How Long Would You Chase A Marathon Goal?

Photo by Clay Shaw.

RUN717 Athlete Story: Jay McMillan

For life-long runner Jay McMillan, the answer is “for as long as it takes.” And in his case, it was three years. Jay ran his first marathon at age 41. Since then, he’s shaved 37 minutes off of his marathon personal best, currently a 2:57. He’s out to prove to people that anything is possible. 

“A lot of people think they have limits because of their age,” Jay said. “I want to show people that you can get faster as you age. I’m 49 and running better than when I was in high school.”

A Return to Running, and the Marathon

Though Jay ran in High School, he didn’t run again as an adult until a former cross country teammate challenged him to a half marathon in 2012. Jay described the experience as “miserable for both of us.” Yet, at breakfast after the race, the duo agreed to run a marathon the next year–the 2013 Harrisburg Marathon. 

During their training for Harrisburg, the duo didn’t have a formal plan. Instead, they logged miles and weekly long runs and made it to race day, expecting to finish within their Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3 hours and 15 minutes. After one mile with the pace group, the two took off and ran their own pace until mile 16 or 17. Then, the wheels came off. Jay walked much of the last 10 miles. 

After some time and a little friendly heckling via Facebook from several former High School cross country teammates, Jay decided to give the marathon another go. In 2017, Jay ran the Rehobeth Beach Seashore Marathon in 3:15. A time good enough to qualify him for the 2018 Boston Marathon. He could now check that goal off of his list. But, immediately, another loftier goal took its place. Sub-3 hours. This time, he recruited some help.

Working Towards His Marathon Goal

Jay became a RUN717 athlete shortly after his run at Boston 2018. Which is to say, around the time he began eyeing a sub-3 hour marathon attempt.

“The first thing Brenda did when she coached me, she told me I had to slow down,” Jay said. “She even gave me an ultimatum if I didn’t slow down. At first, I was frustrated. But after a couple of weeks, I felt better.”

Over the next two years, Jay attempted a sub-3 hour finish at three marathons, missing the mark at each one. “Every time I would try for a sub-3, I would feel confident, over-run the first half, and blow up,” Jay recalled. “Marathoning is a once-and-done risk–I don’t get a chance for a do-over for another 6 or 12 months. Each time I failed, I felt like crap for weeks. The marathon was a mental struggle.”

After a third attempted sub-3 at the 2021 Boston Marathon–held in September instead of its usual timing in April–Jay was crushed. The Boston Marathon course had vexed him for several years, and the warm day did him in again. He crossed the finish line in just over 3 hours, good enough to re-qualify for Boston in 2022, but not fast enough for his personal marathon goal.

Fully prepared to sulk off his failed attempt, he ignored a message from a running friend inviting him to join his group of Philadelphia Marathon-bound runners and try again. After a conversation with Coach Brenda and a few good runs, Jay changed his mind two weeks later. Five weeks after running Boston Marathon, he would toe the line in Philadelphia. Jay agreed to join his friends at 3-hour-pace until mile 20. He would decide then if he would drop out or finish the race.

A Surprise Marathon Attempt in Philadelphia

From the first mile, Philly felt different for Jay. “The pressure to qualify for Boston was off. I was running just to see what he could do,” he explained.

Jay had a pace list on his wrist, giving him mile splits specifically to finishing the Philadelphia Marathon in 3-hours. The group agreed to follow it until mile 20, after which everyone was on their own. Unfortunately, that plan disintegrated in the first mile. As their watched clicked through the miles, the trio–running ahead of their intended goa–tried to slow back to their calculated pace. But their paces kept steady as the trio of friends laughed together and enjoyed themselves.

When the group hit mile 20–the agreed-upon “every man for himself” point, Jay’s two friends took off to finish their own races. Now running alone, Jay’s mind began to get the better of him. He didn’t think he could keep his pace through to the finish. He does the math in his head–he needs a 7:10 average mile pace to stay under 3 hours. His watch clicks to the next mile–6:43. Beep, another mile–6:28. Every final mile was sub 6:50 pace, on track for a 3-hour marathon. 

One mile from the finish, Jay suffered an asthma attack. Gasping for breath, Jay saw his wife and daughter in the crowd, both cheering for him and running with him from the sidewalk. Jay motioned to his face, trying to explain his discomfort. Finally, coach Brenda’s voice cut through the noise of the spectators; “lift your head,” she shouted. He listened, and moments later, Jay crossed the finish line of the Philadelphia Marathon at 2 hours 57 minutes and 43 seconds.

