Marathon Lessons


marathon lessons
50,000+ runners start the New York City Marathon in 4 waves on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on Staten Island. If you're gonna do a marathon, this is the one to do. Says me.


Are you running the marathon? Did you run the marathon? How did the marathon go?

If you live within a 100-mile radius of New York City, there’s only one marathon, THE marathon. The week between what the rest of the world calls Halloween and Election Day is all about the New York City Marathon. You see it, hear it, smell it in the air.

And don’t even think of saying, “No, but I’m running the Philadelphia marathon” because … blank stare… How far is THAT marathon?

I first ran the New York City marathon in 1989, which was OMG 30 years ago!

You don’t line up for your first marathon thinking, I’m going to keep doing this for 30 years!

marathon lessons
First marathon 1989! Near the 24-mile mark in Central Park. I was 27. So young.

Some people are once and done. (I'm looking at you, Yishane!) Others’ hips, knees, backs give out. (Sorry, Dim.) Families, jobs, responsibilities demand attention. I suppose some people just lose interest after a while.

So when do you stop? This is a question that’s starting to come up among my friends who’ve been running a long time, as we get into our 50s, 60s, beyond.

Eugene Napolitano, a buddy from the local running club, ran his 26th New York City Marathon ... in a row! Wow! He's 73.

Time sneaks up on you. Your baby turns into a toddler who goes to kindergarten and loses her teeth and gets braces and wears only pink and only skirts, then only blue, then only tights and “graduates” from middle school and learns to navigate inexplicable high school hallways and the next thing you know, she’s a 10th grader scowling into her computer every night hyperfocused on homework 110%.

I swore I’d never be a mom who’d say “It all went by so fast!” Especially not during long weekend hours sitting in the Princess tent enjoying a party with guests Dog, Curious George, Bunny and Bunny.

But it is sort of stunning. I feel like I’m in the last 10K of her childhood.

marathon lessons
Smiling at Mile 8 in Brooklyn. Photo by daughter Nina, age 15. Thanks, dearest!

There’ve been a lot of miles in between then and now, of course. Pre-kid years when I ran a lot of marathons, starting-family years when I didn’t run much at all. My running superpower—if you can call it that—is the tenacity to keep showing up with a body that’s more or less willing to come along.

How does a marathon go, 30 years later? Well, I’m sure this will come as a huge surprise … a whole lot slower.

And the thing about running slower is it takes a whole lot longer.

Joyciline Jepkosgei, the 25-year-old who won the women’s race within a few seconds of the course record, finished in 2:22:38, which is almost exactly the same time as it took me to run the second half of the race.

Mine is a familiar story to anyone who’s ever run or known someone who’s run a marathon: I felt great in the first miles at what seemed a comfortably conservative pace, then fell off steadily, surely.  If I had more desire and drive to push back against the inevitability of age—that is to say, train and eat with more discipline (that is to say, more speedwork and less wine and chocolate)—it’s possible my slowdown would be less precipitous. Meh. Where’s the fun in that?

At mile 20-ish in the Bronx, I grabbed a Coke from enthusiastic spectators. No elixir has ever tasted so delicious in the history of the universe.

As I slowed down—through the bright sunny streets of First Avenue, the Bronx, Harlem and upper Fifth Avenue--I peered into the dark abyss of marathon despair and had a stern talk with myself. No whining! I know how lucky I am. Lucky to have a body that can still plod along, 30 years later, without too much complaint. Good life. Lucky to have a crew—my daughter, my BF, my BRF’s husband and daughter—willing and able to hustle on the subway to cheer and take pictures at miles 8, 17 and 24 and meet me after the finish with a grande green tea latte. Mmmm. Good people.

Good life, good people. That was the mantra that got me to the finish line.

marathon lessons
High five near mile 24 in Central Park. Almost done. YAY!

In 30 years, I have learned a few marathon lessons, besides the inevitable slowdown.

