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Dimity McDowell: We All Learn From Our (Running) Mistakes

Dimity McDowell has learned several lessons during her life as a runner.

Asking me for one mistake I’ve made while training or in a race is like asking me to eat just one M&M: impossible. While I’ve never thrown up during or after a race—not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing—I’ve definitely run enough miles to have more than a few mistakes under my soles.

A few themes I’ve noticed through them:

Not Listening To My Body

Easy to type; so dang hard to do when I’ve had my eye on a race, and I’ve been training diligently. Out of nowhere, a bone decides to fracture or a muscle decides to go on strike. But that “out of nowhere” part actually isn’t true. A running injury—usually the result of doing the same motion again and again—rarely just appears. I ran while my heel protested greatly … and guess what? It fractured. I ran while my left hip muscles felt like they were going to tear apart … and guess what? They didn’t, thankfully, but they whined for years.

Lesson learned: I’ve become significantly more proactive with prehab—keeping my body healthy on the front end instead of waiting for it to become injured—over the past three years. I foam roll regularly to keep my muscles loose, attend Pilates once or twice weekly to keep my core strong and take a day off when I’m wiped out, even if the calendar says I should be training.

Not Studying Up On A Race

I’m typically a wing-it kind of girl who doesn’t obsess over race courses. If there’s going to be a killer hill at mile 8, I’ll confront that bad boy at mile 8 … no need to expend energy worrying about it before then. While that laissez-faire attitude can serve me well, it’s also caused me to go out way too fast in half-marathons (Hello bonk! Nice to meet you here at mile 11!) or not have enough umph in my legs to climb steep hills because I’d trained on flat ground.

Lesson learned: When I’m running a race with a pal for fun, I’m totally fine running blind. But when I’m gunning for a specific time or have put in copious amounts of training, I’ve learned it’s best not to be ignorant. I trained for eight months for Ironman Couer d’Alene, mimicking the course profile as best I could during training, and then drove the course, pre-race. The preparation contributed to it being one of the best days of my life.

Not Enjoying The Ride

Running is inherently hard, so I’d be kidding myself if I thought every run could be enjoyable. But I’ve gone through phases where I became so fixated on numbers—splits, pace, mileage, feet climbed—and making them bigger and faster that my mentality sucked the joy out of my running. While I like to push my limits, I’m never going to win my age-group—let alone a race—so if I don’t find some slice of contentment and happiness in some of my miles, I’m not sure why I would keep running.

Lesson learned: It took an injury (see the first item above) that sidelined me for nearly six months from running to find the joy again. Once I healed, I started as a beginner and decided to leave all my devices—GPS, watch, music—at home, and just be where my feet were. Now, when I get a little too carried away with the numbers, I leave it all behind and just run.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.