Inspiring Lessons Learned From Six Marathons in Less Than Four Years

Inspiring Lessons Learned From Six Marathons in Less Than Four Years

Running a marathon is quite the feat! Running six marathons in less than four years is cause to celebrate! Here is a reflection of my first six marathons in less than four years.

Listen to “Inspiring Lesson Learned From Six Marathons in Less Than Four Years” read aloud by the author.

Looking ahead to 2016 first requires a reflection into the past.  This past year, 2015, found me completing not one, but two full marathons!  The last time I completed two marathons in one year was in 2012 when I completed my very first marathon and caught the marathon bug. I blogged about this incredible first marathon as a part of my health journey.  You can read more about my health journey here.

First Marathon

Race Name: Lala Marathon
Location: Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico
Date: March 4, 2012
Time: 4:31:23

first marathon in 2012

This marathon was so meaningful to me on so many levels.  Truly, the picture above says it all.  Going from a non-runner to a marathon runner in less than a year was huge!  Running marathons is more than simply physically training your body to do something.  It is emotional and spiritual training as well.  

On this day, March 4th, 2012, I was celebrating all that God had brought me through.  God was showing me, “Yes, you are worth it! Yes, you can do it!”  I hope to find myself back in Torreon someday to run this marathon once again.  No matter how “dangerous” a country may be, there are always good people in the midst of darkness.

Second Marathon

Race Name: Nike Women’s Marathon
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 14, 2012
Time: 4:41:38

second marathon, the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco

It was not long after completing my first marathon that I found myself online looking up my next marathon.  I was finishing my nearly four-year teaching career abroad and preparing myself for a new life stateside. Looking up a fall marathon in late spring proved to be difficult.  Many races were already sold out.  Then I found Team in Training.

Running Marathons with Team in Training 

By signing up for San Francisco’s Nike Women’s Marathon with Team in Training, I had a way into the race.  The only catch was that I needed to find a way to raise $2,500 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.   Fortunately, with the help of my team, family, friends, and an arm-wrestling event, I was able to meet my goal by the deadline.

My experience with Team in Training was fantastic!  I enjoyed the team workouts, the expert coaches, and the lasting friendships I made.  The difficult part about being a member of Team in Training, however, was the hour+ drive to get to the team workouts.  Looking back on my training leading up to this marathon, I can see how I skimped on my mid-week runs.  Had I been more faithful to get in all of my runs, I probably would have seen a better finishing time.  But with the amount of hills in San Francisco, I choose to be proud of myself for a finishing time of 4:41:38.

One of the best parts about being a part of Team in Training was that it was a whole celebration weekend, instead of just doing the race and being done.  We enjoyed the expo on Saturday, had a dinner that evening, and stayed in a nice hotel.  We had the race Sunday morning, were able to rest in the hotel that afternoon, and then had a dinner / dance party that evening in our hotel.  Yes, can you believe that we were all dancing after running 26.2 miles?!  The next morning, Monday, we checked out of the hotel and headed home.

Third Marathon

Race Name: Nike Women’s Marathon
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 20, 2013
Time: 6:06:00

After returning home from a positive experience at the Nike Women’s Marathon, I convinced two of my friends to train for their first marathon and to do next year’s Nike Women’s Marathon with me.  We applied early for the lottery and amazingly were chosen. This marathon was not about aiming for a PR, but instead was about getting my two friends across the finish line.

Stephanie with two friends who ran their first marathon at the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco.

Marathon Weekend

Since we were not a part of a big group, we chose a cheaper route and stayed in a hostel close to Union Square.  It was a fairly nice hostel.  We all three shared a room.  Two of us cozied up on the larger bottom bunk while one of us slept on the small top bunk.  Since we were only staying one night, we had to check out at 5:30am the next morning before making our way to the starting line.  

After the race, we returned to the hostel feeling tired and dirty.  There was no hot shower for us.  Instead, we grabbed our bags, hopped in the car, and began the three-hour drive home.

