Marathons are hard work. And racing hurts. If anyone says otherwise, than they’re not doing it right.

Truth be told, for the past several weeks, I’ve been looking forward to a reduction in mileage. A summer full of heavy mileage paid dividends but the legs have taken plenty of abuse.

Now, with 16 marathons and about as many half marathons completed, my pre-race rituals and preparations are set. They work for me. But on Saturday, during the Dick Beardsley Half Marathon in Detroit Lakes, I was reminded of a few important lessons and left to go searching for some answers.

If a runner wants to go his or her fastest, it’s going to hurt. Even with strong cardiovascular fitness, at least 8 long runs of 18 miles or more, and a regular dose of hills, there’s no such thing as an easy marathon. If training for a marathon seems easy, then the race will likely hurt in ways you can’t imagine.

Through the middle miles of Saturday’s race, there were the expected rolling hills — even with this year’s Beardsley race run clockwise around Detroit Lake, the opposite direction as the traditional course — that challenged one’s focus. Near Long Bridge, runners would face a formidable climb and a longer gradual descent after.

A friend later asked about running the course clockwise. Some may not like change, perhaps for no other reason than not liking change, but running the Beardsley course in reverse is better than the original — especially with a long straight downhill finish. Either way, you’ll face some long gradual inclines and declines. Why not have a spectacular finish where runners get a grand view of the finish from more than half mile away?

Yes, marathons are difficult, and Saturday’s half marathon provided a vivid reminder. Sore hamstrings, with reminders flaring through my legs in the second half of the race, offered another reminder that racing hurts. If you’re not prepared, it will serve up a hurt that you never want to experience again. But even if you do it right, it won’t feel comfortable. The difference between the two, though, is that one will break your will and stain your psyche; the other pain will be short-lived and leave you craving to lace up again, just in hopes of recreating the magic of the marathon.

During the Beardsley race, some mile splits were a bit disappointing. After stopping my watch at the finish line, I was simply not satisfied. There were a few factors, likely not to be present prior to my next race, that may have contributed to the outcome.

The St. George Marathon is three weeks away. Before it arrives, I have more work to do. And with new questions arising, I hope to find answers for a different feeling at the finish line in Utah.

With so many finish times — marathons and half marathons — similar in time, I need to know: can I go faster? If so, how do I do it? Can I push harder in the middle of a race without bonking in the final stages of a race?

For this cycle, I set aside the training plan after an injury in June and improvised — with a schedule to get me to the taper. There was time to figure out the taper. Now it’s around the corner.

So many plans and theories of coaching are readily available. Conventional wisdom, if you read about marathon training, proposes the notion that it’s better to go into a race undertrained rather than overtrained.

That notion isn’t one I’ve never accepted. Neither scenario is good.

And then there’s this approach to marathon tapering, published about 15 months ago. By chance, I discovered it while waiting for yesterday’s race to start. After reading it a second time today, there aren’t any new revelations — just a reminder that it’s too early to let off the accelerator. A 10-day taper, in my opinion, is perfect: keep running frequency and intensity the same as earlier in the training cycle, and dial back on mileage a little bit each day as the race approaches.

Collapsing on a grassy patch, drenched in sweat, I lay on the ground with my eyes closed and arms outstretched. Mumford and Sons played on my iPhone a few feet away after my adopted marathon anthems motivated me up a hill and through the final half mile to my parked truck.

This was the conclusion: the last true long run before the St. George Marathon, now 4 weeks away.

A slight breeze offered little relief from the suffocating humidity, intensified by the surrounding corn fields, and the September sun offering up 80-degree heat. It was not quite 11 a.m. We had started 3 hours earlier with no plans of bailing.

More than 3 months of running every day had built my fitness, which offered the only buffer to the difficult training conditions. And mentally, overcoming the heat and humidity from the past few months could bring added benefits if race day conditions allow for a fast marathon.

Over August and September, my friend Maggie and I have made bi-weekly trips to southeast Clay County to run the hilly gravel roads. It’s much easier to commit and complete the various loops on these roads, a longtime staple for my marathon training, with good company.

A fitting end

Last Monday marked the conclusion of my consecutive days running in the buildup for St. George. Last year, my streak took me almost entirely up to the start of the New York City Marathon, and proved to be an effective way — by playing on my strengths and habits as a runner — to train.

In 2014, the streak proved therapeutic in overcoming 18 months of inconsistent training and injuries. Running 103 days straight, more than 5 times longer than anything I’d previously done, doesn’t offer much chance at recovery. Most coaches wouldn’t recommend it.

But I learned some valuable lessons about myself along the way. Even without rest days, I went into the New York marathon feeling stronger than I recalled for any previous marathon.

This year, the streak didn’t start intentionally. A week after running Fargo’s half marathon in May, I went for a short run and decided to just keep running every day.

The streak’s end, though, did come with deliberate intention: a 15-mile run on the 15th anniversary of losing my mom. It was a tribute run, and offered a chance to feel comfortable with rest days built into the weeks leading up to St. George. Those 15 miles left my legs feeling scorched, and joining Rachel and Dave assured that I’d get in each symbolic mile.

Below is a closer look at this year’s streak.

Consecutive running days: 107
Fewest daily miles: 4.03
Most daily miles: 20.65
Total miles: 759.82
Average daily miles: 7.10

Other notable facts about training
Biggest monthly mileage: 272 in August (second only to 287 in September 2014)
Weight loss: 19 pounds
Races: Dewey Duathlon, Red River 10K, Average Joe Triathlon

The last push

With 4 weeks remaining before St. George, my training is going to take on a different approach. After 8 long runs, and months of running every day, my focus will be developing a little bit of speed heading into the marathon.

In early June, during a speed training session, an injury nearly sidelined my efforts for St. George. The focus turned to mileage rather than speed.

Fully recovered, and a strong endurance base, I’m building in some rest days and speed days. And, of course, another staple for marathoning success: a tune-up race.

Last year, I used the Wild Hog Half Marathon in Grand Forks as a primer for New York. But, this year, my fall race comes just one week after the Grand Forks event, and the two are too close together. Instead, I’m helping out with the Wild Hog and hoping to help others have a great time.

Next weekend I’ll be lining up for the Dick Beardsley Half Marathon in Detroit Lakes.

Both are premier “can’t miss” fall events, having become a favorite for area runners, and offer great environments for either a goal race or tune-up for a fall marathon.