Lessons Learned In Training for A Marathon

“I tend to run better when I’m helping someone else,” said Jay. “That’s why Philly helped me; I was there to help these other two guys with their race.” Jay enjoys joining someone’s workout–someone who is just a little bit faster than he is–to help them pace and push himself in the process.” Learning this about Jay, Brenda helped him modify his training schedule to fit in the runs he did during someone else’s workout.

Similarly, Jay credits finding other people to run with as essential for his marathon training. “If you can find someone, or a few people, willing to spend two to three hours with you while you’re running, it makes it a lot easier,” Jay explains. “My friend Tami doesn’t run, but she would show up on her bike and ride alongside me for 3 hours. It helps keep my mind occupied and forget about the negative voices in my head.”

Jay also learned two other simple rules to improving endurance and staving off injury: strength training and slowing down. “Those two things were the hardest for me to accept, but they’ve helped me the most,” admits Jay. “For three years, I’ve been getting faster. My 5k time now  very close to what it was in high school.”

If you have a marathon goal you want to achieve, RUN717 Coaching can help. Our customized training plans and athlete-centered coaching will help you train smart and run fast. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you achieve your marathon goal.

New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Have to Fail

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Let’s look at the science of making running goals, and sticking to them.

Written by Laura M. Brenner

New Year’s Resolutions among runners–and would-be runners–usually look at the big-picture. We will quit drinking, start cross-training, eat healthily, and go for a sub-whatever race time. We’re all in for our running goals in the new year. We make big, dramatic statements publicly to hold ourselves accountable for these perceived improvements. And we might even try to convince friends to join us in our crusade for happiness. For decades, this is how people made annual resolutions. But it’s time to re-think our approach.

Studies show that most New Year’s resolutions don’t last. Resolutions usually require some kind of behavior change–adding a stop at the gym on your way home, waking up earlier to make breakfast every day, saying no to alcohol during girl’s or boy’s night. Our brains tell us that changing our behavior isn’t easy. But, according to behavioral scientists, it can be, if done correctly. Using science as our guide, here are a few tips to help you create better New Year’s Resolutions and achieve them.

Think Small to Go Big

Not just around New Year’s, but any time you’re setting big, new running goals, it helps to divide them into actionable pieces. For example, “I want to run faster” isn’t easily actionable on its own. But starting with, “I’m going to add speed workouts once a week” is something you can work into your schedule. Setting New Year’s resolutions isn’t just about the outcome; it’s about the steps you need to take to get there. 

New Year’s resolutions are really behavioral changes we want to make. And this usually means a shift in habits. This is good news, because behavioral science studies show it’s easier to sustain a new habit when you tack it on to an existing one. Humans have hundreds of habits we perform each day, often without realizing it’s a habit. Say you want to start cross-training to build strength and prevent injury…link this new habit with your existing habit of running. Getting dressed for your run is now a trigger to remind you to add that 10-minute pre-run strength workout, or swap your run for a 30 minute spin on the bike trainer. You’re less likely to bail on the new habit when you complete it first, before the existing habit. 

Believe In Your Success

We all have a mental image of ourselves, or our “self-story.” Who we are as individuals, what decisions are in line with our values, and what choices stray too far from “staying true” to ourselves. This self-story helps us build our identity. But it can also limit our ability to grow. If your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier, you have to believe you’re a person who makes healthy choices. You can shift your mindset by editing your story–literally. Write down your self-story, and be honest about anything that goes against your New Year’s resolution. Then, change the narrative in a way that makes sense in your life. Instead of “my life is too busy to consider how my food choices impact my health,” the story changes to, “my health is important, and finding ways to include more vegetables can be fast and easy.”

Recruit a Friend

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that teamwork really does boost motivation. We all need a little accountability sometimes, and pairing up with a friend or family member, or hiring a coach, helps keep New Year’s resolutions on track. Even if your resolutions aren’t the same, you can provide each other with support and hold the other accountable for their actions. Knowing someone is going to check in with you about your resolution and is there to cheer you on when things get tough is a big boost in sticking to New Year’s resolutions.

