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Ask The Penguin: The Mental Marathon

Dear Penguin

I am planning my first marathon in April and want to know how you prepare MENTALLY for such a long distance? I find myself getting bored/distracted after running for a long amount of time and then start to slow down and slack off.

How do I keep focused and become prepared mentally for the challenge of running, for me, 5+ hours? How do you keep going strong when physically you are exhausted, which I’m sure will happen?
Any tips or tricks?

You’ve identified one of the most important aspects, and often misunderstood aspects, of training. Getting ready for a marathon is more than just getting your body prepared. You’ve also got to prepare your mind and spirit for the challenge.

My wife, Coach Jenny Hadfield, has what I think is the best advice. She says it’s like eating an elephant. You have to do it one bite at a time. The same is true with running marathons. You can’t just line up thinking about running for 5 plus hours. You have to have intermediate goals.

How you break it down is up to you. At a minimum you’ll want to break it down into 4 quarters. The first 10K the most important thing is keeping your pace artificially slow. In the second 10K you’ll want to focus on assessing how you are REALLY feeling. Not how you WANTED to feel, but how you actually feel.

In the third 10K it’s important to think about form. You’ll likely start to get a little tired so focusing on maintaining good form will help.

In the final 10K it’s all about having fun and running it in.

You can figure out your own strategy, but, breaking it into smaller pieces will help.

Waddle on,

John

John “the Penguin” Bingham, Competitor Magazine columnist
Author, The Courage to Start, No Need for Speed, Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals.

Have a question for John? E-mail it to thepenguin@johnbingham.com.