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5 Lessons Learned by Running a Marathon Undertrained

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I almost titled this “5 Lessons Learned by Running a Marathon Untrained” but then I realized I was selling myself a little short.  It’s not as if I attempted to go from couch to 26.2 in a week. I train daily. I’m active. I’m more fit that I’ve ever been. I was just not able to complete the last 6 weeks of long-distance runs for this event. I undertrained.

My training was basically put on hold after I ran 12 miles and suffered an unknown foot injury. I did everything right — as least in my opinion. I went to the doctor, sought out physical therapy and let myself heal by easing off the runs and modifying my workouts.  However, I couldn’t just move marathon day because I wasn’t ready.  Marathon day is marathon day! Especially when you are specifically traveling more than halfway across the country for said marathon!


I weighed my options and decided to forge ahead with my original goal. This post is a combination of why I chose to run the marathon anyway (when I could have backed down to the half,) and what I learned by doing so. Plus, all the official photos from the event! — click here to see my original post-marathon post.

1. Know Why You Sign Up For Events

For me, signing up for events comes down to pushing myself out of my comfort zone (hello, Tough Mudders!)   Almost everything I do (races, vacations, etc.) I decide to do because it challenges me in some way.

Me terrified at the start!

Me terrified at the start!

While recovering from my injuries I started to add back in long runs — 3 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles. Slowly I worked myself back up to about the distance I was at when my training failed. Was I ready for a full marathon? NO! But I also knew a half would be a letdown for me. I didn’t sign up for the half because  I can easily run that distance. I’ve done it 5 times! I signed up for the full because I wanted a challenge. I wanted something to excite me. Push me. I wanted the experience of crossing the finish line after running 26.2 miles.

Five years ago I did that, but I walked large portions. This time I wanted to run and run I did! I kept a slower pace from the start and didn’t stop to walk once besides water stops — I did, however, have to stop to use the bathroom FOUR times. I swear, my bladder just ain’t what it used to be! I would have been so much closer to my goal of 5 hours without all the potty breaks, but I digress.

My first lesson is to really know what your own personal motivations are. I’m not a fast runner, I have no desire to be a fast runner. If that is what drove me then backing down to the half to chase a PR (personal record) may have been the better choice. I know lots of folks who are motivated by speed. That’s just not who I am.

I’m also not OK with backing out of my commitments. I would have rather failed at the attempt of the full than to not try it at all. Again, that’s my personal motivation — what drives you could be totally different. Choosing the half over not running may be a better choice for others.

Forging ahead in those last few miles.

Forging ahead in those last few miles.

At the end of the day I’m the kind of person who would rather try and fail than not try and wonder. Only you know what truly motivates you. All you can do is go with your gut.

That being said, if you decide to tackle the marathon undertrained I have a few more lessons to share.

2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Still running in the 26th mile!  Exhausted! But my slow pace helped me not walk later in the race.

Still running in the 26th mile! Exhausted! But my slow pace helped me not walk later in the race.

We’ve already established I’m not very motivated by speed, however, if you are attempting to run a race you are undertrained for I think you need to consider slowing down even more.

I came out of the start gate running about 80% of my average pace even though there were some pretty strict cut-off times. When staring down 26 miles you just have to!

You are going to get slower as you run regardless (at least many of us will) but you’ll be able to maintain your pace longer if you start off just slightly slower than you are used to.  I was still running a little over 11-minute miles at the 20-mile mark pretty easily — a distance I never got to hit in training. It was around mile 22 that my pace started to fall considerably or at least it felt that way. Those last few miles were torturous! I can only assume they would have been less so if I was fully trained.

Struggling around 24 and half miles in. This is when my pace really started to drop.

Struggling around 24 and half miles in. This is when my pace really started to drop.

3. Corral Considerations

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon had a combination of clock cutoff and chip-timed cutoffs. For example there was a 5-hour time limit to complete the marathon. However, that 5-hour limit didn’t start until the last corral began running, which was delayed (I’m assuming) about an hour from the official race start time. In addition, there were three specific cutoffs on the course that you needed to reach by a certain set time, like 7 p.m.

I knew I was at risk for missing both cutoffs especially considering I was in the second half of corrals (30). So during registration I asked to be moved up to a faster corral. I know there are some serious runners who would disagree with this decision, as one of the points of corrals is to have the fast folks in front and the slow folks in the back to help prevent bottlenecks. But my goal was to finish this race, and I couldn’t have done that if I missed the clock deadlines at the 9-, 12-, and 15-mile marks. And I knew I couldn’t do that if I was standing at the start line for an hour.