If your New Year’s resolution includes improving your fitness, starting to run, and aiming for a new personal best, RUN717 Coaching can help. We want to help you achieve your running and fitness goals in 2022, and beyond. Contact us today to learn more about our coaching programs and let us help make 2022 your healthiest, or fastest, year yet!

Unique Gift Ideas for the Runner in Your Life

A holiday gift guide made by runners FOR runners!

Although running is a simple sport, runners are obsessed with gear. Here is a helpful list of seventeen unique runner gifts. This holiday gift list is comprised by runners for runners – so you know you can’t go wrong! Read on to find out some of the favorite items from RUN717 athletes.


Do you have a marathoner in your life? Here are three unusual ideas for runners who like to go 26.2 miles. Let them relive their race with these ideas! Better get comfortable though, because you might have to sit through a recap.

This medal display isn’t limited to the marathoner, any runner who races would appreciate this. I thought this was a unique way to showcase your special races. You could use it to display medals from your marathons, World Majors, or maybe the races where you earned a personal record. Either way, it is an attractive and unique method for displaying the medals. Click on image to learn more.

This engraved bottle is a fun way to encourage your favorite marathoner to stay hydrated while congratulating them on crushing that race. Featuring a detailed map of a famous marathon path (New York, Boston, and a bunch more are available), the powder-coated stainless steel bottle is triple-wall vacuum sealed to keep cold drinks that way for 24 hours and hot drinks warm for up to 12. It also has a leak-proof screw-on cap, so tossing it in a gym bag or backpack isn’t a problem when you’ve got to run. Marathon Map Hydration Bottle

RUN717 athlete Chris loves these pint glasses. Mile after grueling mile, what’s on a marathoner’s mind? The most deliciously well-deserved beverage imaginable? The post-marathon beer. And never has there been a more suitable glass for it. These classic pint glasses are beautifully etched with the famous routes and surrounding city maps of top marathons, plus finish line coordinates and date of the inaugural race. A unique gift for seasoned marathoners and aspiring ones alike. Have a beer and relive the race here: Etched pint glass.

Not into beer? Neither is RUN717 athlete Amber, she prefers art! This lovely framed course map is a great way to relive your favorite marathon. I love that it is personalized with the date and finish time. You can find the Boston Marathon print here, but Etsy has many other races available


Do you know someone obsessed with numbers? If you know a runner, I’m sure you have heard them talk about their longest runs, weekly mileage, and pace. These creatures love to track everything and there are some perfect runner gifts to fill their needs.

Even though we have the ability to track runs digitally, Coach Hodge is old-fashioned and prefers a written journal. There are tons of training journals on the market and my favorite is one of the Lauren Fleshman journals. Runners can record mileage, pace, shoes, elevation, and weather. Now runners have a safe place to brag about how they ran uphill both ways in a blizzard. Click on image to learn more.

runner gifts

Every runner has story about their favorite races. Unlike a journal that tracks daily runs, this is one that allows them to track just their races. It makes keeping track of personal records a whole lot easier! It can also be motivating to see improvement and growth. Watch out – it may turn some runners into race-aholics! This beautiful journal not only tracks race name, distance, and time, but it includes other details as well. This race logbook would make a great runner gift!

Want to help the runner in your life meet their potential? Here is where science + nutrition meet. By analyzing your body’s data, they give you a clear picture of what’s going on inside you along with a science-backed action plan for improving your health and becoming your best self. It’s very simple – print out a lab slip from your home computer, bring it to a nearby lab, then wait for results. Coach Hodge had this done and it was enlightening! I learned that my ferritin was low and my cortisol (stress hormone) was hgh! Now I can make some dietary changes and train smarter. Follow this link to learn more about Insidetracker. Use code HODGEPROGIFT for $200 off the Ultimate Package and get a FREE Inner Age.


SPLURGE – Does the runner in your life deserve something extra special? The next few runner gifts are bigger ticket items for the serious runner in your life.

Upgrading a watch can be an excellent gift because they are constantly adding new features. I could do an entire blog post on each watch, so I’m just going to share my two favorite GPS watches from a coaching perspective. GPS watches are like cars – there is a make and then a specific model. The the two top makers are Garmin and Coros. Garmin has been around longer and has excellent customer service. Coros is a newer company and they are known for battery life. I suggest making a list of the features you need because watch shopping can be overwhelming.

