by. Susan Empey
Mercer Island, WA

Susan has been an elite runner with Oiselle since 2011. She qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon in 2008 and 2012, and now has her sights set on Boston 2014. Visit her bio page to read more about this incredibly talented bird.

My very first marathon, many miles ago, I embarked on what would become a passion of mine at the Big Sur Marathon in April, 1989 when I was a junior at Santa Clara University.  But my entry into the world of running was inspired by nothing more than the record setting pace I’d established 2 years earlier putting on the “Freshman 15”.  I had never run track, never dabbled in a “fun run”, and I didn’t even know what XC was.  But I did know that my college budget did not allow for purchasing a whole new wardrobe because I outgrew my original one, so I traded in the several glazed donuts I ate daily, for several daily miles instead. 

I was instantly hooked and before I knew it, the marathon beckoned.  I chose Big Sur because it was close to school and it was marketed as scenic.  Not realizing then that race directors use “scenic” as code for “hilly”.  Having no real clue how to train for a marathon, I basically just ran a bit most every day – on very flat land.  A copy of my high-tech training log from April, 1989 is included for your viewing pleasure.  (Clearly I was still obsessed with my weight).   


As a consequence for my lack of any real training program, one of the most vivid memories I have of that day was being shuttled out to the start of the race in tears (not loud sobs, but definitely enough tears to warrant Kleenex) because first of all I saw the incredibly hilly course I’d soon be expected to run on, but I also made the rookie mistake of listening to other runners discuss in great detail how ill prepared they were because they hadn’t trained properly at all.  And every single person I heard talk had done WAAAAAY more than I had.  What was I about to get myself into?

Turns out I got myself into the best race ever.  I’m sure I didn’t grin from ear to ear the whole time, but I genuinely loved it.  The course was scenic, as promised, there was a string quartet playing for us on the top of one particularly grueling hill, and all the fellow runners were wonderful.  I ran it, probably unintentionally but like I now suggest everyone should, by negative splitting it – by 15 minutes.   After 15 years of running marathons, it goes down as one of my very favorite marathons ever and still wins the award in my book for the best race t-shirt.  Look at all of these colors! 



So having logged several marathons since then, and now being wise enough to follow a more structured approach to training, I do have some advice to share:

  • Don’t underestimate your training – whatever it is you were able to do.  Rarely do things all go perfectly before a marathon, but only remind yourself of the positive things.  I always pack a Sharpie and write something positive, or a short mantra, on my wrist as a reminder of the hard work that was done getting to the start line.
  • Always drink water with gels/ gus etc.  Not only do they go down easier, but they are dehydrating if not consumed with water.
  • BodyGlide the balls of your feet and the elastic portions of sports bras.  Chafing is no fun during the race, or in the shower afterwards.
  • Negative or at least even split the race.  You will gain so much more positive mental and physical energy by passing someone during the 2nd half of the race versus losing positive energy by being passed.  I have been on both ends of the spectrum, and I much prefer the former.  It takes great restraint but is worth it.  Some of my best marathons are the ones in which I think of it as a 20 mile warm-up for a 10K race. 
  • Lastly, take a few minutes afterwards to reflect on what went well and what you’d do differently and write it down!  (I usually do this while eating donuts and drinking whole milk lattes a day or two later).  If you’re like me, you’ll vow that it’s your last marathon ever, but before you know it you’re itching to do another.  By having a written record, you can continue to fine tune the journey. 

Good Luck and have fun!

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Allyson Ely