I’m not saying what I did was right, I’m saying I took my corral into consideration and made the best decision I could to help me complete the marathon with the time limitations. If I stayed in my original corral I risked missing the course cutoffs mid run even though I may have been able to complete the race in 5 hours. It ended up I wasn’t able to do that — 5:16 was my official time — but I wanted to at least give myself a fighting chance.

Struggling and searching for the finish line.

Struggling and searching for the finish line.

4. Run With a Friend

All smiles even 22 miles in!

All smiles even 22 miles in!

I know this may not be a possibility for everyone but if you can find a friend crazy enough to run with you, do it!

Having a buddy stick by your side during an event you are undertrained for is a godsend.  I reached out to my friend Jimmy a few days before the marathon. We already had a small group of friends who all signed up for a weekend in Vegas but Jimmy was the only other person registered for the full. I told him what happened with my training and he agreed to run at my pace to help me finish. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have been able to do it without him. There’s nothing better than chatting on long runs to distract you and those last few miles he really helped keep me going. At one point around mile 24 I just about stopped to walk and he gave me that boost I needed.

His energy really helped keep me going.

His energy really helped keep me going.

5. Don’t Stress

HA! Of course this is easy for me to say now. I’m now over the pre-run stress part but really, I had nothing to worry about. The worst-case scenario was I attempt and fail, but you know what? You could say that about anything.

I’ve been running long enough to know what I was getting myself into. I trusted myself to stop if I felt I was risking injury. And I knew having a friend would help me get over the mental aspect immensely. I was all about the experience and, sure, there’s some trepidation but you will still have the experience regardless of the outcome.

I can’t recommend anyone attempt a marathon undertrained but I also know that training in the real world will never be perfect. Don’t stress, do what you can when you can, trust yourself, and whatever you decide will be right.

Post-Race... no regrets!

Post-Race… no regrets!

Leave a comment

I’d love to hear your story or thoughts on mine.

However, to prevent the massive amounts of spam I was receiving I have turned off comments on any post older than 5 days old. If you'd like to leave me a note regarding this post or anything really try me on twitter (@RoniNoone,) my Facebook page, or even IG (@RoniNoone) I'm so sorry for the inconvenience. I never thought I'd have to do this but it's gotten way out of hand and comment management has become simply too time consuming to manage.


There are 7 comments so far.


    November 20, 2014

    Great job Roni!

    Amanda @ Click. The Good News

    November 20, 2014

    Congrats- way to go! I also hated the super-strict time for a marathon finish- 5 hour cutoff is pretty fast for a good percentage for runners. I remember running like a crazy lady trying to make it when I ran! It was my fastest time ever, but I started my 2nd 13 miles running into the bsack of the slowest half marathon runners & having to fight my way through all of them! Glad you finished & had a great race :)


    November 20, 2014 xz


    November 20, 2014

    I love you Roni, and I’m glad you finished and had fun. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but to be honest, moving up in the corrals…. no bueno (and I say this as a back of the packer, I’m NOT a speedy runner AT ALL). I trust that you ran far to the right until the rest of the folks going your pace caught up. I get that RnR blessed your move, but they do lots of things I don’t agree with (like give finisher medals to non-finishers) which is why I won’t run their races. I’m a firm believer in respecting the rules a race has laid out, which includes the cutoffs and corral placement. This is even more important in big congested races. I just don’t see how it’s any different than cutting in line. Sure, RnR gave you permission, but did everyone in the corrals behind you give the OK? Obviously not, and most probably weren’t aware RnR was doing it. It’s like putting your plane seat on full recline; ‘Can you do it? Yes. Should you do it? Nope.’

    Sorry, off soapbox now.


      November 20, 2014

      Like I said, not everyone would agree. I get it, I really do and I wouldn’t have done it for any other race. I, of course, stayed out of the way and to be honest, I felt like I keeping pace at first, it wasn’t like I was walking. Plus running the strip was one of the least congested races I’ve ever been in. They did an amazing job managing the event. If they told me no I would have honored that, I asked, explained my situation and got the ok. As I said in the post, just something to consider.

      I’ll also add if they didn’t have some crazy cut off clock times I wouldn’t have done it as there would have been no need. If they are going to give you 5 hours to complete the race they should’t have clock time cutoffs on the course, that just doesn’t make sense.


    November 22, 2014

    Congrats on finishing. I am not a fast runner either, but reading this post makes me seriously consider running anyway. I just want to complete a 5k or a full marathon, but was always ashamed I would be the sole reason a volunteer would have to stay for the last participant. You made me few it in a completely different light.


    April 3, 2015

    Thanks for your story. I’m heading into my 5th marathon after three important weeks off also for an unspecified foot injury. So much of this post is me. Great job finishing. Hoping I’ll say the same!