My favorite Garmin watch is the Forerunner 245. It packs the best of Garmin’s sensors, training apps, and health trackers into a device that’s comfortable to wear all day and night. There’s also a Music edition that can store up to 500 songs to help power you through your workouts. I like that it’s easy to use.

The top Coros option is the Coros Pace 2. I have both a Garmin and Coros watch and each has it’s pros and cons. The battery life on the Coros Pace 2 is amazing and it is more comfortable on my writst. And hey, Kipchoge wears this watch. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me!

RUN717 just purchased Normatech Recovery Boots to help their athletes recover quicker. Gretchen S also swears by these! She says the NormaTec boots are a huge asset to recovery. After a long run or hard training session, nothing feels better than slipping those boots on and flushing the toxins out of your legs. As a nurse who’s on her feet all day it’s also a great way to relax after a day at work.


Even though the next few gifts are practical, it doesn’t mean they won’t be well received. Any runner will be thrilled to open these this holiday season.

I had a number of RUN717 athletes recommend this item, so I knew I had to include it. Rosie said it best – “I love the Noxgear lighted vest! It has spread like wildfire in our running group. First one person got one, now we’re like a Noxgear army! It’s a relief not to worry about being visible in the dark.” This is on my want list! If you are interested in getting some more tips for running in the dark, read Coach Brenner’s blog post – What You Need to Know About Running in the Dark.

The Kolala Clip was another popular item with the ladies of RUN717. This is definitely going on my wish list! RUN717 athlete Elysia G loves her Koala Clip. It clips into the back of a racer back sports bra and is an easy way to store phone, keys, cash or ID/credit cards. It stays put and doesn’t move, so you barely realize it’s there. I’ve worn it for an entire marathon and experienced zero chafing!

Dee K had this to say about the Koala Clip: This phone holder is one of the best hidden secrets I know for women. For years I used a spi belt and hated having to carry my phone around my waist. I hated feeling the pressure around my waist and as the phones got bigger I started getting horrible chaffing on my lower back. Then I found Koala clip. It has been a game changer for me. You put your phone in the pouch and then you attach it under your shirt on your sports bra. It’s amazing. It stays in place, doesn’t move and no chaffing! I have really embraced the importance of running with my phone for so many safety reasons and Koala clip has made that so easy to do! Use code RUN717 for 10% off!


Putting money back into the community is ALWAYS a good idea. Here are a few local options for you.

If you run in PA you have to know Jason over at RUNPA. He is a good friend and offers some of the highest quality gear! Head on over to runpa and pick out something to make your runner friend look good. While you are at it, get something for yourself.

Another local option is RUN717! That’s right! We offer gift certificates and they are especially popular this time of year. Know someone who needs a gentle kick in the butt? Maybe they are a newbie and need some guidance. Coach Laura Brenner did this for her mom last year and it resulted in a 20 minute marathon PR! You can purchase month-to-month coaching for $125 per month, or you can purchase a customized training plan. Want them to open something? By a high quality RUN717 hat with your gift certificate!

These high quality hats are $25 (plus $5 shipping). Local pick up available.

Send me an email @ for details.

You could also visit your local running store Flying Feet in York or Inside Track in Lancaster. I got a few gift certificates for my birthday in July and it was the perfect excuse to get some new running shoes! Another option is a race entry, these options are endless.


It’s no lie runners love all things food. You can’t go wrong with a food related gift! Elite marathoner Shalane Flanagan has three great cookbooks out. I have the first two and can’t wait to get my hands on the third. The soup recipes in the older cookbook are a favorite of RUN717 athletes Jay and Denise.

Eating breakfast is the biggest struggle I see in runners I coach.  Science tells us that what you eat at the start of the day impacts everything: your mood, your work output, your cravings, your sleep, and even your long-term health. In Rise and Run, discover a better a.m. routine and nourish your entire day with more than 100 recipes for nutrient-dense breakfasts, recovery drinks, packable snacks, and best-of-all: twenty-four new Superhero Muffin recipes (both savory and sweet). Click on image to learn more.

It’s important to fuel your runner during theri runs as well. Tailwind endurance fuel mixes clear with water to provide all your calories, electrolytes and hydration. Simple to use with a clean, light taste. I used to suffer from gastric distress – Tailwind was a game changer that helped me run my best marathons. Learn more by visiting Tailwind.

Hope you found something on this list for your favorite runner! Let me know if I forgot something that you love!

