Mid Week Musings: Combating Fear


I recently was asked what my favorite distance to race is and you might be surprised, given my most recent disaster, that I actually really like the marathon. Even though I don’t think it likes me, lol!

Despite not having run one where I’ve crossed the finish line satisfied with my performance, I still do them, still train for them. Why? Because I know I have it in me to run one well. And if I think about it (which I do obsessively often), I think a big reason why I haven’t done well is because the marathon scares me.

I’m afraid of the marathon. It’s not that it doesn’t like me, it’s that I don’t allow it to like me.

It’s like that one person you know that is perfect, always has it all together, and you hate that person for absolutely no reason–or for all of those reasons–but really, you actually kinda really like them, maybe even admire them.

And they like you. But they’re afraid to talk to you and socialize because you’ve always had this wall up preventing them from getting near you–you know, because you don’t like them.

But you actually do.

That’s me and the marathon.

I curse the marathon. I tell it how awful it is. How unfair. But really, I like it. Really like it. And I’m finally okay with putting my wall down and letting it like me.

Not long after I was asked what my favorite distance is, a friend posted this really interesting article on the fear of failure and I think that’s at the root of my love/hate relationship with the marathon.

It’s not the marathon, it’s my fear of failing at it.

I think in my first marathon, I was the overzealous new kid who was simply excited to be there. Sometimes, that’s an advantage because you’re so excited about the fact you’re even there, talking to Miss Perfect, that you’re oblivious to anything else.

My first marathon remains my PR.

I think after that, realizing that the marathon was bigger than I had imagined (and prepared for), fear crept in. I knew I wanted to do it again, I knew I wanted to do better, BUT, could I do it?

The article focuses on fear of failure in children and teens but it’s an article that really anyone can easily relate to.

Fear of failure is the single most common cause of performance difficulties …Whether they [the athlete] experience low confidence and extreme negativity, pre-competitive anxiety, a preoccupation with results, or severe self-criticism, in most cases, when we dig deep enough, we discover a profound fear of failure at its root.

Yeah, me in a nutshell.

I trained really hard for Chicago Marathon and I felt confident I could PR and confident I could sub 4:30. But I let fear reside in my head. I don’t think that was the sole cause of why I didn’t do well, I really think flying out the day before didn’t help, but I do think allowing negativity to settle itself in my brain and eat away at my confidence affected my performance.

So what can I do? It’s easy to tell myself to “think positive” but how?

I found another interesting article that talks about the marathon specifically and how to mentally prepare. There were a few things in it that resonated.

An actor rehearses the lines of a play again and again before the big performance; learning the correct sequence and timing of the performance.

So too should a runner spend time in visualization, rehearsing the big race over and over in the mind.


An actor does not intentionally rehearse the wrong lines before a play, which would not make sense; instead an actor focuses on and repeats the performance in the way they would like it to happen. Runners should take the time to visualize their upcoming performance in a positive light.

Totally makes sense, right??

The article suggests breaking the marathon into two halves– unequal halves, lol–the first 20 miles and the final 10k. Their argument is that in training, we do a 20 mile run, sometimes more than one. We know what that feels like and are familiar with it, so we should then approach the final 10k like that is the race.

It is best to fully accept the agony of a marathon’s final 10 Kilometers before you reach it. Don’t just anticipate the pain, accept it, welcome it, and embrace it.

The final 10K of a marathon should hurt, it is only when a runner can accept that concept that they can truly reach full potential in the marathon.

I totally felt like when I read that, something clicked. I’ve often whined, “Whhhhy can’t a marathon be 20 miles miles!!” because I’ve done a bunch of those. Yet, I haven’t reached the 20 mile mark in a race feeling the way I do when I run 20 training miles and I think it’s because I’m so focused on the whole 26.2. If I can run the first 20 miles in a race comfortably, in my mind telling myself this is something I’ve done before no sweat, then I can tell myself I’m only running a 10k race and prepare myself mentally for those 6.2 miles that without doubt will be more difficult than the first 20.

