These two epic marathon runs could not have ended differently for those involved.

Prior to the 2022 NYC Marathon this morning, I watched some highlights of the 2018 Boston Marathon. That was the year that Yuki Kawauchi went out hard from the start in a downpour, was famously mocked and laughed at by the commentator crew early on, and then went on to win the race, much to the surprise of about everyone watching.

Kawauchi adopted a “take no prisoners” approach to pacing and did everything that you probably shouldn’t do in a marathon. But on a very rainy and windy day in April, 2018, he made his aggressive strategy work and crossed the line ahead of all other male runners.

He didn’t lead the whole race, but he had the power and strength to run the whole 42.195km while Geoffrey Kirui crashed and burned after about 24 miles and was passed by Kawauchi over the last few kilometres who went on to win.

In New York City today, it was a similar story with very different outcome. Daniel Do Nascimento went out and took the lead in the marathon. He led at the 21 mile mark and then slowed, stopped and collapsed on the side of the road. Race over.

It was a warm day in NYC today which certainly takes a toll on runners. The weather conditions need to be factored into any marathon lest you bonk and run out of energy before you finish the full distance. That’s what happened to Do Nascimento today – he miscalculated things badly and the result was a dramatic DNF from the lead.

Decisions, Decisions

In his book Born To Run, author Christopher McDougall wrote this about distance running:

“[It’s] is a binary equation made up of hundreds of yes/no questions: Eat now or wait? Bomb down this hill, or throttle back and save the quads for the flats? Find out what is itching in your sock, or push on? Extreme distance magnifies every problem (a blister becomes a blood-soaked sock, a declined PowerBar becomes a woozy inability to follow trail markers), so all it takes is one wrong answer to ruin a race.”

I’ve run 35+km runs, marathons and ultras enough times to know that it’s impossible to get it right every time. Some days you make enough good decisions that the few bad calls you make don’t have consequences. Other days the bad decisions trump the good and the result is…unpleasant. It might be as simple as taking a gel to soon or too late or going out at a 4:55/km pace instead of 5:00/km.

Yuki Kawauchi certainly made mistakes in 2018 in the rain when he won that race and made history. But others made bigger mistakes, and for Kawauchi, the good decisions outweighed the bad and he came out ahead on a life-changing day for him.

Conversely, Daniel Do Nascimento certainly made big mistakes today on a unseasonably warm day in New York City. Others managed the heat and their energy levels better while Do Nascimento clearly pushed too hard, too soon and didn’t keep up on his nutrition and fluid intake. The result was that he was left in a literal heap on the side of the road.

Experience

When I see races like the 2018 Boston Marathon and the 2022 NYC Marathon, I always marvel that even the best of the best runners in the world face the same challenges as those of us who do this for fun.

The experience that you develop in distance running comes in different areas. You get physically stronger from running more, mentally tougher from pushing through and learning to suffer better.

But the most valuable experience comes from learning how to make better decisions. That experience can only be gained by making those decisions and learning both from the ones you get right but also from the ones you get wrong.