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You’ve spent the past few months training for your marathon and race day is rapidly approaching. You may have a regimented training schedule, you might have altered some of the food you’re taking in to keep yourself fueled, maybe you’ve even spent a number of Friday nights in so you feel good for a long Saturday run. But what happens to all those changes after you’ve finished the race?
While it might be tough to think beyond the marathon, it’s important to look to the future after your race so when the timeline disappears, all those positive changes you made don’t. Here, experts share what to think about leading up to marathon day and beyond.
When it comes to a big goal like a marathon, think about why you decided to take on this challenge. “Working with athletes, I try to understand what the motivation is, why are they going about it,” says Duncan Simpson, Ph.D., certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and associate professor at Barry University. “I think a lot of people miss this step but that motivation component is essential, especially when training gets difficult.” You might say you want to run a marathon to lose weight or to tell others that you completed it, but if you haven’t thought deeply about why you’re doing this, you might struggle a bit when the training gets tough. “The more challenging the goal, I’ll press athletes or individuals to think a little bit deeper about this ‘why factor,’” says Simpson.
Setting multiple goals is good for athletes, says Simpson. When he was training for his first marathon, a fellow marathoner recommended signing up for the next marathon before he ran the first one, which Simpson found particularly helpful.
“I’ve run nine marathons and after every single one I thought, ‘I don’t ever have to do that again,’” says Glenn Geher, Ph.D., chair of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He says that after marathons he’s often thought, ‘Let me do something else next.’ “In 2012 I thought I was done running marathons. Then in 2015, I started running again and once I got up to 10 miles, I told myself I would run another marathon.” Geher said his goal was to complete a marathon while in his 40s; he was glad he could accomplish that without being concerned about his time.
The goal you set doesn’t even have to be physical. It could be a psychological goal, like to control your emotions better, or a lifestyle goal you want to change—like making time for a meditation practice, or to improve sleep habits.
“Look at what areas of your life you can improve,” says Simpson. “It doesn’t have to be, ‘I get faster the next marathon,’ but to self-improve wherever you are.”
People put a lot of expectations on themselves. “They’ll say, ‘I want to run a marathon and I expect to do this and if that doesn’t happen, I’ll feel terrible about myself,’” says Simpson.
Expectations can be internally driven—like the example above—but they can also be externally driven, where family and friends have expectations of you. That added pressure can lead to feelings of anxiety and later depression if you don’t achieve what you set out to do, says Simpson. “If you don’t achieve an expectation, you tend to feel bad and are hard on yourself because you’re taking in external pressures.”
Goals are something we set for ourselves to be challenging, but with the understanding that if we don’t always meet them, we’re OK with that, says Simpson. “Keep in mind the 50 percent rule: if you’re achieving your goals more than 50 percent of the time, they’re probably too easy; if you’re achieving them less than that, they’re probably too hard.” Recognize that “not achieving your goal” is not failure; it’s telling yourself that you set a challenging goal and you need to adjust it next time.
If your goal for your first marathon is under five hours and you miss that, it’s not a failure, it’s just an opportunity to adjust your goals. Simpson says, “It’s about evaluating what happened and identifying the best course of action moving forward. Look for progression.”
Focus on process goals and the daily steps you took to reach your endurance goal, like a marathon. If you didn’t achieve the goal you set, it doesn’t mean everything you did is worthless.
“We get very tied up on the outcome of the athletic event, but we can derive satisfaction from the things achieved along that process,” says Simpson. You probably trained for at least 16 weeks, running most days of the week, changed your diet, and sacrificed time with friends and family. “When we don’t achieve our expectations, sometimes we get focused on a failure. It’s important to derive satisfaction from the hard work you put into the process and celebrate these small successes,” he says. How you feel about what you accomplished is all about perspective, so why not make it a positive one?
“I always say that training effectively for a marathon is more impressive than completing a marathon,” says Geher. “When you know someone who’s run a marathon, it tells you so much about what that person has done to that point. We have an appreciation for a feat that requires extensive training and the runner budgeting and managing their time while sticking to a rigorous schedule and regimen.”
Remember to take a few moments to revel in what you’re doing, and enjoy the accolades when you complete the goal, suggests Simpson. “Looking back, I wish I could bask in this accomplishment a little bit more than I do,” says Geher. “Take the time and smell the roses of the marathon completion. Appreciate what you’ve done!” And then start preparing for that next goal you set.