*1 Recovery

Takes a little longer with each passing year—it took me four days to be able to rush straight downstairs like a harried mom instead of hobbling toes-pointed-out like a cowboy after a cattle drive across the dusty Plains in a drought year.

*2 The key workouts

Tempo, speedwork, long run become that much more critical if you've got any kind of time goal in mind. (I didn't have a goal OR do the workouts. It showed.)

*3 Adding 10

or 20 or 30 or more minutes to whatever time your misinformed mind still imagines you might be able to run is a smart, dignity-preserving move. (See above.)

*4 And brace yourself

for family and friends who track you on the app and say things like, “WOW! You really slowed down! Are you okay with that?”

So when does a runner quit marathoning? I guess the answer is, when your body won’t cooperate anymore or it stops being fun.

Running my 10th New York City Marathon 30 years after the first would seem like a tidy ending, right? The thing is, it was my 56th marathon, and I’ll be 60 in a few years, and I think it would be cool to do my 60th marathon in my 60th year. And THEN I’ll quit (oh, sure).

That means I’ve got four more marathons in me. Soooo… what to do?

Do you have one “dream” marathon? Forgetting cost, logistics or family—we’re just dreaming here. What would you do?


19 responses to “Marathon Lessons

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article Tish! You are a real inspiration! I really liked the Catalina Marathon – At times I felt like I was running in the sky. It was hard, but they all are! Catalina was going to be a one-time splurge for me because of the $ and travel involved, but I went right back the next year and did it again.

  2. My running group has been talking Big Talk about the Great Wall of China marathon. Wouldn’t that be something? One of our running crew just moved to China for three years, and so we’re daydreaming about a reunion tour atop the Wall. Wanna join us?

  3. Catalina sounds enticing… I also would love to do a Trail Marathon in one of the National Parks. I ran 3 marathons in my 20’s and now four since I turned 50… I am 53 and feel super strong now and am loving it. I would love to do what SBS wants to do….a marathon in my 60’s and maybe even one in my 70’s…. I want my body to continue to love the marathon… I can’t even believe Tish that you have done 56 marathons. So very awesome!

  4. Last Marathon @70—? 2020,,,NYC, it will be my third time, hometown. Other Marathons, are just that: other marathons. Hoping my body will respond. Came out of retirement from marathoning back in 2015 (after 23 years)…now, am wanting to complete my circle. Have been doing Half Marathons…

  5. Love this, Tish!
    I ran my first marathon at age 25 and thought I’d run 2 a year til I reached 50– 50 marathons by 50! 50by50 was even my active account password for a long time. But then…3 kids. At age 45, I’ve gotten 15 done, so I have A LOT left on my list:
    Grandma’s, Twin Cities, NYC and Athens, Greece are all at the top!

  6. Hi @Bethany! NYC is so crowded, you really have to plan when to see your people… down to the block! Keep trying–you’ll get in eventually, then I’ll come cheer YOU! 😉

  7. Congrats Tish! I tried to see you in the throng of runners as I was spectating but didn’t catch you! NYC is my dream marathon as I lived 8 years in Brooklyn and have spectated over the decades. I’d love to receive some of that spectator love. 2020 will be my 4th consecutive year entering the lottery. Some day I’ll get in. Getting in takes as much determination as training for NYC .

  8. Maui Oceanfront Marathon was pretty fun and can’t beat the views of running along the ocean and finishing at the beach!!

  9. I’d like to hear your take on the Medoc, the marathon in France where you get wine and escargots at the aid stations. You said you like wine

  10. Pikes Peak! Or Catalina! Since they are trail marathons and really hilly (and I I don’t think they have tracking) it’s all for fun!

  11. Disney World!!! No one cares about fast times, you’re there for fun times. In any of your marathons, have you stopped to ride a roller coaster or meet Cinderella or order a margarita? New goals, my friend. Follow the magic!

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