Signing up for a marathon or half-marathon is easy. The work you’ll put in getting yourself to the starting line, though? That’s a whole other story. Amidst the tempo runs, interval workouts, and cross-training will be the long runs—those crucial, endurance-building tests that’ll keep you on the roads and trails for hours at a time.
Yes, hours. And your brain is bound to get a workout of its own. But rest assured, every runner doubts herself at times, gets seriously bored, or craves pancakes—it doesn’t mean you suck at running or should quit. Here’s what thoughts you’re destined to have—plus advice on how to deal with the aches, pains, and inevitable doubts.
Scroll down for the five thoughts every runner has during their first long run.
“I can’t do this. Those other runners can sense my inexperience.”
“When I started running, I used to wonder if other runners out there could tell I was a newbie,” says Jenn Seracuse, director of Pilates at Flex Studios in New York City. “And all the while I’m asking, ‘What the heck was I thinking, setting this crazy goal for myself?'”
Seracuse’s expert advice: Stop focusing on your doubts and start zeroing in on your body. “I’m a stickler for form, so I have a mental form checklist, and anytime I feel like I’m dragging or my legs are getting heavy I go through the list to get back on track,” Seracuse says. “I keep my strides short, power with my glutes and hamstrings, and use gravity to help propel me forward, which also keeps my abs involved.”
As for the inexperience: Everyone out there is worrying about their own pace, form, or mileage. No one is paying attention to anyone else long enough to worry about whether they’re running their first or fiftieth long run.
“Why do people call this fun? I’m out here running while all my friends are at brunch.”
“When the going gets tough, I start thinking about eating a stack of pancakes while wondering if it’s normal for every ounce of my body to be tired,” says Janae Jacobs, Utah-based marathoner and Hungry Runner Girl blogger. “You’ll feel like a superhero once you’re finished, but you have to keep running to get there.”
Jacobs’s expert advice: “I love to have a reward set up for myself after a long run. Whether it’s [something yummy], getting a massage, or settling in for two hours of Netflix, having a reward ready to go for when I finish makes the effort that much better,” she says. Life’s most fulfilling moments come when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s where you learn and grow—not on the easy route.
“I can run forever! But should I?”
“Near the end of every run, I tend to hit a point where I think I can keep going—even though my mileage plan says I can stop,” says Kaelan Denali Dickinson, co-leader of November Project‘s Washington, DC chapter. “But I feel like an athlete! I just ran for an hour—I can totally run for two hours, right? I’ve got this.”
Dickinson’s expert advice: “Stick to the plan. Run a route where you have to complete your exact mileage to get it done so you won’t be tempted to cut it short, and one where you have to finish the whole thing to end up back at home.” And definitely make sure you plan your hydration out, too.
“I’m on top of the world!”
“Starting a relationship with running is just like starting any new relationship: It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time, and may start out as a love-hate thing,” says SoulCycle instructor and marathoner Emily Turner. (Sound familiar?) “But even if you don’t want to get moving at first, once you do and those endorphins kick in? You’ll feel on top of the world. There’s nothing quite like it.” Hello, runner’s high.
Turner’s expert advice: “Always start slow, make a sick playlist, and just go for it. You have nothing to lose—except maybe a few toenails.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this!”
“When I first started training for longer races—starting with a 10-miler—I remember feeling so proud every time my GPS watch ticked to newly charted mileage territory,” says Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, a Washington, DC-based 17-time half-marathoner and two-time marathoner. “Whether it’s a 3-mile run or a 23-mile run, every distance record is one to be proud of.” Go on, share your route on Instagram or boast about it over brunch with friends—you deserve it.
Mauney’s expert advice: “It’s all about the mental game when it comes to running. The second you think a run is going to suck, it will suck. You’ve gotta stay positive.”
Want to work toward something awesome? These are the coolest races happening in all 50 states. And if you’re wondering what gear you need (and don’t need) to be at the top of your game, this guide has you covered.