While you’ve done your training and you’ve (hopefully) prepared adequately food and water-wise for race day, the actual race is full of jitters and mental battles that might take you by surprise. So hang in there, and try to remember these tips after you cross the starting line:
Start out slow
Between the jitters and the masses of people surrounding you at the start line, it’s easy to make the mistake of starting out too quickly. While it might feel OK for the first couple of miles, it’ll definitely catch up to you. A marathon is a long race, and running a slower first half and a faster second half is the smart way to tackle the 26.2 miles.
Save your emotion for later
In most marathons, there will be awesome spectators cheering you on the entire distance and though giving high fives every time you see family, friends or strangers out there supporting you might seem like the right thing to do, you’ll need to be careful not to exert too much emotional and mental energy too early in the race—because at mile 18, you might find it a little harder to keep going than at mile 10.
Break it up
Just the thought of running 26.2 miles is exhausting, so try to break up the race into smaller segments in your head. A marathon is only about 13 and a half 5ks, for instance. Or at mile 20, you only have a 10k to go. Whatever works best for you to try to make the end goal seem less daunting will help prevent you from hitting the wall along the way.
It’s a long race, not just in distance, but also in time spent running, so chances are you’re going to get bored. If you need music to help keep your mind occupied, then listen to it. Or maybe make up some sort of mental game involving counting runners or spotting things in the scenery—whatever it takes to keep your mind busy.
Focus on things besides your body
At some point during the race, things are going to start to hurt. That’s just what’s going to happen. So instead of focusing primarily on how stiff your legs are starting to feel or about the blisters currently forming on the ball of your left foot, pay attention to the spectators, the scenery or anything besides what’s happening inside your body. Yes, it’s important to listen to yourself so you don’t get seriously injured, but there’s definitely a difference between a real injury and the soreness that happens on a long run.
Psyche yourself up
Towards the end of the race, you might find some mental struggles creeping through. So start setting small milestones or even, begin reminding yourself how strong you are. Little mantras, as cheesy as they sound, can absolutely be the reason you make it through some of the harder, maybe lonelier, miles. Tell yourself how awesome you are for even attempting a marathon—and how badass you’re going to feel afterwards when you can tell people you’ve run one.