As for the race, as soon as we started off, one of my friends bolted off ahead of my other friend and me.  It wasn’t until the final few miles that we finally caught up to her.  Both told me that I hadn’t accurately portrayed the number of hills on the course and told me that this was their first and final marathon.  

In the end, we were all glad to have completed this marathon, their 10th anniversary, since it ended up being the last time the 26.2 mile course was offered.  The next year they had a half marathon only and then announced that the race was leaving San Francisco entirely.

Fourth Marathon

Race Name: Avenue of the Giants Marathon
Location: Northern California
Date: May 5, 2014
Time: 4:50:32

Training For Marathon Number Four

Avenue of the Giants in 2014

My dear co-worker, Jennifer, lovingly convinced me to sign up to run my fourth marathon in a new location, the Avenue of the Giants.  Through Jennifer, I met Amber, an incredible new runner and mom to seven children.  Might I also add, speedy runner.  I lovingly convinced Amber to sign up to complete the marathon, her first marathon, with me.  

As with my fall 2012 marathon, I found myself skimping on my mid-week runs. Comparing life in training as a single person in a low-stress job to life in training as a wife, stepmom, and in a new job is eye-opening.  Balancing it all can be difficult. Taking an hour+ out of my day to get in a run when at the end of the day I am exhausted, is difficult.

I stuck with it however and still got in my long runs with Amber on Saturday mornings. Running with Amber was an experience on its own.  

Amber loved to talk and I loved to listen.  This worked out well.  Amber had unending energy. At the end of a 19 mile run, Amber casually announced, “I am going to run two more.”  

At stoplights, I thought, “Oh!  Hallelujah!  I get to stop and rest for a moment.”  Whereas Amber, jogged in place looking light as a feather.  Although Amber was a new runner, she was made to run.  It was a joy to train with her.  She pushed me to go faster, to go longer, and to step out of my comfort zone.

Race Day

As for the race, Amber and I headed up to Eureka the day before to pick up our race packet and to relax before our big day.  Saturday night, we met up with Jennifer and her daughter Hannah for a relaxing dinner.  Sunday morning we got up early, checked out of our hotel, and made the 40 minute drive to the starting line.

The race started out strong, but in the first half Amber found herself in pain, in her knees especially.  The first half of the 26.2 mile race had many more hills than we were expecting.  Fortunately, at the halfway point Amber spotted Hannah who was holding her bag, she popped some pain pills and then felt much better.  Amber rocked the second half of the race.  As for me, I held back a little during the first half not wanting to leave Amber since this was her first marathon.

During the second half, I ended up being the one in pain.  The skimping of the mid-week runs was catching up to me.  After going back and forth with Amber, I finally told her to go ahead.  Amber ended up joyfully crossing the finish line 11 minutes in front of me.

Overall, the Avenue of the Giants Marathon was a positive experience.  The course was beautiful and serene, unlike the mega marathons I had done previously.  There were not a lot of bystanders, there were not a lot of cars, and there were not a lot of businesses lining the course.  There were trees, trees, and more trees.  The air was fresh and the meandering road for the first half was beautiful!  I was not completely satisfied with my finish time so I quickly set next year’s race as a goal to come back stronger and faster.

Fifth Marathon

Race Name: Avenue of the Giants Marathon
Location: Northern California
Date: May 3, 2015
Time: 4:28:50

Training For Marathon Number Five

Avenue of the Giants in 2015

My fifth marathon was on the same course as the year before, which definitely has its advantages. This time around I trained and completed the marathon by myself.  

I signed up for the race hungry for a PR.  I was chasing two elusive goals; complete a half marathon under two hours and complete a marathon under 4 and a half hours. In order to reach these two goals, I knew my training had to be spot on.  

I started my training with a new juicing regime thanks to the juice master himself, Jason Vale.  One of my favorite training smoothies was the Juice Master’s Marathon Smoothie.

As for the long runs, I approached these differently as well.  Instead of whipping out 18 miles all at once on an out and back course, I broke it in half.  

