When the excitement of starting a new plan wears off just as your mileage creeps steadily up, when your goal race is still too far away to feel real but your tired legs are begging for a reason to skip that tempo run–beware! You may have entered the no-man’s land of marathon training. And your motivation could be in serious danger (if it hasn’t already been snuffed out entirely). Ask me how I know.
My race day is still at least a season away as I train through ice and sub-30 temps for a summer solstice marathon. And with 11 weeks to go in an 18 week plan, the competitive fire in my belly has been replaced by a nagging desire to eat peanut-butter ice cream every night.
How do we stay motivated in these long, tough weeks of training? How do we remain mentally engaged enough to push hard when legs and lungs are far from interested in cooperating?
As I’m smack in the middle of no-man’s land these days, I’ve been pondering these questions late at night while sitting on the foam roller and eating ice cream. (At least I can multi-task like a boss.) Anyway, I’ve come up with a few ideas on how to stay on course during these tough middle-something weeks.
1. Stay in the mile. Or, in New-Agey terms (cue the Yanni music), be present. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to reach deep down into your center and “feeeeeeel the tempo run”, but I am going to encourage you to run the mile you’re in. Pure and simple. Don’t think about tomorrow’s 17 miler with 14 at marathon pace. No reason to spoil a perfectly good easy run with fear about what’s coming next. And if you’re in the middle of a tempo, you don’t need to muster the courage to get through all 7 miles of it at once. Process the discomfort as it comes. Take it mile by mile. If you’re in mile three of seven and amazingly don’t feel as though you’d rather lop off your head than run another mile at tempo pace, savor that feeling of “strength.” Take it while you have it. Don’t think about how the last four miles might feel (even if experience would suggest that the head lopping idea will be preferable to finishing the run). Enjoy each mile to the extent you can, be present, and stay in that mile!
2. Respect every workout. Now, I know I just told you to stay in the mile—no fretting about those tough workouts ahead during the middle of an easy one. But, those tough workouts? They need just a little bit of R.E.S.P.E.C.T (maybe even a lot). Every tempo, every track workout, every long run. Even if they look easy on paper compared to the runs you churned out last week, I promise if you approach a workout expecting it to feel remotely easy, it will rise up and kick you in your presumptuous arse. (Again, ask me how I know.) Some small but practical ways to respect those quality workout days include hydrating like a madwoman the night before, going to bed at a decent hour, and expecting the run to be difficult (then you can be pleasantly surprised if it isn’t).
3. Phone a friend. Nothing beats the added motivation and accountability that comes from having a friend to join you in clicking off the miles. I’ve found that the easy, recovery miles are my best bet for company as the conversational nature ensures I truly take it easy. Having a friend at your side also helps distract from the wicked blister and tired legs you acquired courtesy of the previous day’s long run. And for those long slow runs, nothing helps the time go faster than good company.
4. Imagine your story. I admit I might take this one a little too far. I’ve been known to fabricate entire scenarios to get my adrenaline going. In these running daydreams, I’m of course the heroine and must run fast enough to save my children from eminent harm, or perhaps, fast enough to smoke past that know-it-all mean girl (whether from middle school, college or corporate finance–there’s typically one at every stage, yes?). But seriously, those long tough runs are a perfect time to think about your upcoming race. Visualize yourself cresting a hill like a freakin’ beast in mile 20 (gaah! a hill in mile 20! que horror!). Picture yourself crossing the finish line, your goal time flashing overhead. Turn up your favorite running tune and montage yourself into the most inspiring (imaginary) race video ever. Yes, doing this sort of thing makes you a total cheeseball (guilty), but (a) no one has to know the full extent of your cheeseball-ishness, and (b) at least you’ll be a wicked fast cheeseball.
5. Add in a tune-up race or fun run. Your goal race may still be a couple months away, but there’s no reason you can’t kick up the near-term motivation and stave off the training blahs by jumping into a shorter race. Whether you race a 10k as a tune-up or incorporate a half marathon into a fun long run, adding a race to your calendar can break up the monotony of training and provide extra motivation.
Have you ever struggled with motivation during those middle weeks of marathon training? What helped you stay engaged and motivated? For you veteran marathoners, what stage of training do you find to be toughest? Do you ever create self-inspiring cheeseball montages in your head? (Come on, we’re all friends here. You can ‘fess up.)