Marathons – The Mental Part

Marathons are tough! I’ve run more than 50 of them so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what is involved. About 15 months ago I set my sights on Boston. I made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to qualify on my own and realized that I could use some help.

I started working with Coach Val in March. She did an initial evaluation and worked with me on running form to improve my efficiency. She built a custom training plan designed to make me faster and managed to squeeze some pre-existing races into the schedule. We looked at both heart rate and cadence and set targets for those. We discussed diet and worked to improve the type and quality of food that I was eating. We also looked at sleep and I made an effort to get more consistent rest.

My training went really well. I had one week where I missed most of my runs, but otherwise I stuck to the plan. During the final two months of training, I put an even higher priority on getting the miles in. There were some aches and pains along the way, but Val managed to keep me injury free. She also worked with me on mental preparation towards the end, which is crucial to marathon success.

When race day came, I arrived at the start line better prepared than I have ever been. The course was mostly flat and the weather was cooperative, a bit humid but overcast. I was excited to get started and had a fairly high confidence level in a successful outcome.

The plan going in was to run even splits and focus on individual miles, not overall time. It is good to have some checkpoints, but it’s far too easy to get obsessed with overall time. Everything is great when you have time “in the bank,” but things often get challenging mentally when you start to use some of that buffer up.

I’ve always said that marathons can be divided into thirds: the first 10 miles, the next 10 miles, and the last 10 kilometers. 

The first 10 miles went well. I kept an eye on pace and things were fairly consistent. I felt good. Towards the end of the next 10 miles I started to feel a bit of fatigue. My splits were still in the target range, but I was working harder to maintain pace. Looking at the data after the fact, my average pace was 7:43 for the first 10 miles and dropped to 7:45 for the next 10 miles.

The last 10K was tough, especially miles 22 and 26. Those were the miles where I reminded myself that Coach Val believed in me and replayed in my mind all the times that she had told me “you’ve got this.” I also thought about the conversation that I would have after the race with Coach Val and didn’t want it to be about what I could have done differently. I knew that I had to dig deep and push through. Average pace dropped to 7:52.

In the end, I was able to run a strong race and meet my goal of qualifying for Boston. My second half was 30 seconds slower than my first half. That’s not the holy grail of negative splits or my race goal of even splits, but it’s pretty amazing based on my history.

Training is about more than just knowledge. Even if you know what to do and how to do, you need an external force to hold you accountable and keep you motivated. That’s where a coach comes in…

It’s also a huge benefit to have someone knowledgeable assess your readiness. Again, look to your coach. They know you, they know what your training has been, and they’ve helped you every step of the way. If they say you can do something you can be pretty certain that they know what they are talking about.

It’s great when your mom tells you that you can do it, but she’s your mom. What’s she supposed to say?

Cheers,

Coach Larry

NOTE: If you plan to look at individual splits on your watch rather than focus on overall time (which I highly recommend), you need to take 2 – 5 seconds off your target pace. That’s because of the extra distance that you wind up running. My Garmin always measures longer than the stated distance. In this case it was 26.34 miles which is pretty efficient, but this was a small marathon. That extra distance translates to about 2.5 seconds per mile, so my overall time was about a minute longer than predicted by the individual mile splits.

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