26.2 miles is a very far distance.  My head has never been able to wrap itself around this distance. 

When I first started training for marathons I would have anxiety the night before a long run.  I would barely sleep in preparation because my mind was running over and over just how far 20 miles was.  I thought about walking home from school as a teenager and how long it took – it was only 3 miles.  I thought about my weekly 8 milers and thought about how each week I felt those were long. I thought about anything and everything that would freak me out about the distance I had to run.  I never once ran an entire 20 miles when training for my first marathon – they were run/walks with allot of walking at the ends. 

When race day came 2003 I really thought in my head that I would magically be able to run all 26.2 miles with out stopping.  I was delusional.  There IS a magic about race day, but there is no magic that is going to help you run 26.2 with out stopping, when in practice you have never been able to run 20.  I made it to 16 miles before I had to start walk/running the rest of my first marathon.  I beat Oprah’s time and finished in my goal time of 10 minute miles, so I was pleased, but I yearned for the day when I could run 26.2 with out stopping.

I made allot changes and now can proudly say that I have run Marine Corps Marathon, Boston Marathon, Potomac River Run Marathon and B & A Trail Marathon without walking. 

The first and most important change I made was playing a number game with my mind.  20 miles is ALLOT of miles.  Break it down. 

I started by doing out and backs of 5 miles each for my 20 mile long runs.  5 miles one way.  I told myself I only had to run 5 miles that day.  Then I stopped and rested. I began again, telling myself we were going for a 5 mile run today.  I ran back to my starting point and rested for 5 minutes.  Back at my car, I told myself that it was the beginning of the run and I only needed to run 5 miles today.  I ran out the opposite way and at five miles, you guessed it, I stopped and rested.  When I felt like I had the courage to finish I told myself we were going for a 5 mile run and after all, 5 miles isn’t that long of a distance that you can’t just push through it.  5 miles later I had only stopped 3 times and I had completed 20 miles.

I continue to this day to play numbers games with myself on most of my runs.  Today Dorothy you are going to try and run two miles and then you can stop if you want.  I make it to two and tell myself – what’s one more?  Anyone, even a pregnant person can push through one more mile. 

I have played this number game with myself all throughout this pregnancy.  This past week I was in my 28th week.  Saturday marked 29.  29 and one day means that I’m almost to 30 and once I hit 30,  I really only have 9 more weeks left.  9 is a single digit and way more manageable for me to think about.  It helps me see that the end is in sight.

It’s easier to wrap your mind around smaller numbers, single digits if possible.  When running marathon this fall think to yourself at the start – I’m only 6.2 miles away from a 10K.  When you make it to the 10K tell yourself that you are almost to the 1/2 way mark of a 1/2 marathon.  Half a marathon?!?!  You ROCK

When you hit the 1/2 marathon point, tell yourself that you are only less than 7 miles away from your longest long run.  7 miles – you can run 7 miles.  When you hit 20 miles, don’t focus on the 20.  Think about the fact that you only have a 10K left.  At 23 – don’t think about the number you have completed only focus on the 3.2 you have left. 

Always remembering not to think to yourself I have 21 left, 18 left – think only in terms of small numbers.  I promise you – it will help trick your mind into finishing 26.2 faster than you thought you could!  Don’t believe me?  Try it on your next long run and see if it helps :)


  1. interesting… i'll have to try this on my next long run! I always think when i start getting tired, i only have x amount to go and sometimes that seems like a big number lol

  2. I love doing the single number thing… I always find a way to do it on my runs!

  3. Lesley @ racingitoff.com says:

    I'm constantly making calculations while I'm running… for me, mentally, for some reason everything seems simpler during the second half… I'm more than halfway done. The glass is half full… it's all heading toward the finish line now. I will often think at mile 10 of a half-marathon, it's only a 5k left… I can run a 5k easy…

  4. turnerlifearound says:

    thank you dorothy!! i have months to go before my first marathon and i'm already psyching myself out…when i drove down to roanoke this last time i kept thinking "the entire time im driving down here (4ish hours) ill be running!!!" breaking it down definitely helps even for shorter runs so i'll keep that in mind as my distance builds!

  5. I will definitely be using this tactic on 10/17. Headed for a sub 2:00 and am already picturing myself finishing in that time. I'll just have to remember to break it down when I hit the wall at 10 miles!

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