A marathon is more than a race, it is a test—a test of fortitude, tenacity and will. A training program can prepare a runner for the first phase of the marathon—the first twenty miles—but finishing a marathon requires more than physical conditioning.
“Twenty miles of hope and six miles of truth” is an accurate description of the grueling event. Regardless how hard you train, whether an abbreviated twelve-week program or a twenty-week program, one that culminates with a twenty-mile run or a three-hour run, the zone between mile twenty and twenty-six is always a mystery. Even the greatest world-class runners have dropped out of marathons in the final miles.
For the novice runner, there are many ingredients that go into a successful marathon, the goal of which should be to finish. There are volumes of advice about conditioning, diet and hydration, but the mental toughness required isn’t found solely in a training program. To determine if you have the mental toughness to finish a marathon, you need to go no further than the mirror.
Sticking it out through life’s toughest challenges is psychological conditioning for the marathon, just as the twenty-mile training run is for the physical conditioning. The mental tenacity required to push through the most punishing miles of the race is garnered from handling adversity and persevering through long hours of work, sick children, broken down cars, bad teachers, sick pets, bad jobs, business travel, broken bones and lousy bosses. A training program can get you to mile twenty, but after beating your body into oblivion for hours, mental toughness gets you through those “Six miles of truth.”
A marathon isn’t for every runner, just as an ultra-marathon isn’t for every marathoner. Before you decide to make a commitment to train for a marathon, it might be worthwhile to check the mirror to see whether you have what it takes.