Mental Tips for Marathon Running

How to Stay Focused and Mentally Tough

Runner in race on rural road
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Running a marathon requires mental strength as much as it does physical fitness. Each part of the marathon has its own mental challenges. Here are some tips on how to maintain your focus and win the mental battles throughout the marathon:

First 10 Miles:

Start out slow. When you start your marathon, you'll feel strong and confident, but you must keep telling yourself to hold back. It takes a lot of patience and discipline, but running your first half slower than the second half (called a negative split) is the key to running a smart and enjoyable marathon.

Take it slow. Your body will thank you during the second half of your marathon.

Run your own marathon. Don't be worried if you see a lot of people passing you. Remember the tortoise and the hare? They may be starting out way too fast, so you'll catch them later -- at your own pace.

Don't get too emotional. It's tempting to start high-fiving spectators and jumping up and down when you pass family members and friends. You'll have the energy to do that during the first 10 miles, but try to stay as calm and relaxed as possible. You'll need to conserve your mental energy for the rest of the marathon.

Miles 11-20:

Break up the marathon. Don't think about how many miles to the finish. Instead, start breaking up the race into smaller segments. It will make the distance feel more manageable. At mile 17, for example, think, "One six mile race, then it's just about a 5K to go."

Stay mentally tough. Your mental toughness will really start to be tested during these miles.

Don't give into periods of self-doubt and discomfort. Remember all the training that you have done and have faith in it. Think about how hard you have worked and how rewarding it will be to complete your marathon.

Beat boredom. Here's when you really get to use all those boredom-battling tricks you tried out during your long runs.

Do whatever it takes to keep your mind occupied: Sing songs, play mental games, count people, read spectator signs, and talk to other runners. Try some of these ideas to distract yourself.

Miles 21-26.2:

Think outside the body. Chances are you'll be feeling a little bit of pain and discomfort during these miles. You will certainly feel tired. Let your mind take over from your body and try to focus on the outside -- the spectators, the signs, the other runners, the scenery.

Set small milestones. Continue to break up the course, mile by mile. Start counting down the miles and the minutes.

Talk to yourself. At this point in the race, you need to dig down deep for extra strength. Use your running mantras. Remind yourself what you've sacrificed to get to this point. Remember how you've worked through fatigue during your training runs and how you can do it again.

Think positive. Staying optimistic is the key to making sure you cross that finish line. Try some of these strategies for avoiding negative thoughts while you're running.

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