by Steve Sisson
The marathon is the toughest race you will ever run. It’s an opportunity to play and suffer in equal measure. If it were all pain, you wouldn’t do it, and if it were all pleasure, it would have no inherent value. In order to succeed and meet your goals, psychological preparation is imperative. You’re already physically prepared; you have worked with Rogue to arrive there. Forget what you’ve missed; it cannot help you now, but it will hurt you if you dwell on it.
Now is the time to trust your training, minimize distractions, and look back through all you have accomplished in your journey. A race plan will keep you on course and ensure that you arrive at the finish line satisfied by having met your goals. This race plan won’t work for every course, but it’s an effective general guide to follow.
When the gun goes off, spend the first five miles relaxing and enjoying your self. You made it, and you belong here. Take it in. There’s plenty of time to make up for a slightly slow start, but you will not recover from going out too fast. Especially with all of the pageantry at larger races, these first miles reward you for your hard work and remind you why you came.
Between miles five and ten, settle into a rhythm with your eye on pace. Follow how you feel on race day, and don’t get too emotional. Emotional energy can throw you off entirely, while an intelligent race plan will keep you in check whether you’re dragging or feeling strong. How you feel throughout will loop up and down, so don’t get carried away by a few minutes of pain or glory. Remember the rule of 1 to 4: for every one second you start out running too fast, you will lose four seconds later in the race as a result.
From miles one until ten, hydrate well to prepare you for the rest of the race. Drink water and slightly sugary drinks, but not gels or fuels. Ingest salts and electrolytes but, to avoid cramping, do so every three to four miles at most.
The mantra of miles ten to fifteen is, “trust the rhythm.” Runners often ditch their race plans and go too fast at this point, but it’s a mistake. Be patient and disciplined, and most of all “trust the rhythm” rather than your head. Be vigilant about staying on pace. At this point, runners enter the no man’s land of the marathon, and should rely on a race plan to get them through the confusion.
Miles fifteen to twenty are really what the marathon is about: working hard to stay on pace and meeting your goals. Almost no Rogue wants to run a marathon just to finish. After all of the speed work you’ve done and the time you’ve put in, a voice small or loud communicates a mental, if not spoken, goal. In order to succeed, it’s important to put a goal in place, and realize that those worth having are goals worth fighting for.
This is your fight, and you can’t go back and forth between desire and apathy. The race is too tough, and you won’t make it through the pain if you’re somewhere in the middle. At this time in the race, ask yourself if you mean what you say, and remember the value of your training as you push through depletion of fluids, fuel and self-assuredness.
Finally, finish strong in the last 6.2 miles. Yes, it will be painful, but the finish line will make it all worthwhile. Energy and emotion will return in whatever proportion you invest. Everyone is suffering. Everyone. When it’s over, congratulate yourself and stay positive. The marathon is the toughest race you will ever run, and you ran it.