I don’t know, what do you guys think? How do you mentally prepare for a marathon (or race of any distance)? I feel like my training has been strong, that it was strong this last marathon cycle, but maybe what I really need to put more attention on is my mental strength. I saw a glimmer of hope in Chicago when I fought through the cramps. Maybe that means I’m finally working my way to running a great marathon…


Thanks for listening to me go on and on, lol!! ❤ , helly

24 responses

  1. Helly, I can resonate so much with your post! The marathon ends up being so much more about mental training than physical after you’ve done one. I too am guilty of the negative self-talk and absurd amounts of self-doubt.

    It may sound cheesy, but the one thing I tell myself on race day is this: ‘The last 16 weeks of training has been my homework. The race is the reward.’ If that does nothing to my brain, I remind myself as I’m running the marathon to think of how far I’ve come and not how far I have to go. When you start checking off those miles in your head, it helps!

    Marathons are both awful and amazing, as you know. Like you said, that friend you don’t like, but actually deeply love. It sounds like you’re kicking booty, it’s just going to be a matter of fine tuning that inner voice and telling yourself you can!

    Happy running and thanks for a great post!

    • I think we often neglect the mental training aspect of it. Like with a lot of things, some people have great mental strength and others don’t and if you don’t, if you know you don’t, you have to work on that. Even though I like to think I’m mentally strong, clearly I have to work on it. Ah, such is life, lol!! Thank you for reading my long story ja! ❤

  2. what a great post – your analogies are like magic. I’m afraid of the marathon. I got injured training for my first and it got in my head. Then i trained and ran one shortly thereafter but my performance was nowhere near what I’m capable of. I haven’t been the same since in terms of running or speed and I’m kinda angry about it. I think I want to try again but really need to get my head on straight before I do! The half is my sweet spot for now 🙂 not like I’m getting any younger, lol.

    • Anger nails it. I’m definitely angry that I can’t perform how I train. I know I could always do more in/with my training, but I feel like I’ve trained (especially this most recent one) for better than what I’ve gotten. So frustrating. But, that’s what keeps me going, lol!!

  3. The marathon is the chupacabra of running. It is a diabolical beast that, once your start searching for it, either captures you forever or you are one and done. After watching so many of my friends and coachees train so hard for their races only to come up with something short of what they were hoping for, I have already started formulating new ways to teach how to work past their mental hurdles.
    I think that part of the reason that I’ve had such exceptional race/marathon experiences is that I have had something that has brought me to terms with myself in a very real way just prior. The day of the race, I am (foolishly, perhaps) not scared of the run, or my body–well, not anymore, after my MCM terror the first time–rather, my nerves focus on whether or not I’ll be dressed properly! I’ve also been lucky to have people intervene at just the right moment to help me get a huge boost that gets me going, but I’ve developed a tremendous amount of mental strength for these events. I know the shoe will drop for me some time; until then, I am riding the wave. And remember–what goes up, comes down, goes up.
    I would love to work with you on mental strategies, if you would like. No pressure, ever, but let me know.

  4. My last marathon was the first one in which 26.2 no longer seemed sooooo faaaarrrr to me. Even though I missed my BQ goal by 16 seconds, and definitely felt depressed about it, I was left with a feeling that the distance was now doable, if that makes sense. Up until I hit my very first stinking bonk, I was having a terrific time running the race. I felt so lucky to just be out there doing something I truly love.

    I did a lot of mental preparation this year, and the biggest changes were running a ton of half marathons and doing my races and long or easy runs Garmin blind. I began to have more faith in my body and training when I learned to listen to it and not allow the numbers on my Garmin panic me. I don’t know what’s going to happen in December when I try to get my BQ again, but my last 20 miler was the best one yet. I ran it completely GPS blind and didn’t stop once (got lucky on street crossings 🙂 ). Fingers crossed that both you and I will finish our next marathons feeling pleased with our performances!

    • I definitely agree about getting used to longer runs. I want to do more longish runs in my next training–I rarely met my mid-week long runs :/

      I also did something similar as you as far as running Garmin blind–I didn’t run without a watch but I ran all my training runs significantly slower than my race pace. I didnt’ want to run them too fast as I’ve seen so many others do and get burnt out. It really helped tackle my 20 milers and I always finished with the end miles faster. Really helped boost my confidence. But then in a marathon, I still have 6.2 to go, lol!!!

      Yes, I think there are good things waiting for us at the end of our next marathons! Can’t wait!!!

