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The marathon isn’t just a physical journey, but a mental journey too. Most runners will never run the full distance in training, so you need to think about your strategy on the day to help you through every step, to help you stay motivated when the going gets tough and to help you reach the finish line of your 26.2-mile journey.
Everyone is individual, and how you run your marathon may be very different to the person running next to you. But to help you along the way, here are some tried and tested strategies to help you on your marathon day, as all of your hard months of training pay off and you take on your victory lap - your marathon!
Breaking down the distance into chunks is a manageable way for you to think about the marathon, and helps you focus on the moment that you’re in, to help make it as enjoyable as possible.
This first approach is what’s known as the 10/10/10 approach; breaking the distance down into the first 10 miles, the second 10 miles and the final 10k. Easy, right?
The first 10 miles is all about patience; not going out too fast, making it easy and settling into a rhythm. After all, most people running a marathon are going to be on their feet for between three and six hours, so for the first ten miles, you want to be settling into your running groove. On the whole, this should be slightly slower than your overall goal marathon pace, so that you’re conserving energy for the tougher sections of the run.
The second 10 miles is all about trusting the process and trusting your training. You didn’t do all of those long runs, interval and sprint sessions for nothing! Fingers crossed, you should be feeling good at this stage, so let your training do the talking here, settle into your goal marathon pace and have faith in the hard work you’ve been putting into running over the last few weeks and months.
The final 10k; the finish line is so close you can smell it! You’re so close now, so when the going gets tough, think back to your reasons for wanting to run the marathon in the first place. You might be motivated by raising funds for a charity, a personal goal or maybe it’s about celebrating everything you’ve achieved in training. This final 10k is the ultimate victory lap. Soak in the atmosphere of your marathon event to give you an additional boost. This is your time to shine. You’ve done it. You’ve run a marathon! How amazing are you?
The rule of fives is one way to break the distance down even further; sometimes smaller, more bitesize ‘chunks’ can work better than bigger ‘chunks’, to help you stay focused and in the moment.
One way we like to remember these is by having them written on a pace band; you can easily make these yourself and write mantras on them to provide you with some much-needed motivation when your legs begin to get tired!
The rule of fives is a strategy recommended by running coach and writer, Martin Yelling (follow him on Twitter for more pearls of wisdom @myelling!)
Be patient (0-5 miles)
Be controlled (5-10 miles)
Be committed (10-15 miles)
Be strong (15-21 miles)
Be courageous (21-26.2 miles)
You could think about his statements, or come up with your own for each of these five ‘sections’ of this strategy. Making it personal to you will help you remember it and give you focus.
Don’t go out too fast!
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Don’t burn yourself out at the beginning of your marathon. Yes, of course, you’ll feel excited, nervous, anxious… probably a mixture of all of these, but make sure your excitement or nerves don’t take over too much at the beginning. Control these rather than expelling your energy early on. You might be going along with the crowd, who might be running slightly faster than your ideal pace but remember, run your own race. Practice this in training, by starting out slightly slower on your long runs and building up towards marathon pace.
Think about your why
We’ve touched on this already, but it’s a good point to pick up on. There is always a reason why you want to run a marathon. You might be taking on the challenge to raise funds and awareness for a cause close to your heart. You might have set yourself a personal challenge to complete a marathon for a milestone age, or just to show yourself that you can actually do this. Much of the marathon distance can be mind over matter, so think about your reason for running when you hit a tough mental spot. You could also write this on your hand, on a pace band or on a sports drink bottle so you have that visual reminder there.
Finish line visualization
A lot can be said for visualizing your success. Visualize the finish line or even the next mile marker in your mind’s eye. This act helps motivates you, as you imagine yourself reaching the next milestone, the finish line and think about that medal around your neck.
What are your tried and tested strategies for taking on the marathon distance?