I learned a valuable lesson during my fifth marathon:
Take every single negative thought and turn it on its head.
Constantly refocusing on the positive from start to finish led me to a 2 minute 51 second PR and what was probably my first negative split in any race ever. The defining moment came at Mile 14, but let me rewind a bit.
Back in April when I was halfway between Hopkinton and that famous right turn on Hereford Street, I was hurting. I’d realized early on that it just wasn’t my day, and the thought of running another 13 miles was daunting. Rather than easing my pace so I could soak up and enjoy the incredible atmosphere, I wallowed in the fact that I wouldn’t be setting a PR that day. I spent the rest of the race feeling frustrated and sad that I wasn’t having an amazing race at the fabled Boston Marathon.
On Sunday in Washington, D.C. when I reached the half-marathon mark, however, I thought: I only have 13 miles left. I can run 13 miles in my sleep. That’s nothing! New legs baby girl!
I remember consciously noticing at that moment how drastically different my perspective was between the two races. The realization that I felt good and wanted to run the next 13 miles literally set a fire under my butt.
I’d averaged around 8-minute pace for the first half, coming through 13.1 at 1:45:08…and then I ran Mile 14 in 7:36, holding my pace in the 7:30s (and one 7:25!) for eight miles. I dropped to low 7:40s for the next two miles before I ran out of steam for the last three. Even then I hovered just above 8-minute pace.
When I decided to shift gears, I honestly wasn’t sure how long I’d last. But my legs kept churning along, much longer than I would’ve ever expected. Trying to negative split was uncharted territory for this runner that likes to start guns blazing only to crash and burn at the end. After struggling to keep an even pace with the hills and crowds throughout the first few miles, I’d finally found my rhythm.
Early on in the race, I made the decision to mentally break up the race into 10-mile segments that I divided into shorter distance goals. Why 10 miles? Because my cut-back long run during training was 10 miles. The distance felt easy even though I ran it fast. I remember thinking how crazy it was to say that I had to run only 10 miles. Here was my train of thought:
After the first “short and easy” 10, I focused on 13.1. When I got there (happy halfway!), I wanted to get to 16 so that I’d “only have 10 left” (10 is nothing, right?). When I reached 16, I focused on 20 so that I’d finally be in the twenty-somethings AND the single-digits. From there, I broke it down into one- or two-mile chunks to the point where, at Mile 25, I thought, Only eight minutes left. You can do anything for eight minutes. Keep pushing.
For whatever reason, this thought process worked for me. Chipping away at the distance mentally rather than thinking about it as a whole kept my mind busy and sane. I took comfort in the fact that my breathing stayed relaxed, my stomach wasn’t acting up, and my legs were still (somehow) maintaining a decent clip. Fun fact: I felt good at Mile 18, the point in my first marathon where the wheels started to fall off. In this race, I managed a little over four more miles before I hit that point. I genuinely couldn’t believe it.
So you better believe that I soaked up inch of the 26.2-mile journey. The sights from atop bridges and beside monuments were awe-inspiring and serene in the early morning light; out at Hains Point, the quiet, lonely moments punctuated only by footsteps were sobering; the endless tunnels of spectators and Marines were pitch-perfect and made me laugh when I needed to smile; the drum lines and bands got me pumped up like they have since high school; seeing my coworkers at the hair-pin turns was unexpected and way too much fun; it was all incredible.
I finished in 3:26:32. I couldn’t be happier.
QUOTE OF THE POST: “That was so far!” – words repeated in a tone of both disbelief and astonishment by my first-time-marathon-crusher/coworker during the car ride home
To read about my training leading up to the race, click here. To everyone who supported me along the way, THANK YOU!
P.S. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon through the Runner’s World Challenge, an online training program that comes with race weekend perks (think private porta-potties and the epic view (above) at the post-race party) at a few big races around the country. As an RW editor, I love going to these events because it gives me the opportunity to meet more inspiring runners! I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity. Check out photos from our event here.
Having a positive mind is the most important trait a runner should have. Great post and congrats on the awesome time!
Thank you so much! This race was a great reminder as to how important it really is! Gotta remember for the future!
Congratulations. In my first marathon I was always running towards the next landmark. It made the event so much easier.
Thank you! Yeah, breaking it up made all the difference in the world yesterday. =)
I think I may have to steal your mindset in the future! Sounds very helpful. Congrats on an all-around great race!
Thanks! It was a good lesson to learn, so I’m hoping it’s something I can practice and get better at in the future! =)
Thanks for sharing! It’s exciting to read about the MCM. I’m adding it to my race bucket list!
Definitely add it! Awesome course from start to finish! Thank you!
Congrats – what a great acommplishment to feel solid and have a fab overall experience.
Thank you! I got a good day, thankfully! =)
I took a break from a fall marathon this year because the thought of training and running that distance was no longer exciting. This post and your mentality help bring that excitement back. Gives me those “I really need to get over myself” thoughts.
Congrats, and awesome job on your PR!
Aww thanks! That really means a lot! Pick a race next year and get after it! But I’m sure the break was needed. Running marathons is certainly both mentally and physically exhausting.
Congrats on such an awesome race!!! I’m so impressed by people who can negative split and hope to figure this out some day. Really smart to break it into segments like that too.
I had a pretty rough day at MCM this time around, but hope to eventually redeem myself after a bit of a break from marathons!
Thank you! I think this was literally the first time I’ve ever negative split in any race distance. The key was starting easy and not being afraid to take it up a notch halfway. Don’t know if it would always work – guess you just have to have a good day to work with! But yes, take a break. Marathoning is so tough mentally/physically – it’ll do you good! =)
It never ceases to amaze me how powerful positive thoughts can be. Congrats on a great race and new PR, you worked very hard for it and it paid off! Celebrate!
Thank you! =) Appreciate the support!
yahoo! congrats Megan!
Thank you Megan!
Congrats Megan!! I run the marathon the same way. My goal is usually to get to mile 17, then I call it the “single digit countdown”, then at 21 I imagine my “easy” 5 mile loop at home, etc.
Sweet! Yeah for some reason it worked on Sunday! Hopefully I can get it to work again at my next marathon! Slowly figuring these things out.
Congrats!! I had a wonderful MCM too!!!!
Thank you! Right back at you! 🙂
Congrats on your PR! You’re such a speedy runner! This was my first marathon and I absolutely loved every second of it. I totally agree with the power of positive mindsets. I made a point to tell myself to just have fun and enjoy it and I sure as hell did! I even had some energy left in the end and my last 4 miles were my fastest of the race!
Thank you and CONGRATS to you, too! Sounds like you ran smart and enjoyed it, which is EXACTLY what your first marathon is all about! Yay for good marathons all around! =)