Conquering the Mental Marathon

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Any way you slice it, 26.2 miles is a long way to run. To make it easier to wrap your mind around it, many runners and coaches suggest breaking the marathon down into shorter segments.

In a shorter race like a 5K, it's reasonable to split the race into three one-mile segments that can each be viewed with a specific purpose. For example, a runner might run the first mile by establishing a good rhythm and settling into 5K race pace, the second mile by tucking behind a group of runners who are running the pace he or she hopes to run, and the third mile by digging deep and chasing down as many runners as possible before the finish line.

While dividing a race into miles is a successful strategy for shorter races, 26 one-mile segments may be too overwhelming to think about when running a marathon. Here are some of the best ways to divide and conquer the marathon in your mind.

Unequal Halves

Splitting the marathon into two separate "halves" is a very effective way to treat the first, longer portion and the second, tougher portion. The two halves of a marathon can be divided into the first 20 miles and the final 10K so that the easier effort of the longer portion can be balanced against the shorter but more strenuous effort of the last 10K.

The first 20 miles of a marathon should be deliberately comfortable in an effort to reserve the strength needed to conquer the final 10K. Choosing to see the 20-mile mark as the halfway point is a great way to realistically prepare oneself for the discomfort of the final few miles of a marathon. Rather than fear the pain as something to be avoided, embrace it as part of the journey. It's important to cross the 20-mile mark with not just an expectation for what is to come, but with a feeling of pride and accomplishment for what has already been achieved.

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