The marathon should not be feared but it does require respect … indeed it demands and extracts respect. This is because the marathon is not like any other race, let’s face it, 26.2 miles is a long way and running a marathon makes physiological and mental demands unlike any other event.
You can perhaps get lucky with a 10km by not preparing correctly or getting your tactics wrong, but not with the marathon. The marathon will humble even the best athlete, so you need to ensure you are very well prepared.
Running a marathon is about attention to detail and you need to plan your race logistics, nutrition and hydration before and during the race and have tested your kit for all conditions.
The final component is your target pace for the race. This has been established by evidence from recent training sessions and races and you have been doing it as part of your long run. In fact it’s so well practiced that your body and mind understand what it feels like and you can automatically slot into this on race day.
When you stand on the start line think Patience and Pace. As I said earlier, 26.2 miles is a long way and the first 16 miles is only transport. In these early miles you need to relax, look after your energy and hydration and stick with your plan. Your pace has to be controlled. The problem is that with all the excitement and nerves around the start and the surge of adrenaline when the race starts, it’s easy in the moment to lose control and stop thinking. The other problem is that your pace feels extremely comfortable at the start, but this is exactly how it should feel and this is when you need to be patient. The runner who ignores this and is not disciplined and thinks that pushing the pace faster will discover at around half way why this was a bad idea.
Running a marathon is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one, but the first 16 miles should feel reasonably relaxed but beyond this point is where the race gets serious.
As you get further into the race you will start to feel more tired, not just physically but also mentally. Your legs will begin to ache and you’ll find it harder to concentrate. It’s easy to just plod, forget to take your gels or drink and generally feel sorry for yourself. You end up in what I call “the zombie state”, and it is at this point that you have to refocus and deal with the mental struggle.