With the Chicago marathon just over a week away, it is a perfect time to not only talk about what it takes to run the prestigious 26.2-mile distance, but what it takes to be successful at it. For many racers, it will be the first time they step out their door and take on the monster of the marathon. For other seasoned veterans, they will tackle the task of taking minutes off their previous personal records.
Whether you have been a runner for the majority of your life, have only been running and training for this particular race, or decided one day this was the day to run a marathon, you will need tips and tricks to get through the race. Although a marathon requires a great deal of physical capability and fitness, the mental side of the race cannot be forgotten.
1. Don’t Let the Number Scare You
I don’t know about you, but there have been plenty of times in my life that I did not even drive 26.2 miles in a week. With that being said, try not to think about the number of miles in the race. Don’t let a number intimidate you because after all it is just a number. Would you feel any differently if the race were 23.2 or 29.2 miles? Probably not. Acknowledge the distance, respect the distance, but don’t be consumed or intimidated by it.
2. Break the Race Into Segments.
In order to make the race more manageable, split the race into several segments. This can be done in various ways. The first is to split the race into mile segments (4 or 5 mile segments). This way you focus on one segment at a time instead of getting to mile 4 and reminding yourself that you have 22 miles left. So, if you decide to make five-mile segments, you know you will have to finish five different sections of the race and then hold on for the final mile. When using this method think about what segment you are on and not the previous one or the following one. Another way to split up the race is by landmarks. So, if you start the race, think you will get to a certain destination and then fix your sights on the next destination. This can be as simple as picking out trees, buildings, or people. This can also be a particular part of the race. For Chicago, it might be getting to Addison Street or the Wrigley ballpark area, then focusing on getting to a site downtown. As long as you aren’t counting down the miles (i.e. 17 miles left, 16 miles left), you will be in a much better position and the race will seem much shorter.
3. Make Each Mile Count.
A great way to stay inspired during a marathon is to make each mile memorable and count. This will make the experience much more enjoyable for you. If you do not reside in the destination of your marathon, dedicate each mile to a certain person. So each mile can represent someone special in your life. That way if you are hurting, you know that you need to finish this mile, for this specific person, and then onto the next mile and corresponding person. Adding a bit of pride to your miles and making the race more than about you is a highly motivating factor (Ex. Mile 1- a parent, Mile 2- a co-worker, Mile 3- a close friend). If you happen to race in a place you live, then associate each mile with a memory. If you pass Wrigley Field, remember your first Cubs game - anything to keep your mind in a good place and away from the longevity of the race is helpful. Write these people or memories on your arm or a notecard you keep in your fuel pack for an easy reminder.
4. Expect the “Wall” and Push Through It.
Inevitably, no matter how great of shape you are in- the marathon hurts. Expect the so-called “wall” and do not fear it. Know that somewhere around mile 20, things are going to get increasingly more difficult. No one likes surprises when it comes to running, so embrace this as part of the race. Think about this segment of the race as your time to shine, prove yourself, and push through. Reframe this from a point of negativity to an opportunity to show how tough you really are. Encourage other runners around you. Positivity spreads like wildfire. During this time, remember why you decided to run the marathon in the first place. If you are running for charity, like many Chicagoans do, then think of the massive impact you are making just through the power of running. Also, remember your goal in the race. Was it to qualify for Boston? Was it part of a resolution to become fitter? Did you have a goal time? Keeping your goals in mind during the race is vital to finishing strong.
5. Reward Yourself!
I don’t know about you, but if I am going to run for that long, there better be something waiting for me at the finish. Reward yourself with something meaningful. This could be a meal at a restaurant you have been dying to try, or a vacation you have been anticipating, or even that obnoxious 26.2 sticker that seems to be on every other car parked in Chicago. Most runners are extremely internally motivated, but having an external reward waiting for you at the finish is never a bad thing. Reward yourself- you just accomplished an amazing feat! Be proud of it, own it as your accomplishment, and gain enormous confidence from it in your everyday life.
Lastly, remember you are stronger than you think. Enjoy every moment of race day!