Maintaining motivation for your marathon

Maintaining motivation levels will help you complete your marathon training. Here’s performance coach Kim Ingleby’s five-step plan that’ll help you stay mentally strong from the start of your plan to the finish line.

Brighton marathon runner

1 Do a body audit 

It’s almost inevitable that at some point during your training plan you’ll take a look at the session you’re supposed to do and wish that the words detailing the distance would magically morph into ‘Rest day’. 

When that happens, here’s what you need to do: ‘Firstly, check in with how you are feeling,’ says British Athletics Coach Kim Ingleby. ‘So, run a quick body audit, as I call it. How is your energy out of 10? Did you sleep well? Have you eaten good foods to fuel your run? Do you have enough time? If all the answers are yes, and you just don’t feel like it, pause for a moment and think about why you really want to complete your race. 

‘Some training sessions can be really tough, and it will feel really challenging at times, but this is normal and part of the challenge. So think about all the reasons why you want to make it happen, who inspires you, and get out there and do it. I promise afterwards you will feel great. If you answered no to the body audit questions, have a look at your plan and see if you could swap a session, and then make sure you look after yourself properly.’ 

2 Don’t panic 

It’s likely that you’ll have to fit in your training around a hectic life schedule. And, unlike training sessions, not everything in life can be planned in advance. So if things crop up that force you to miss a session or two don’t panic, just take Ingleby’s advice. 

‘Don’t worry too much if you don’t manage to do all the training sessions,’ she says. ‘But it is important that you prioritise the key longer runs and one or two of the speed and strength sessions. They gradually build up your fitness, reduce your risk of injury and boost your confidence. 

‘If you are a bit behind, don’t play catch up and cram sessions in, but do sit down and plan all your key sessions into your diary so that they become a priority. Sometimes you need to talk to family or friends to get their support and encouragement. 

‘At times your training schedule can seem overwhelming, so use online forums, support groups or even pay an expert to help you tweak the plan to make it fit your lifestyle and help you get back on track. If you find yourself several weeks behind as a result of illness or life events, remember you can always defer your place to another year in most cases, which may allow better preparation and enjoyment.’ 

3 Make a happiness plan

Even if you do stick perfectly to your schedule, it’s not automatic that you’ll feel great while you’re training. And if your enjoyment drops your motivation is likely to follow. If that happens, it’s important to realise that you’re not going to be satisfied with every run. 

‘It’s normal at times to feel unhappy about how you performed in a training session and here’s what I recommend and find helps,’ says Ingleby. ‘Write down the runs that you have really enjoyed and how they have made you feel. If you have a positive photo of you running, stick it on your fridge or in your training diary to help with your focus. Then write down what you are unhappy about. Is it core strength, speed, strength, time, rest or injuries? Write these on one side of the paper and then, on the other side, write down what you can do to become happier with them. From that list, choose a maximum of three areas you are going to focus on each month to improve and create goals that are tiny yet progressive. 

‘It’s really important you write things down because this makes change more effective. If you don’t have time to write it down, think about your story and why you’re running? Everyone has a different reason, yet rarely is it to be unhappy. So find your motivation, observe people who inspire you, and start to think a slightly happier story. If none of that works, I often find that a little rest time, combined with good healthy food and some fun to balance things helps.’ 

4 Find mid-session mental strength 

There are lots of things that you gain by training for a race, such as better health, a sense of accomplishment and, if you’re reading this, the knowledge that you’re raising money for a great cause. That doesn’t mean that the sessions themselves are fun or easy and anyone who has ever completed a hard training session will be familiar with the voice in your head that says, ‘this is quite hard, isn’t it? Why don’t you just slow down a bit or, even better, stop completely?’ 

When that happens, Ingleby has some advice that will tell the voice in your head to keep quiet. ‘This is so common, and it’s our mind’s way of looking after us really,’ she says. ‘When this happens you have two options. Firstly, you can decide you are going to walk or slow down for a minute and get your focus back, breathe deeply and start again. 

‘Secondly, you can breathe in a positive word such as ‘strength’ and you breathe out the stopping thought for six breaths - really focusing on growing in strength and letting go of fatigue. This sounds simple and like it won’t work but it really does. You also need to make sure you plan your pace, nutrition and hydration to look after yourself too. And like in the earlier bits of advice, make sure you think about your motivation and goal to keep you going. You can do it!’ 

5 Marathon mindset 

If your training has gone to plan then you have done the hard work in the months leading up to the event. Unless you’re superhuman, 26.2 miles is going to test you physically and mentally, but being prepared for the challenge will help you cope with the demands as they arise. 

‘Running a marathon is a big challenge, whether it’s your first or your 21st’, says Ingleby. ‘On the start line think of all the people who inspire and motivate you, the people you love in your life and your reasons for taking part in the event. Then, as the gun goes, pace yourself, relax and adapt as you need to. Listen to your body, breathe in strength, breathe out fatigue. 

‘I also find it useful to break the marathon into 10km chunks and as you complete each one you realise you can do it. As you get to the last 10km, keep your fuelling and hydration good, run strong and tall, shorten your stride if you need too, and believe in yourself. Almost have a mini movie or soundtrack in your mind for near the end, which you can “play” to keep you going until you cross the finish line.’

Kim Ingleby is a British Athletics Coach, TEDx Speaker and personal trainer. She has trained over 800 people to compete in races from 5k to ultra-marathons and has raised over £80,000 for charity. For more information visit and You can follow Kim on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @kimingleby. 

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