“It sounded like a good idea at the time.” That’s what I overheard, recently, from a runner who signed up for her first marathon. She’s now second guessing herself.

Running 26.2 miles is NO joke! Think about it. How far can 26.2 miles take you in a car? Answer? A long way. Now, imagine traveling to that same destination by FOOT! That’s the Goliath you have to slay!

I’ve done 4 marathons, and thinking about a 5th. Each of them have been challenging in their own unique way. They took a toll on me. They pushed my limits. And most importantly, made me realize I can do hard things!

That said, I decided to take my experience, and put together a list of 6 things I wish I knew before I ran a marathon.

  1. Prepare for the Mental Game. As I said before, 26.2 miles is a long stinkin’ way. It’s basically running 1 mile, 26 times. (Sheesh! Just typing that sounds daunting) But, each mile brings a challenge of its own. It could be the obvious: you’re getting tired. It might be second guessing your nutrition. Did I eat enough? Do I have enough? Will I make it to the next “Port-O-Potty”. It’s all stuff that will happen. The mental game is real. But, you are not alone in those thoughts. I believe that each runner out there has a thought like that at some point. How do you fix it? Try this next idea.
  2. Set Mini-goals. What is a mini-goal? It’s beating the mental game by allowing yourself to break the race up into chunks. You can’t clean your entire house at one time. You break it up into rooms. First, you clean a bedroom. You then move to the kitchen. Then, the bathroom. Etc. So, tackle 26.2 miles the same way. Break the race up into chunks. Make it to the next port-o-potty. Listen for the cheering at the next aid station. Push to the next mile marker. Remember, when you get to “that point in the race” think of cleaning up your house. A little bit at a time.
  3. Be Grateful. When you’re on the course, take a moment to soak it all in. I remember when I ran my first marathon, it was at the peak of the leaves changing color in Michigan. Instead of staring at the pavement, I picked my head up and looked around at the trees. I took in the beauty. I breathed in the air. I took a moment to thank God for the gift of my health. I thanked Him for my family, which supported me in the hours, and miles, of training. Your perspective completely changes when you take the focus off of yourself, and simply learn to be grateful. “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1).
  4. The Wall Is Real! I had always heard that every runner hits a wall on a marathon. And it usually happens near miles 18-21. (That’s about when the aforementioned “Mental Game” begins). What’s the wall? (No, sorry it’s not a Pink Floyd reference) The wall is a term used to describe the feeling of, “I think I’m done. How can I possibly keep going?” The wall IS real. I remember hitting it. It happened at about mile 19. My legs were starting to cramp, and I needed help at the aid station. I got what I needed, and got back onto the course. After I took those first steps, it hit me. “I. Am. Done.” I still had another 7 miles, or so, to go. So, how do you get through? Mini-goals. Prayer. Being grateful. Embracing the suck.
  5. Enjoy it. I know this sounds simple, but it really is true. You need to enjoy the experience. You’ve trained too long, endured too many elements, and altered your life’s schedules to not enjoy it. Oh, and yeah, you’re using your heard earned money to pay for this thing. Tell the volunteers thanks. Cheer for those cheering for YOU. Read the signs people have made. Thank the police officers. Thank the volunteers. Be on the lookout for a struggling runner, and be a source of encouragement.
  6. Tears are a thing! I will admit, I’m a sensitive guy. Now, I might not cry watching coffee commercials at Christmas, but they certainly give me “the”feels”. So what does this have to do with a marathon? Expect emotion! I can recall seeing the finish line at EACH marathon and remembering the tidal wave of emotions that rushed over me. My mind went to all of the hours of training. Training runs when a small injury began causing me doubt. And, with each step, more clearly hearing the names of the runners just ahead of me being announced. Wow! The tears just started flowing. And you know what? I’m proud of those tears. And you WILL be too!

One last little thing. There’s a story in the Bible about two guys named Joshua and Caleb, who were commanded by God to cross the Jordan River. God did a miracle for them and allowed the water to open, which caused a path way for the people to pass over on dry land. Pretty crazy huh? After they crossed, God told them to take up 12 stones and make a “standing stones memorial” of sorts, as a reminder to the people of the miracle God had done. Now, you don’t having standing stones, but you DO have a training log. I think this is a great way to remember all that has happened in leading up to your marathon. Look back and recall your logged mileage. See if you made any notes to yourself. I bet there will be something in there that you will have forgotten about. Those are your standing stones!

The Marathon will be tough. YOU are tougher. You’ve done the work. Now, go enjoy. Smile. Encourage. Cry. Be grateful. And, Run by faith!

Join the Conversation


    1. Tommy, thank you for penning these thoughts! I have one week left before my first and the timing of your golden notes is perfect!! I am soaking them all in.


  1. These are always great reminders! I have now trained for 2 marathons and have yet to make it to the starting line (back injury, now COVID). But maybe God knew I wasn’t quite ready….I will keep these reminders for the future. God’s plans are greater than ours….when and if I get to that starting line will be His timeline not mine.


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