How to stay positive on a marathon (or long training run)

A marathon isn’t just a physical challenge. It’s a mental one too. And it’s not just restricted to those three, four, five or more hours of race day. It’s a challenge that lasts for weeks beforehand. To get through 26.2 miles and those endless long training runs, you need to stay positive.

But is that easier said than done?

Here are a few things I’ve found that have helped me stay positive.

‘I can do it’

It’s simple, but if you tell yourself you can do it, you stand a far better chance of actually doing it. As soon as you start to question yourself, you will feel every ache and twinge. You are giving yourself permission to give up. And you know that you will regret it later.

Don’t count the miles

Of course there will be mile markers on the course and you will almost certainly be wearing a watch that tracks your distance, so you will be aware of the miles. But don’t fixate on them. As soon as you start thinking stupid things like ‘I’ve done 5% of it now’ (believe me, I have thought that) and ‘That’s two miles done, 24 still to go’, it’s going to feel a lot tougher.

If you must, allow yourself a small pat on the back when you pass halfway. Counting the miles left to run still isn’t advisable, but counting down is more positive than counting up. My husband always says he doesn’t want to know until ‘there’s only a parkrun left’. Because we all know how quick and easy a parkrun is, right?

Another important tip is not to feel good that you’re coming to the end of an 18 mile training run, only to remind yourself ‘But I’ve still got eight miles on the big day’. This isn’t the big day. Take every run as it comes and don’t think too far ahead.

Stay well fuelled and well hydrated

I know that I’m a person who reacts badly to hunger and can get very emotional. That’s not great when you’re trying to stay positive on a long run.

The wall that we’ve all heard about, and no doubt many of you have experienced, happens when your stored energy is depleted and you feel physically unable to carry on. It is both a physical and mental problem. Staying well fuelled and well hydrated will minimise your risk of it happening at all, and will help you to stay positive and get through it if it does.

Dedicate the miles

This is a tip I read when I first started reading up on marathons, before I even started training. Help yourself to feel positive by dedicating every mile to someone special. So every mile is run for a different person. If you feel that you’re running for your mum, your best friend or your son, you are going to feel that bit stronger and more positive.

It’s not easy to remember 26 names in order at the best of times, least of all when you’re tired and dehydrated. So make a note of them on your phone so you can check on them as you run.

Listen to music

If you enjoy listening to music, listen to it! Music can really take your mind off the miles and the aches and pains. Sing along in your head, remember where you were when you first heard the song, when you danced to it at a club, when you saw the band live. And smile!

You could also listen to audio books, podcasts or the radio, of course. Personally I love the radio, but it’s a bit of a drain on both the battery and the data, so I’m sparing with it.

A few races ban headphones and if you don’t want to run without them, just don’t enter those races.

Your name on your running vest

What’s better when you’re feeling tired at 20 miles – polite applause from a crowd of people who’ve been watching runners for over an hour and are slightly bored, or someone shouting ‘Go on, Sarah!’. There’s really no competition, is there? So get your name printed on your running vest.

Every time you hear someone shout your name, that’s going to put a smile on your face, help you feel positive and spur you on.

Name on running vest, Newport marathon, Running, How to stay positive on a marathon

High fives

It’s rare to run a race without a load of kids sticking their hands out for a high five. There will be a few with a home made cardboard sign too, probably with a Mario drawing or stuck on picture and the words ‘Hit for power’.

Hit that sign for power and high five every one of those kids! They’re excited that you’ve taken that millisecond out of your run to do it and their excitement is infectious. Every one of those happy kids is going to help you to stay positive.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Is there anything you would add?

Marathon, Race, Runners, Running, How to stay positive on a marathon (or long training run)

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Great tips! I especially like the one about dedicating the miles, great idea! I do count the miles though and I actually find it helpful doing the maths about how far I’ve done and how much I’ve got left. If I’m doing maths I’m definitely not thinking about running for a few minutes!

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    • That’s OK if it works for you. I must say I do some very complicated maths with my miles if I don’t stop myself! I had to make a conscious effort not to do it with the marathon training. I did get rather forgetful with my dedicating the miles, but I don’t think anyone got forgotten completely! x

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  2. Some fantastic ideas there. Yes the fuelling was definitely a big thing for me – and we found we especially needed extra fuel after each and every hill.

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    • Thanks very much. I can imagine you needed it after the hills! I’d never bothered with fuelling, other than a drink, for a half marathon, but it’s an absolute must for a marathon. I’m sure it made a difference to fuel so frequently and I will definitely do it again.

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