I ran the first half on an out and back course, stopped back by the house to refill water / use the restroom, and then I headed out for the second half on a different out and back course.  I found this to be much more tolerable and it broke up the monotony of a long run.

A Special Marathon Race Weekend

One of the other aspects that made this marathon exciting and unique was that my mom joined me for the weekend. This was the first time she saw me complete a marathon!  It was so special to share this momentous occasion with her.  

We drove up to Eureka the day before, picked up my race packet, and then enjoyed the rest of the day together. The next morning we woke up early, checked out of the hotel, and made our way to the starting line.  I felt confident and strong as I waited for the gun to go off signally the start of the race.

Marathon Motivation in Unexpected Places

The first few miles were surprisingly more difficult than I was anticipating. Fortunately, I soon came up behind a guy who was running with a prosthetic leg.  This sent chills throughout my body as I thought, “What do I have to complain about?”  

I ran up next to him and started a conversation.  I learned that his name was Mason Carter.  This was his first marathon and he traveled to the event with his girlfriend from Bedminster, New Jersey.  I never learned his history of having a prosthetic leg, but that was okay.  

Mason and I ran that next seven or so miles together.  He was doing so well that he amazed me!  He was inspiring me to go faster.  Due to this inspiration, I came through the halfway point, which was also the start and finish line at 1:59:42!  I spotted my mom on the sidelines, gave her a quick hug, passed off my jacket, grabbed a banana, and then I was off again.  (After the race, my mom told me that she was surprised by how sweaty I was when she kissed my cheek.)

The Second Half of Marathon Number Five

The second half was not as good as I had wanted, but it was better than the previous’s year’s second half. A coworker challenged me to listen to Christian music while I run.  Therefore, for the majority of my training, I listened to the local Christian radio station.  I found the words to be uplifting which added fuel to my runs.  Race day was no different.  

I tuned in to the local Christian radio station on my iPod and listened closely to the lyrics.  At one point, at about mile 23, “You Alone” by David Crowder started playing.  I became so overcome by emotions that I threw both hands up in the air, closed my eyes, and continued running slowly through the Avenue of the Giants.  

At this point in the race, there weren’t very many people around me since we were all spread out.  I had passed Mason at about mile 14.  So at this point I was on my own.

The part of the song that proclaims, “I’m alive! I’m alive! I’m alive!” became my anthem.  I praised God for all that he had given me: my life, my salvation, my family, my husband, my two stepchildren, my two legs, etc.

I came across the finish line with a new PR of 4:28:50!  This was an improvement of more than 20 minutes from last year’s marathon on the same course!  In this one race I met both of my goals: to finish a half in under two hours and to finish a marathon in under 4 and a half hours!  My mom was there at the finish line to greet me and I felt on top of the world!

Sixth Marathon

Race Name: Beat the Blerch Marathon
Location: Sacramento, California
Date: November 14, 2015
Time: 4:59:59

Beat the Blerch Marathon in 2015

The Post Marathon Slump

Without fail after every marathon I find myself in a slump, the post-marathon slump.  I will admit that I am addicted. Addicted to the high I feel coming across that finish line of a marathon, the high of spectators observing you do something that some would consider ridiculous, the high of knowing you just burned over 3,000 calories!  

I find myself mindlessly looking up local marathons, exotic marathons, and crazy marathons.  Recently, I discovered the World Marathon Challenge: 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents.  I could barely sleep that night because I found it to be so exciting!  I wholeheartedly realize that I have caught the bug, the marathon bug.

With that being said, my doctor has recently recommended that I take a break from marathon training. Although marathon training has many health benefits, it can also take its toll on your body.  I reluctantly resigned myself to shorter distance runs and no marathons until further notice.  Then I saw a bib posted for sale for a new race that was coming to our area, Beat the Blerch, and I wanted in!

The Last Minute Marathon

I had been eyeing this race for months by following its Facebook page, checking registration prices, and trying to get my friends to join me.  I, however, knew that I was supposed to be taking a break from marathon training.  

