Training: the first-time marathon runner 20-miler mental anguish

running-advice-bugIt’s always great to see another group of marathon runners graduate from my program by finishing their first marathons. But before getting to graduation day, they have to make it through their first 20 mile run. One of my groups — runners training for the upcoming Rock N Roll Marathon in San Diego — went through that process this weekend.

First TimeI’ve written about the 20 mile run before. It’s a unique animal for a number of reasons. For most runners it is much, much further than they have ever conceived of running before — even when they began their marathon training program. It’s just sort of hard to imagine the scale of 20 miles in your mind and, until you do it, it isn’t something that we grasp easily.

It’s also tough from the perspective that running 20 miles on your own — even with a small group — feels very different than the energy of race day. There you are slogging through mile after mile, getting more and more tired, stopping at the traffic lights, avoiding cars, and wondering to yourself, “now, why am I doing this again?”

That’s where I wanted to focus today. The mental anguish that the 20-miler sets up in the first-time marathon runner’s mind and maybe some ways to get around them.

The problem was brought into stark relief this weekend when as runner said to me, just after finishing her run, “I don’t feel ready for the marathon.” A 20 mile run has a way of leaving a runner with that feeling. I think the thought process goes a little like this:
– I just ran 20 miles.
– Wow, I need to go another 6 miles in the marathon.
– I’m really tired.
– My legs hurt.
– I don’t think I could go another 6 miles.
– What have I gotten myself into?
– I think I’m going to puke.
– I don’t feel ready for the marathon.
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