It’s August (AUGUST!) and that means a few things: we’re into the double-digit countdown to MCM. Training is starting to get serious, runs are starting to get longer, but the race is still a fair way off. This can mean that the flurry of excitement at signing up for the race might be dampened by the reality of summer marathon training. Logging miles is always difficult, especially if you’re training for your very first marathon and learning things about how your body functions under the stress of endurance running, but it’s especially difficult now because it’s getting (and staying) hot out there! It’s one thing to commit to a long run in theory, but quite another to actually run through the heat and humidity of the summer.
So how do you stay motivated when the race is so far off and the training is just getting more difficult, and how do you run through these scorching hot days? Let’s take a minute to review some tips that can help take the edge off and keep your eyes on the finish line. First things first: remember why you started. Sometimes, the obstacles in front of you (the heat, the impossible-seeming nature of the task at hand, the time commitment, etc.) can start to loom. They can block out the light of what brought you joy about this endeavor in the first place. It’s really important to go back to your “why.” Why did you choose to sign up for this race? What made you excited about it? What made it seem like something you wanted to do? Remembering what inspired you to take the path to Arlington on a morning in October can help you re-focus on what’s important about this journey for you. It can help re-invigorate the feelings of enthusiasm you had about this experience, and those feelings are your best weapon for fighting back the darkness of long summer runs. While you’re thinking about your why, consider making yourself a mantra that will help you remember this why. Something you can repeat to yourself during a run like a touchstone. A mantra can help you re-center and re-ground yourself in what’s important to you when you need it most. Find the right mindset. So much of endurance athletics happens between the ears. Perhaps you’ve heard the axiom “the mind quits before the body does.” Perhaps you’ve heard about the “40% rule”: when you think you’re done and that you have absolutely nothing left to give, you’re only actually about 40% done. There’s still a whole 60% of untapped potential left in your body. Both of these concepts hint at the power the mind has in overcoming physical obstacles. Because of this, harnessing your mindset is critical to mission preparedness when it comes to the marathon.
There are many philosophies around mental conditioning for athletes. One powerful method of preparing your mind to support your body is to take charge of your story. Think about the story you tell about yourself. What kind of person are you? Are you the type of person who throws in the towel when something gets difficult, or do you keep going no matter what? Are you the type of person who allows obstacles to block their progress, or do you achieve your goals in spite of obstacles? Find a way to frame yourself as empowered in the story about you. Critically, the way you talk about yourself can be aspirational. You have the power to decide what kind of person you are and then make the choice to become that person. If you decide right now that you’re the type of person who does hard things, then all you have to do is remind yourself when things get hard that you’re the type of person who does hard things. By taking charge of your narrative you give yourself agency to become whatever it is you see as the most successful version of yourself. This focus is a potent tool when obstacles like heat rear their ugly heads. It gives you the power to overcome these obstacles because you are the type of person who gets a job done no matter what tries to stop you. This tip is purely practical. When the weather gets hot, go back to the basics. Find a running route with some shade. Take water with you (and drink it!). Do small loops near your home so you can utilize ice to lower your core temperature and keep your drinks cool. Run early in the day, or later at night when the sun isn’t at its zenith. Run slower, or maybe even walk a bit. Wear light-colored clothing, wicking fabrics, and a technical hat to keep the sun off your head. Find a hose to give yourself a little spritz now and again to stay cool. Remember to replenish your electrolytes during the workout. These are simple steps, but all of them are key tools in your arsenal for days when the heat just seems like it might be too much. If you have access to a treadmill, you can also alternate time outside with time on the treadmill to get combined mileage done. Got a 20-mile run but the heat is just intolerable? Do a few miles outside, a few miles inside, a few miles outside, repeat until done.
Enlist some help. Running alone can be extremely difficult and mentally taxing. Try running with a local running group, or see if a friend will meet you for a few miles of your long run. It can make a big difference to have companionship, someone to talk to, and accountability. If you don’t have friends who run, maybe you have friends who would be willing to meet you on a corner with some motivational messaging and a cool bottle of water. Even little pick-me-ups can be something to look forward to when you’re grinding out the big mileage. If you struggle with in-person connections, find an online community. There are a ton of groups on Facebook full of friendly runners – many of whom have run the MCM before – who would love to support you through your journey. These connections can help to bolster your mood and foster a sense of purpose which is huge when your motivation starts to feel worn. Exercise gratitude. Remember: running is a privilege that not everyone has. When you’re starting to feel tired, frustrated, or hurt, start to think about the things that you can be grateful for: a strong healthy body, the means to sign up for a marathon, a safe community to run through, clean water to drink, loved ones to support you, etc. Science has shown that the practice of active gratitude is extremely good for psychological well-being and can improve sleep and decrease stress (among other things). It also shifts your focus from negative to positive. Instead of getting stuck thinking about how much your legs hurt or how hot it is outside, gratitude helps to remind us of the many things that are right in our lives. In considering gratitude, no item is too small to be grateful for. See how specific you can get with this – it’s an excellent mental game to break out when you’re digging deep during a long run.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that endurance running is difficult. But that’s why we do it! The reasons why this is hard are the reasons why it is fulfilling and the very things that are making your long runs tough are the groundwork for stories you will tell about why this marathon was an epic triumph. Stay strong, run hard, and keep your eyes on that finish line.
Danielle Rosvally is an MCMO four-star diplomat. She’s a runner, triathlete, and strength athlete, and is looking forward to becoming a member of the MCM runner’s club when she completes her fifth consecutive MCM in 2021. You can find her on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/thedanibeast