At the last minute, less than three weeks before the race date, I saw that several runners were posting their bibs for sale to transfer their registration to someone else.  I bought a half marathon bib at half price and I was so excited! Now I had that taste in my mouth, the taste of another marathon.  I wondered, “Could I run a marathon without training?  Sure, I had been running, but only a measly 1 – 3 miles a day.  Would I get injured if I tried to push myself 26.2 miles?”

A week before the race date, two weeks after purchasing the half marathon bib, I headed out for a run.  I thought, “If I can do 13.1 miles today, I should be able to do 26.2 miles next weekend.”  And that’s what I did.  I did 13.1 miles on my own a week before the race date.

The Night Before Race Day

The night before the big day I still didn’t know if I was running 13.1 miles or 26.2.  I figured I’d ask registration people when I picked up my race packet to see if I could switch.  When I got to the front of the line, I quickly asked how much it would cost to transfer to a full marathon.

The kind woman replied, “$10” to which I exclaimed, “Sold!”  I was ecstatic!  I purchased the Oatmeal’s book The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, visited the meet and greet table to meet the Oatmeal himself (Matthew Inman), purchased some last-minute fuel, and then excitedly headed out to the car to let my husband know that I would be running a full marathon the next morning.  Needless to say, hubby dearest didn’t quite understand my crazed excitement.

When I posted the following picture the next morning, many asked, “Did you just run a marathon?”  I hadn’t been posting pictures of training runs and no one knew that I was running a full marathon.  It was all done on the spur of  the moment. I wanted to see if I could run 26.2 miles without training.  (I use “run” lightly.  It was more of a walk/jog.)

The starting line of marathon six.

The Race

I started out feeling relatively strong. I took my first walk break the earliest into a marathon than ever before.  It was somewhere around mile eight.  “Uh oh!” I thought as I began to contemplate how this was all going to turn out.

One of the draws I had to this marathon was the supposed “large quantities of cupcakes at every aid station”. Race officials also promised Nutella and magical grape beverages.” Again, hubby questioned, “Aren’t you a little leary what ‘magical grape beverage’ entails?”

I shrugged my shoulders, smiled, and responded, “Nope.”  Another aspect of the race that excited me was the promise that there’d be “actual Blerchs in fat-suits chasing you throughout the race.”  Who would have guessed that adults in fat-suits and magical grape beverages would get me to sign up to do 26.2 miles?!

Sadly, I only saw one adult in a fat suit and it wasn’t until mile 24. The large quantities of cupcakes, Nutella sandwiches, and magical grape beverages began at mile three and continued at about every two to three miles. I didn’t want either of these things so I steered clear until I came across the Blerch sitting on the couch at the aid station at mile 24.  I grabbed my cake on a stick and said, “Chase me Blerch!”  He obliged and ran with me for the next mile.

The Blerch during marathon six.

As I made my way to the finish line at Raley Field, I passed some half marathoners. This always makes me feel good since I ran half the distance and had an hour later start time! I also passed some innocent bystanders who quipped, “There go those weird people participating in some weird event happening at Raley Field.”  

I am proud to report that without training, I crossed the finish line in less than five hours!  Not bad considering I walked a large portion of the distance.  I proved, once again, that yes, marathons can be done!

Six Marathons Recap

There you have it! Six marathons in less than four years! Gone are the days of the woman who once said, “This body doesn’t run!”

Tell me, what has been your favorite marathon and why? If you haven’t currently run any marathons, is there a particular marathon that you’ve been eyeing? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Love Stephanie, your cheerleader for improved mental and physical health
Inspiring Lessons Learned From Six Marathons in Less Than Four Years


Christian, wife, mom/stepmom, no meat athlete, runner, teacher

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  6. So cool! I can hear your joy and cracked up at the last marathon.. sound LOVELY. Great job! So fun reading about your journey, you’re amazing!!

    1. Glad to hear that I brought some laughter to your day! 🙂 Thanks for the lovely comment!

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