How not to run a marathon

While cranking out my two hours of easy riding on my bike trainer, I watched the ING New York City Marathon unfold, captivated by the dominance of Mary Keitany who led the race until Mile 26 when her blistering early pace caught up with her and unknown Firehewot Dado made a late surge to earn the win.

Firehiwot Dado wins the NYC Marathon

The dominance and aggressive running of Keitany was impressive as was the determination of Dado and second-place finisher Buzenesh Deba who spent most of the race desperately chasing the leader.

And cue the commentary. It’s not so much that Dada won the race but that Keitany lost the race. “This should be a great lesson down the road for Mary,” the commentators said, while pondering “What did she learn from this?” The focus, as is always with a sporting event, is on the result. (For a great play-by-play of the race see the coverage on But I contend there are lessons to learn from Sunday morning other than a course in how not to win a race.

Break it down and she fell short of the ultimate goals on her check list — winning the NYC marathon and setting a course record. Pundits will criticize her for her race strategy, for going out too fast and not respecting the balance of speed over distance. In fact right after the race, commentators on Universal Sports questioned her tactic of running with too much aggression, her apparent desire to crush people early which, as we often see in distance running, doesn’t often work.

Yes, Keitany lost the race. But both she and Dado gave me great reminders and powerful metaphors for my own athletic and life goals.

Let’s start with Keitany, her start and ability to lead for most of the race. She was aggressive and confident an ran her race. She went for it without hedging her bets or fear of failure. And what about Dado’s win? At Mile 23 she was still over a minute behind Keitany. When it seemed as if Keitnay had built an insurmountable lead, she kept running. She kept working. She kept believing it was possible.

What would happen if I lived without hedging my bets? What if I just went for it, without worrying about strategy or fear or criticism? What if when I felt as if I had fallen behind, I just kept plugging away believing that it indeed is never too late?

Perhaps Keitany did teach me how not to run a marathon. She ran it without fear. She ran it her way. If I run my next race, if I live my life, without taking a chance (regardless of conventional wisdom) that becomes the true loss.


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