5 Things To Learn From Not Finishing A Marathon

Below I have attached 5 things I learned that vitally helped me in the long run by not finishing a marathon.

The toughest experiences of my sporting career, thus far, has been learning the hard lesson of not fueling properly for the marathon distance. I have payed the heavy price of not taking this as seriously as I could in the past.

Have you been there? Does thing ring true in your own experiences?


Failing to hydrate and fuel properly is the absolute worst thing you can do, especially at the marathon distance.

It is one thing to pass up fluid stations in a 5K. You can get away with that. 3.1 miles, for some, is a very long way to race, but if the individual decides on grabbing one cup the entire race the negative effects from it aren’t as easily noticeable.

The race will be over before you know it, not finishing a marathon can be prevented.

The marathon, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. I don’t know about you but the biggest concern for me was always worrying if I would get a cramp by drinking too much during the race.

Well, from some very hard lessons I learned at the 2007 Grandmas and Chicago Marathons, worrying about a cramp has not been an issue since. That being said, I have still battled with getting in enough fluid and gels in my system during the classic 26.2 mile distance.

Running well in the marathon demands that you take drinking enough water, taking in enough calories and paying close attention to how thirsty you feel. If you feel thirsty during your race, you are already in the hole.

I want to briefly discuss 5 things that I learned from the three DNF’s I have had to deal with. I am sure the great’s of the sport such as Bill Rodgers, Haile Gebressalassie and Paula Radcliffe (to name only a few), who have also had to pull out of world-class marathons have had similar feelings.

A Few Pointers About Not Finishing A Marathon

1. Keep a DNF in check. It isn’t the end of the world.

Sure, not finishing a marathon sucks. It feels awful, especially if you worked extremely hard to prepare for it. Learn from your mistakes and move on. It is just running, a race, and there are plenty of races to replace an off day.

2. You are working at far less of your capability by neglecting hydration.

This should be a no-brainer for runners, but unfortunately, far too many of us still do not take this as seriously as we should. Water stations are there for a reason. Don’t grab just one cup as you run by, take two.

The majority of the time half the cup spills over as soon as you hand goes to grab it from one of the volunteers. My best advice to you on this, grab two, even three cups as you run by the water stations.

Do not wait until mile 13 to grab a cup of water. Take gels! It is 100-120 calories in your bloodstream almost instantly. In comparison, it takes drinking down an entire bottle of gatorade to equal the same amount of calories.

Grab water, if you can, while ingesting a gel, as this will assist in your body getting it to your muscles faster and will take you over the threshold of not finishing a marathon to drastically improving and mastering the distance.

The #1 Way To Guard Yourself From Not Finishing A Marathon

3. A training plan spanned out too far in length is not conducive to finishing a marathon well or at all.

Optimally, a 12 to 16 week marathon plan is best. Can you run a marathon in 4-8 weeks of training, absolutely, but anything over 16 weeks, you run the risk of burning out. It isn’t a great feeling to get to the 3-mile mark in a marathon and want to drop out.

This was my experience at the 2010 Grandmas Marathon (the worst race of my entire life, by far). I trained far too hard and my training plan was almost continuous chasing after the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon standard of 2.19.00.

35 seconds shouldn’t be that hard to get right? Hardly. My friend and 2.17.49 marathoner, Michael Wardian, said it best, ‘Nate, the marathon doesn’t work like that. You can’t put back to back breakthrough races together.

Learn from the bad ones and grow stronger from it but give yourself ample time. I know better but had no choice but to keep training based on the military unit I was in. Results and performances were closely monitored and not finishing a marathon was not part of the job descriptions

I felt like Steve Prefontaine when he said,

I run best, when I run free – Steve Prefontaine

Take away pressure, results and race aspiration and simply trust in your preparation and not only will running be much more enjoyable but you are bound to destroy every current personal best you have.

4. Not finishing a marathon does not make you less of a runner.

Smart runners have to decide, especially when you know, for certain, today is not your day, to pull out of a race. It is tough and when runners like Gebresalassie, Rodgers or Radlciffe, have to drop out it should humble you not to give too much meaning to not finishing a marathon.

It happens, let it go. Focus on what you can control. What did you learn? What can you change next time? Guess who else has experienced not finishing a marathon? How about former world record holder and the first marathon to break 2.04 for the marathon distance, Haile Gebressalassie?

I will go one step further without another great marathon phenom who has dealt with not finishing a marathon, Paula Radcliffe, women’s world record holder for the marathoner (2.15.25).

Be encouraged, the best have had to deal with what you are experiencing.

The best runners in the world have had to deal with such disappointment.

It doesn’t mean your weak or not mentally tough. There are simply days when your body will not respond.

There are still far too many mysteries as to why, physiologically, the body does not react on certain days.

You feel terrific in training and 3 days later, your in a marathon huffing and puffing. You begin to question yourself.

I can tell you from past experiences, don’t waste your mental energy doing this to yourself. Let it go.

5. Not finishing a marathon means you are that much closer to achieving your marathon goal.

There has been nothing more motivating that has happened to me in athletics than a failed attempt.

When you watch a writer on a movie programme tearing up page after page, you think he’s in utter despair. And, in many ways, that’s what it’s like for us, but you learn much more in fact from an experiment which didn’t work out how you intended, but instead sheds some light on possibly another way of doing something. It can get very depressing but then suddenly, one day you make a break through, and that’s very exciting – James Dyson (inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner)

It makes you far more motivated than had you succeeded. I am not saying breakthrough performances don’t feel good and should be lessened.

Hardly, I remember turning the corner at the California International Marathon and seeing the clock read 2.19.11,12,13…I saw ’2.19′ on the clock that entire stretch and numerous thoughts filtered through my mind.

The disappointments, the long runs alone when no one was watching or even cared for that matter, friends and family who supported me, the kenyans I trained with who told me I could run an elite time and I surely remember the DNF’s.

Never let not finishing a marathon drain your mental and physical enthusiasm. It is so important to stay on the path you have followed for years because one slack in your effort could cost you an enormous personal best that you could have had.

About Nathan Pennington

Nathan Pennington

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