How to Develop Mental Toughness to Run a Marathon

How to Develop Mental Toughness to Run a Marathon

Completing a marathon is one of the most challenging and rewarding accomplishments you may achieve in your life. Almost anyone in good physical condition can complete a marathon with the proper training of both body and mind. To complete this endurance event, not only do you have to get your body in shape, you have to get your mind trained to be tough enough to work through any temporary fatigue you may encounter on race day. It is said that the first 20 miles of a marathon are physical and the rest are mental. Here are some ways to get your mind prepared for a marathon.

Register for a marathon. has a comprehensive list of marathons and descriptions. The marathon is not a race that should be entered into lightly. If you're a first-time marathoner, choose a marathon that is at least six months out.

Find a training schedule and stick to it. Most major marathons will have training schedules that you can follow online. The NYC Marathon has training schedules for everyone from first-timers to advanced marathoners.

Follow the training schedule as best you can. Look into running with a team. Local running stores and national charities offer training programs complete with running coaches to keep you on track.

Place the most importance on the weekly long run, where you will gradually increase your mileage in a single day to 20 or more miles. Try not to miss any long runs. The long run gradually trains your body to endure running for extended periods of time. It also trains your mind to stay focused on the run for hours at a time.

Run in any kind of weather, as long as it's safe. If you wake up for a scheduled long run and it's snowing outside, go out and run in appropriate dress. You won't be able to order good weather for marathon day, and running through bad weather will prepare you mentally for any weather-related challenges on race day.

Visit the marathon website and look at the expected temperature. Many times people travel to a destination marathon in a completely different city and climate. If the course is going to be warm, train in warm weather or at least in the daytime.

Study the course map, along with the elevation. If the course is hilly, find a hilly training route. If there are no hills in your neighborhood, use a treadmill's incline feature to simulate hills. The more you prepare yourself for your course conditions, the more mentally prepared you'll be for that rough hill at mile 17 that takes everyone else by surprise.

Find a running mantra or motto and use it when you train. It can be a famous quote or something your mom always said, but repeat it frequently. It will help you through the rough patches.

Find ways of distracting yourself on long runs. One of the worst things about the long run is, simply, so much time passing by. One good trick is to dedicate each mile to a person or a movie or a food that motivates you. For that mile, think of your best friend or stack of pancakes. At the next mile go on to the next person or thing and repeat for each mile. This exercise is great to pass the time and help motivate you.

Know that there will be some miles on marathon day that will be painful or tedious. Work through them, and they will pass. Use spectators and landmarks along the course to divert your attention away from the miles passing.

Eat runner's gels and drink energy drinks both in training and on race day. This will prevent you from hitting "the wall," where your body is depleted of energy. “If you are dehydrated or lacking energy, you will not finish the race,” says Leslie Bonci, R.D., of the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

Learn to listen to your body and know the difference between fatigue pain and an injury. Marathons can cause physical discomfort and pain. You may get muscle cramps, fatigue and more. These pains are normal, and you can and will work through them.

Print out a picture that motivates you to cross the finish line. Is it the finish line itself? The medal? Carry that picture with you to the marathon. During the race visualize yourself crossing the finish line. There's a medal out there with your name on it; go out and get it.


Finding a running buddy to train with can motivate you and make the long runs more fun. Some marathons have online bulletin boards, or inquire at your local running store about finding a running buddy.

Music is great motivation and can make a long run seem much shorter. If you do run with music, make sure that the music is playing low enough for you to hear traffic and other people while you run.


It's always good to consult a doctor before you start a marathon training program.

When running outside, always use caution. Wear light-colored clothing and reflective gear at night, and tell someone where you're going and how long you anticipate you'll be running for. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Know the difference between muscle soreness and pain from injury. If you're sore, use ICE: ice the area that's sore, use a compression bandage and elevate and rest your leg. Over-the-counter pain relievers can alleviate pain and inflammation. Don't run on an injury. Rest it a few days. If the injury persists or is acute, see a doctor.