Katherine Hopper: Takeaways From My First Marathon

After her first marathon, Katherine Hopper learned to stick to the plan. Photo: Katherine Hopper

I made two big mistakes during my first marathon. I’d poured my heart into that training season. I’d nailed my long runs, hit my weekly mileage goals and squeezed in some hill and speed work. I felt confident that I was going to have my way with that marathon. However, I’d underestimated the challenges that I was going to face on race day.

I hadn’t set any official goals, but I’d intended to keep my pace in the low 8’s and if I felt good near the end of the race, I would pick it up. I thought I could slide in under 3:35 if I had a good day.

At the start line, I jumped in with a 3:30/3:35 pacer and decided to just go with it and see where my legs would take me. After a mile or two, I felt amazing and glanced down at my watch—we were cruising at a pace closer to the 7:30’s rather than our intended low 8’s.

Mistake No. 1 was not slowing down at that point and running my own pace. I just thought to myself, “oh this feels great, I’ll just stick with these pacers,” even though I absolutely knew that 7:40 was far too aggressive of a pace for me. The pace eventually settled a little bit after a few more miles, but the damage had been done.

Around mile 18, I was starting to feel tired … and dehydrated … and pessimistic … and then my contact lens fell out and I had to stop and look for it. Starting back running after that break made me feel even worse.

By mile 20, my foggy brain decided that it was time to give up. That was mistake No. 2. I borrowed a cell phone and called someone to come meet me so that I could go home.

Then I came to reality and realized that if I were to give up, I’d regret it. There wasn’t a real reason to stop—I wasn’t injured, I was just feeling tired. I started running again and finished that race. It was hard and those last few miles were some of the toughest I’ve run, but when I look back at my first marathon, I am extremely proud of the fact that I somehow finished instead of giving up. I learned that sometimes you just need to push through when it gets really tough. It may not feel like it at the time, but it’s worth it.

My first marathon also taught me that I need to run my own race and set my own pace. I am confident that if I hadn’t tried to carry on such a speedy pace in the first few miles, I wouldn’t have had as much trouble later on. Be patient, listen to your body, and trust your training!

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.

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