At group run on Sunday, I met two novice marathoners who were starting to get very nervous about what faces them in less than two weeks. They wanted reassurance and advice on surviving 26.2, and what I told them probably bears repeating here.
First, break the distance into manageable chunks. 26.2 miles seems insurmountable whether it’s your first or 50th marathon. For local runners, 26 miles is the distance from Waterbury to Burlington on I-89 and thinking about it that way is a surefire way to unravel oneself. Try breaking the marathon up into pieces that you know you can manage. In the past, I’ve approached it as 4 six-mile pieces with a little extra at the end. I know I can run 6 miles even on a bad day and this helped me to survive. Other people take it mile by mile or half marathon by half marathon. However you decide to break it up, just run the mile that you’re in and have confidence that you’ll get through the next mile as well. Sometimes it can help to remind yourself of a run of equivalent distance that you’ve done hundreds of times; for example, at mile 20 you might begin to think about your neighborhood 6 miler and how effortless that is for you.
Second, enjoy the experience. One of the great things about the KBVCM course is that there are spectators aplenty and in all the right places and when there aren’t spectators, there are hundreds of other runners around. On the Beltline, for example, the out and back nature means you’ll get to see the leaders blast by and all of your friends and neighbors. On Battery, you’ll hardly notice the hill as spectators and drummers alike push you up and over. In the neighborhoods in the North End, you’ll have kids and families cheering for you like you’re their own family member. And this year, we’ll all have our names on our bibs. Trust me that nothing feels better (and pushes you onward) like having someone call you by name.
Finally, create a power item. Whether it’s a mantra, a quote, a song lyric or a physical item, use the next two weeks of taper to come up with something that you can use when the going gets tough. In my first marathon, I dedicated the last ten miles to particular people and ran those miles with memories of them floating through my head. In Boston, I repeated the word “grit” to myself from mile 16 to the end and wore a ring from my grandmother. This year my plan is to write the words “Dig Deep” on my forearm above my watch. It may sound cheesy, but in miles when you’re exhausted and your brain is shutting down, something simple and comforting can make all the difference.