*Disclosure: RUN717 only recommend products we would use and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that, at no additional cost to you, may earn us a small commission.

What You Need to Know About Running in the Dark

Photo by Tobias Greitzke onUnsplash

How you can stay safe and have fun during a night run

By Laura M. Brenner, assistant coach

Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. That’s just how winter running feels in the northeast when daylight hours are limited, and temperatures plunge. It’s not that I don’t like winter running—I do! But it forces me to re-evaluate my running routine and add a few more items to my pre-run checklist.

If you’re usually a morning runner, you might be able to make it through the winter without running in the dark. If you’re an evening runner, you’re likely already logging a few night runs. Temperature notwithstanding, running in the dark can seem intimidating and full of risk. Don’t let winter derail your training—learn how to enjoy running in the dark safely.

Is it safe to go running in the dark?

In my experience, running in the dark can be safe, fun, and help break up a mundane training cycle. Running in the dark – either before the sun rises for the day or after it sets – can be necessary. Daylight savings means your usual after-work run is now a night run. But don’t let a lack of sunshine keep you from logging those miles. 

Running at night can be an excellent opportunity to reconnect with your body, unwind after the day, or spice up a stale training routine. However, there are a few things to think about before you head out the door or drive to your usual run spot for a night run. Some things we take for granted during the day become risks when running in the dark. 

What you need on your night run.

There are some tangible items you should take or wear when running in the dark. Then there are the intangible things to consider. Even minimalist runners will want to plan, see the terrain, and be seen by motorists.

Location, location, location. Is the place where you want to run safely for you to be there after dark? Are you allowed to be there after dusk (many community parks close after sunset)? If you’re planning a night trail run, be prepared for more interactions with wildlife and know how to handle it.  Another important thing to note here is cell service. If your usual daytime running location doesn’t have great cell service, it might not make a great night run location. If you are injured or feel unsafe on a night run, being able to contact a friend or loved one is essential.

I’m not here to tell you to only run on well-lit, well-traveled roads and trails—I love quiet urban alleys and remote trails at night. My rule: trust your gut; if it doesn’t feel right, pick somewhere else to run.

See where you’re going. If where you’re running isn’t well lit by streetlights, etc., you’ll probably want a light to see where you’re going. Most runners prefer to use a headlamp (picture a small, compact flashlight on an elastic headband). RUN717 likes this basic headlamp by Petzel: ( Other runners opt for a hand-held flashlight or waist-mounted light. Choose which one works best for you, or run with multiple lighting options. And always, ALWAYS check your batteries—bonus points for carrying spares with you (or at least in your car).

Be seen by others. Being visible to others is essential. This is especially true if you’re running on the shoulder of a road or a shared-use path. You want drivers, bicyclists, and other pedestrians to see you before they get to you. That usually includes wearing brightly colored and reflective apparel or a reflective vest. We recommend the Noxgear Vest ( Most running shoes have reflective strips on them, but that alone isn’t enough to alert the groggy after-work driver of your whereabouts. When in doubt, overdo it when it comes to bright, reflective clothing. No shame in that safety game, folks. It sure beats the alternative.

JUST A NOTE: I know so many runners who listen to music or podcasts while they run. Save the earbuds for daytime runs. Instead, on a night run, focus your mind on your form, the mental checklist of accomplishments from the day, or whether or not that dark blob up the road is a tiny bear cub or a tree stump.

What makes running in the dark so fun?

I’ve experienced two types of night running: adrenaline junkie and introspective relaxation. 

Running in the dark adds a bit of thrill and adrenaline to a regular training run. There’s something kid-like about lacing up and running around outside after dark. Is it rebellious? Not really. Does it feel rebellious? Heck yes. Invite some friends to join you to up the ante on the fun. There’s nothing like a group run in the dark, headlights bouncing around on the ground, faceless laughter to appreciate running in the dark.

Night runs can also be great “me time.” Guess what, at night, you don’t have to say or nod “hello” to every passer-by. Introverts may find night runs to be more relaxing or productive than daytime runs. You can also focus your energy on yourself during a night run. Without daylight distracting you, listen to your body, focus on your mindset, or simply let your mind wander.

If you’re looking for a way to break out of your training routine, RUN717 can help. Contact us to learn more about our coaching services and custom training plans.

To find more running tips, check out our running blog.

*Disclosure: We only recommend products we would use and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that, at no additional cost to you, may earn us a small commission.