  5. A friend once compared marathons to childbirth in that once you know what you’re in for, the fear is greater. So the 2nd kid is harder, in a way, because you know what to expect. I think I have that fear of my 2nd marathon, too. I’m hoping to push past it in December…but it’s there. I’m glad I’m not the only one! I like the marathon too, even though it’s scary!

    • I totally took drugs with both kids so labor wasn’t bad for me (luckily) BUT what I did know was hard from having 1 kid already was everything that came after–the sleepless nights, the anxiety of wondering if the baby was okay, etc. I think with the marathon I want to NOT expect to cramp, you know? Like maybe thinking it’s going to happen is what makes it happen? I don’t know, it’s just weird that I don’t cramp in my training runs.

      So excited for your marathon in December!!!

  6. What a great post! Running is very mental and I loved how that article said you must rehearse for your race. It made me think what I can do start doing to get ready for the next one.

    Usually I talk to myself (out loud) before and during a race. Convince myself that I’m only going a fraction of the distance, which I’ve done plenty of times and I know I can do. I tell myself my pace should feel easy, which is hard because if it feels easy you want to go faster, but I gotta keep it relaxed so I don’t burn out too quickly. When I get close the end is when the self talk really begins: I ask myself if the pain is tolerable, if so make it hurt a little more. My motto is if it doesn’t kill you, it will only make you stronger. But its a fine balance in making sure you’ve got enough to get you to the end and then use all you’ve got left so there’s nothing. And that’s what I love about racing, juggling this balance.

    I’m a better runner and racer now, but it comes with practice and lots of failure (two high scool records and a natonal njcaa medal have been forfeited). Trying new things and risking all your training on one race has helped me figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s kinda how it goes with a lot of things, though.

    • I employed your technique in Chicago in that I was hurting, knew I was hurting, figured it wasn’t going away, and told myself to push through. It wasn’t going to kill me; just keep going, so I ran until it was intolerable. I feel like I made a little mental breakthrough in that race.

  7. Oh my god, this post is SO COMPLETELY TRUE!!! I’m not at the marathon level yet, but I do this with half marathons. I psych myself out during 10 mile training runs, and worry nonstop about race day. But I learned back when I had been running for only a year or so that I absolutely had to take time before a race and just be brutally honest with myself and say “This is going to hurt. And that’s okay”. I did this for the first time before my fastest 5k ever and I believe that it mentally helped me push to get that PR! I did this last weekend at my half – I said that it was going to hurt and also went in with the mentality that I was just doing it for fun, and I ended up running it only 8 seconds behind my “goal race” from July where I spent too much time putting pressure on myself. And I felt so much better after Sunday’s race than I did after my goal race! I think both you and me need to get over these mental hurdles and just crush our next long distance races 🙂

    • Totally!!! When I ran my 1/2 PR I just let it all go and ran. Just ran. Didn’t think about what could happen–cramps, wall, fatigue–and just ran. I need to do that for the marathon but again, an additional 13.1 miles seems so daunting, lol!

  8. I totally relate to this. Fear of failure is a big reason why I don’t do lots of things. But I’m trying to get better. Also, I LOVE the analogy of an actor preparing vs a runner preparing. As a performer, I’ve found lots of parallels between training for a race and rehearsing a show, and I think that’s part of how I’ve found success in running. I hope the visualization helps!

  9. I love the 20, 10 concept. I’ve heard that before and it makes a lot of sense to me and in fact now that I think about it, that’s what I did in my last marathon. All of my long runs, even my short ones, I break down into sections. It’s like baby steps. The mental aspect of the marathon plays such a huge part. I used to say it’s 90% mental and 10% training. I’d get a lot of weird looks from people but it’s very, very true. You obviously have a strong will to finish a (few) marathons in the first place, so you definitely have what it takes. You’ll get there, and you’ll no doubt discover some things about yourself along the way. The mental strength for the marathon goes across the board and permeates the rest of our lives, too.

    • I think I’m just frustrated because I *think* I’m stronger than what I really am and get frustrated on not improving. And, I know I should’not compare myself, but it frustrates me when friends with similar athleticism excel on their first marathons and I’ve been trying for several years. Basically, I’m frustrated, lol!

  10. OMG, I’m right there with you!! I love to hate the marathon, but I don’t really hate it. I know I am a lot stronger than what my marathon performances have shown as well. But the mental aspect really kicks my butt and I end up talking myself out of it for some reason!