The “Monster Month.”
That’s what Runner’s World calls this time in a marathon training schedule, the four to six weeks when the long runs are hitting distances of 18 and 20 miles, or more.
If you’re running a fall marathon, you’ve no doubt reached your monster month. And getting through those long runs is as much mental as physical.
Tim Borbely has run an 18-miler and a 20-miler in the last week and a half. During his 18-miler, he tried to picture where the last several miles of his run were on the Chicago marathon course — the marathon he is currently training for, and one he’s done several times before.
“I tried to picture where miles 15, 16, 17 and 18 were on Chicago marathon course,” he said. “I’m picturing mile 18. I’m almost to Chinatown. I know what the streets look like. I know what I’m feeling like right now. I’m treating it almost as a Chicago walk-through.
“I can’t be fading in Chinatown,” he continued. “That’s not cool. There’s too much to go.”
Borbely structures his runs so he has to keep going in order to get home. Sometimes he’ll run from Tolono to his Urbana home along country roads. Other times, he’ll do an out-and-back. Once he’s 9 or 10 miles from home, there’s no choice but to turn around and run home.
He also thinks about the long runs in segments — one 10K or 5K at a time.
“If you look at 18 miles as a whole, it’s intimidating,” Borbely said. “As many times as I do it, I still get that little pang of anxiety.”
He usually runs solo, and he likes it that way.
“I talk to people all day, and running is my ‘me’ time,” Borbely said. “I run to forget about all the conversations I’ve had all day. The phone’s not ringing. I’m not talking to anybody. Nobody’s talking to me. I enjoy it. I clear my head.”
Nancy McCarty of Champaign would much rather run with a group. But as the leader of the Second Wind Running Club’s marathon training group, she often runs her miles by herself so she can be at the end of a long run when others are finishing, to make sure they have enough water and Gatorade.
Even though she’s a veteran of 30 marathons, this spring, “It was a struggle,” she said. “Every step of the way was a struggle. I kept saying, I told myself I was going to run for three hours.
“One thing that I normally do is, when I run by myself, I run for time and I try not to look at my watch,” McCarty said. She doesn’t use a GPS. She just starts her watch when she begins running and stops it when she’s done.
If you are able to, running with others is helpful, McCarty said.
“With a training group, for people who have never run those distances, there’s always someone with them who has run those,” she said. “Having that person with them makes them feel like they can do it. Having someone saying you’re doing great, you can do this, is what helps most of the beginners.”
And then there’s the reward at the end of the run.
It could be just stopping running. Or the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a 20-mile run when the rest of the world is just finishing the breakfast dishes.
For me, it’s food. What will I eat when I’m done? Pancakes? A smoothie?
For Borbely, it’s simply the feeling of the recovery itself.
“My absolute favorite part is coming back after a long run and recovering, slowing down your breathing, just gradually feeling yourself coming back to life,” he said. “I love that. I look forward to that. You don’t get that on the short ones.”
Here are a few tips from marathon training websites on motivating yourself to complete those long runs:
— Set goals and be specific about them, both for training (such as following a training schedule as closely as possible, eating right and getting enough sleep while training) and for the race (reaching a specific time goal or finishing without fading in the last several miles).
— Tell others about your race and your training steps, to help motivate you to do them.
— Find training partners who run your approximate pace.
— On long runs, break the course into segments mentally.
— Remember that training will be difficult sometimes, but you can use mental strategies to help you get through the demands of long runs.
— Visualize yourself running in a relaxed and effortless way, or completing your race in your goal time with friends and family cheering you on.
— Talk to yourself. Tell yourself your training will prepare you to reach your race goals, your fatigue is more mental than physical, and you’ll soon be finished with the run and able to relax.
— Stop any negative thoughts that create doubt about whether you can do it.
— Think about the reasons you are training for a marathon — to get in shape, fulfill a dream of completing a marathon, or raise money for a charity.