In September 2015, after I had completed four half marathons, I took the plunge of something I never expected myself to do. I registered to run my first marathon, the 2016 Santa Rosa Marathon. As someone who had only been running for a few years after a significant weight loss, and was a self-proclaimed back of the pack runner, I knew that it would be the most physically challenging thing I had ever done, but I had no idea that it would become the most mentally challenging project I had ever taken on in my life.

The mental strength that it takes to train for a marathon was the part of me that needed to be trained more than anything else. Running is a mental sport, and the way you talk to yourself and the thoughts you have carry so much value in how you train. Do you think to yourself, “I am going to run a marathon!” Or do you downplay yourself? Do you visualize yourself crossing the finish line? Does your internal self-talk cheer you on, or talk you down? That to me, makes all the difference.  During an actual event, the cheers of the crowd and the positive energy of my fellow runners keeps me going. The hours of training alone, however, are the times I dig deep to be my own, biggest cheerleader and find my inner strength to stay positive when there aren’t hundreds of people ringing cow bells and cheering for me. Since I began running as an adult, I have had to work extra hard to strengthen my identity as a runner and talk myself through achieving a goal that seemed impossible, and as a result, the way I talked to myself and my positive visualization was what got me to the finish line at my first 26.2 and will get me there again at CIM this year!

These are the tips that have kept me going strong through many runs, and to the finish line:

Practice your positive self-talk: Don’t let the “I am too old/slow/heavy/out of shape/undeserving of this” commentary win. Constant positive self-talk throughout training has been crucial to me. What would I say to a friend who is in my (proverbial running) shoes? I would speak to him or her with compassion and positivity, which is the same language I want to use for myself. I remind myself daily that I am strong, amazing, worthy, and I am achieving a huge goal. I also practice my own positive self-talk by really listening and appreciating the positive compliments of those around me, and soak them all in. The messages of positivity that my support network provides me are messages that I repeat to myself when I know things will be tough and I need a positive self-talk boost. I regularly come back to this quote as a reminder that the voice in my head is what will carry me through to the finish line, “What we think, we become” -Buddha

Replace the negative: There are certain parts of life and running that I know trigger me to revert back to negative thoughts, and that is when the, “I can’t do this”, comes into play. Certain distances and mile markers make me want to put on the breaks and let the fears and negativity take over. Once you know what those moments and phrases of negative are, be ahead of the game and have positive thoughts to replace negative ones that you know will be coming. Allow those, “I can’ts” to become “I am going to give it my all.”

Keeping my why close by: I remind myself almost daily about why I run, and specifically why I have decided to train for and run a marathon. For me, it is my gift to myself to celebrate how strong and healthy my body is as a result of losing weight and getting in shape. Every time things get tough, I center myself and remind myself of my why, and it gives me the strength to tackle even the hardest runs or the most intimidating workouts. During my first marathon, it was the most important part of getting me through to the finish line. I was not going to give up on those hard miles because my why meant everything to me on that day.

Visualize myself on race day: Envisioning that finish line gets me through every time. For my first marathon, my visualization was to be surrounded by friends and to have my favorite song being blasted. Knowing that after 26.2 miles I would have that experience, got me through some tough runs, and definitely got me through the last 10k of the marathon. How do you visualize that day? Imagine yourself crossing that finish line, and the strength and determination it took you to get there. Visualize yourself as a marathon runner because that’s who you are and that’s what you’re doing. You aren’t “trying” to train for a marathon, you ARE training for a marathon, with the culminating event being that glorious finish line.

Practice consistent self-care: Yes, I give myself physical rest days, but it also is important to give my mind some self-care too. Allowing myself time to revive my body, soul AND my mind holds so much value to make sure that my mind and my positive self-talk are ready for coming back strong the next time I lace up and head out the door.

The finish line is yours for the taking. Draw strength and support from those around you and allow yourself to be kind and positive in your thoughts. You can be your own best friend or your own worst critic – so which one of those voices is going to be your training partner through your journey?