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Got the Marathon Training Blues?

Visualize yourself crossing the finish line during tough training runs. (Photo by John Herr)

I'm halfway through my first marathon training plan, and let's just say I'm in love with the idea of crossing that coveted finish line (and super-psyched to be part of such a big "club" here in New York City), but how the heck am I really going to run for 26.2 miles?! These are the thoughts going through my head as I do my long runs on weekends, passing each mile marker and thinking about the many many more I have ahead. I should be thinking inspiring things to move me forward, like how this is a goal I always wanted to check off my list or that if those older than me and some physically disabled can do this, then why can't I?

However, the unknown and nerves surrounding 26.2 miles is playing games with my head! They say the most challenging physical demands you ask your body to do for you—like marathons, triathlons and even Ironman races—are also challenges of the mind. The mental component to accomplishing a goal is the will or desire to want to achieve it. So like Nike says, "Just Do It."

So that I will, but not before I try some of these 11 mental tips from New York Sports Club Master Trainer and Running Coach, Monica Vazquez. (She's run over 25 races: five full marathons, a handful of 5ks and many many half-marathons! Check her out at fitnessbymonica.com.)

For the smartest tricks to make it through your next long run,

  1. Try new routes. You can use mapmyrun.com or the G-maps Google Pedometer to find new routes so that you don't get bored with the same old scenery.
  2. Turn on different music for different loops. If you do three six-mile loops, try three different mixes of different genres so that they feel like three different runs. For example, try a pop mix first, a latin mix second and then some 80s music last. Save your favorite genre for the last loop.
  3. Count loops, not miles. Breaking the run down into manageable segments makes it seem less daunting. (Eighteen mile day? Focusing on three loops of 6 miles each means you've got three parts to get through instead of 18.)
  4. Try mantras. For example "I will rock this," "I am light and I am strong,"  and "I will kill this marathon!" as you run along when the going gets tough.
  5. Focus on the payoff and how you will treat yourself afterwards. In the last few miles, imagine the relaxing shower you will take or enjoying awell-earned massage you've booked for that evening. Or maybe the weekend getaway you want to book when you've suddenly got free time on the weekends after training is over.
  6. Find a pace at which you can relax into the run. You don't want to be so focused on your exertion that you're wasting energy anticipating how many miles you have left. Find a pace where you can focus on your breath. Think like a yogi and you will be more likely to fall into "the zone" that runners crave so much.
  7. Break it down into Gu or water breaks so that you're only focusing on a few miles at a time. Thinking "one more mile until I get Gu—and therefore more energy" is a much more mentally achievable goal during an hours-long run than thinking "only 7 down and I have to do 13 more?!"
  8. First timers—it's about mileage and time on your feet. Allow yourself walk breaks when necessary and be proud that each run is your longest run ever!
  9. Once you get halfway, count down to the finish. Only 6 miles left? You've done difficult 6 mile runs before—you can handle it! Think of the rest of that long run as not much more different than anything you've conquered before.
  10. Envision what it will be like to cross the finish line. The glory will be well worth the effort! Imagine you can see your goal time on the clock ahead of you. Thinking is believing!
  11. Have faith in yourself. If you're training properly, your long run isn't much longer than the one you completed prior to that. Believe that you have worked hard enough to handle one more mile; you registered for a marathon so you must be a tough cookie!

Now tell us: How do you keep motivated when the going gets tough during a workout?

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