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Strategizing Your Next Marathon

Proper marathon training starts with one simple mantra: Get out the door!

Proper marathon training starts with one simple mantra: Get out the door!

Going 26.2 miles is a daunting task — 26.2 miles of running hard is even more daunting. Visions of a possible meltdown in the last 10K can fill a runner’s mind, as the race always seems to come down to those final critical miles. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it after 112 miles on a bike, or if you’re toeing the line fresh and tapered.

If this is your first marathon, then the enormity of the training, not just the race, can seem daunting as well. It seems as though there are a million little things to learn and be conscious of. With this in mind, it’s important to focus on the most critical factors that will lead to a successful performance at the marathon. If you want to do well at the distance, focus on these key points and you’re certain to maximize all the hard work you’ve invested.


There is no key workout, secret training plan, or magical coaching philosophy and style that will ever make up for a lack of consistency in training. Running consistently and following a training plan will make more of a difference in performance than even the specifics of the daily training. If you’re committing to the marathon, you’re not just committing to the race, but to the many months of day-in, day-out training. At times it will be very hard to get through, and at times it will seem too easy to skip a workout, sleep in or convince yourself you’re too tired and need a day off. Stick with the plan and be consistent.

What is the best way to be consistent? Get out the door! As simple as it sounds, too many athletes focus on the enormity of the run, or the workout, and feel defeated before they even begin. Athletes can feel like the 14-mile run is just too far, and they are too tired, never bothering to even get out the door to try. When this happens, athletes will most certainly fail, and lose any opportunity to surprise themselves with their fitness — as well as kill the consistency in their training.

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Focus on getting out the door, whether it’s in the early morning hours and you just want to push snooze, or if you’ve come home from a long day at work, feeling like it’s just too much to train. Quit thinking about the distance and focus instead on getting on your clothes and out the door as soon as possible. The common mistake of delaying getting out the door often allows athletes to talk themselves out of a workout. In the words of Joseph Addison, “He who hesitates is lost.” Get out the door as soon as possible!

Train The Body And Mind

When it comes to the marathon, everyone trains physically, but few pay attention to training the mind. Come race day, the good news is that it’s half mental. The bad news is, so is the other half.

How do we train the mind? We train it with workouts that are specific to the physical and mental demands of race day. This means long runs, and tempo runs, with a goal of running at an uncomfortable pace, requiring the mind to focus on the technical aspects which will keep you running fast and efficient in the latter miles of the race.

It is funny how many people think, “Wow, I feel great!” at the 10K mark of the marathon. Hopefully this isn’t a newsflash, but you’re supposed to feel great then! It’s when you reach miles 18-22 that things will begin to get very hard. Your ability to negotiate with your body to keep the pace fast and intensity high, all while maintaining relaxation and form, is a critical skill in those extremely challenging last miles of the race. Quite simply, if you don’t train these skills mentally, you can’t expect to call on them come race day. They must be trained and perfected as much as physical fitness.

Tempo runs, and long runs where you finish pushing the pace, are some of the key workouts to truly preparing yourself to be able to meet the mental as well as physical demands of the marathon.

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Tempo runs are faster-paced runs which work to improve an athlete’s lactate threshold. These runs are conducted over the course of an hour or two, training the body to sustain speed over time. These runs are not comfortable, but are not deathly hard, either.

If you add these runs to your training, you will see the results not only physically, but mentally as well. They will teach you how to negotiate with your body to deal with discomfort, while sustaining the speed.

Start Line Mentality

If a coach can peek into the athletes’ minds on the start line, he can tell who is going to do well and who is not, simply based on the thoughts going through their heads. The athletes who are worried about the competition, the weather or other things which are out of their control; a coach can tell right away those athletes are not ready to perform. An athlete who is focused on the things he has no control over will always allow doubts and fears to overtake his confidence in training and preparation, his race plan and strategies — perpetuating negative thoughts and making for a long, under-performing day.

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Athletes who focus on the things they do have control over, such as their race strategies, nutrition and warm up, are the ones who will put their nervous energy into the things that directly help them. These athletes will almost always perform to their potential better than their counterparts.

When race day comes, trust in the training and consistency you’ve put in. Trust in the experience you’ve gained from your long runs and tempo runs, and focus on the things you can control. You’re bound to reach your potential!


About The Author:

Jim Vance is a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach, former elite triathlete and a two-time Amateur World Champion in ITU and XTERRA. Visit his website at