathon and DNF’d at mile 16 😦 I hope she learned her lesson b/c we’d always try and tell her to slow down, but to no avail….

    I also think it’s tough for runners though b/c there’s so much “advice” out there with different takes on what the “best” thing to do is.

    • Oh geez, yes there is a ton of advice. And I hope no one ever thinks that I think my advice is the only advice. There are so many options for different people. But slowing down is a pretty well regarded theory in the running world. Hard to believe for many, but very true.

  10. I don’t run marathons, I’ve only bit off a handful of half’s, but I do play this game with each one. I find that if I don’t train well I struggle. Running is so mental, and once I shut off the worry I usually do just fine!

  11. Sarah – you always say what we are all feeling. I remember running my first ever 16 miler and wondering how I would ever run that plus another 10 miles but I did it. I have to believe that there are plenty of people with more experience than me and I should trust that they know what they are talking about.

    • I truly believe we all question this things at times, even when we know what the answer is. It’s okay to be afraid or worry. But then you have to get rid of those thoughts and just trust yourself and the process.

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