You are amazing. Of the 17 million people who finish a road race in the U.S., only 3 percent are marathoners. Of the general population? 0.5 percent.
I firmly believe the strength you've built leading up to this weekend's Philadelphia Marathon, both physically and mentally, is more than enough to carry you through the finish line. You may not believe it yet, but I do. How? I've seen it time and time again.
In the days leading up to the race, and especially on race day, repeat these six mantras to run your best 26.2:
I will trust my training. Through repeated exposure to long runs, deep fatigue, and the prolonged grind that is marathon training, you've learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Remember those moments of doubt you felt at mile 3 – and again at 11 – as you set out on your first 20 miler? You got through that.
Sure, there were some rough patches along the way, like when you got sick or bogged down at work, but you rebounded every time by wiping the slate clean and refocusing.
And even though not all of your training runs were effortless works of art, you're going to recall only the positive ones. Think about what made those runs successful. Did you sleep well leading up to that run? Eat healthy foods that week? Was your pacing smart? Leave those busted-up, cramp-filled, broken runs in the training log and draw on what you learned from them.
So assuming you execute a patient, disciplined race, your training will not fail you. Make no mistake, things are going to get real in those last six miles, but discomfort is something you know intimately and will embrace.
I won't start too fast. Beware, starting line adrenaline has a sneaky way of changing your perception so deliberately put your blinders on and go easy. Don't get caught up in trying to weave to the front of your pack by the second mile. It'll be so much better when you're passing people at mile 25! It's all about finishing strong, so stay present and do what you have to do to make sure that happens.
I will think calming thoughts. In the days leading up to the race, some runners are afraid of a worst-case scenario. But, and let's stay in reality here, what actually IS the worst-case for you? Play it out for a minute in your head. Why did it happen? What would you do differently? What's just irrational fear and what's rational? It's important to focus on things you can control and let go of things you cannot.
And on race day, remember that wondering and worrying (what if??) wastes precious energy. Keep your mind at ease by checking in with your body, part by part, and taking notice (without judging!) of how it's feeling. Are your arms relaxed? What are your fingers doing? How does your stride feel? Can you hear your feet hitting the pavement? Or are your footfalls quiet and relaxed? Don't rush through this process. This is a great way to shake out the tension from your body and your mind.
I will be kind to myself. When you're out on the course, think about how your best friend talks to you if they were running next to you. There's no way they'd say half of the negative crap we tell ourselves. So if you find yourself doubting or bargaining or even self-sabotaging, try these two things:
First, simply tell yourself, "You got this." Really, you do. YOU DO!
Second, tell another runner, "You got this!" They're suffering too, and I guarantee they'll appreciate the encouragement.
Know that it's normal to get caught up in your own little suffer bubble, but realize that by spreading positivity, you'll get it back in spades. And that will be transformative.
I will be grateful. How lucky are we to be able to do this? We're truly privileged and many aren't as fortunate. So how about a little gratitude to motivate you on the course? Who helped you throughout your training? Who was your inspiration when the going got tough? Be sure to thank them when you cross the finish line!
I will be prepared for every outcome. Now, I'm a coach who keeps it real so hear me out on this. Races don't always go as planned and disappointment can be reality. But that is sport and that's why you're showing up this weekend. You're getting in the ring. Others only wish they were so bold.
Now go out and crush that marathon. You are amazing!
John Goldthorp is the founder of Fix Your Run, a specialized fitness coaching business in Philadelphia that helps runners become faster and less prone to injury.