Creating the Marathon Mindset: October’s Training Journal

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“In football, you might get your bell rung, but you go in with the expectation that you might get hurt, and you hope to win and come out unscathed.  As a distance runner, you know you’re going to get your bell rung.  Distance runners are experts at pain, discomfort, and fear.  You’re not coming away feeling good.  It’s a matter of how much pain you can deal with on those days.  It’s not a strategy.  It’s just a callusing of the mind and body to deal with discomfort.  Any serious runner bounces back.  That’s the nature of their game.  Taking pain.” – Mark Wetmore, head coach of the Colorado University Cross Country team.

The quote above is from one of my favorite running books: Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear. It summarizes a lot of the self-inflicted suffering that runners deal with frequently. I felt like I did a lot of that in October…

October was the last month of hard training before I race the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Philly will only be my second marathon and I hope to improve on my 2:44:38 personal best from New York in 2008.

This training journal has the big picture stuff – total volume, brief workout summaries, and races – but only brief summaries. I want to spend more time talking about physical and mental struggles that I dealt with this month. Hopefully you can learn from my hardship

I had a few good failures this month, notably a tempo workout that absolutely sucked and missing two days of training because I was traveling to see friends and family. But I try not to let that bother me and just continue on with my plan. Luckily, I had a great time with friends in NYC and family in Chicago. I even got to see a 30 foot tall statue of Marilyn Monroe in downtown Chicago.

Marilyn Monroe in Chicago

October by the Numbers

Mileage: 345

Training days: 29 / 31

Long runs: 21, 21, 18 (race), 22. Medium-long runs were in the 14-15 range.

Workouts: 8k tempo in 27:58, 40′ progressively faster tempo, 4 mile MP tempo at the end of a 21 mile long run in 23:28, 4 mile tempo in 22:51, 29:40 MP tempo, 8k MP tempo at the end of a 22 mile long run in 29:27.

Most of the tempo runs were done in the middle of a 15 mile run, adding to the aerobic stimulus of the workout. Running fast when tired is a huge component to my marathon training philosophy and something that I try to work on frequently.

Races: Half-marathon in 75:07 on a hilly and winding course outside of Chicago. There was no competition so I ran the entire race alone.

Tackling the Marathon, Physically and Mentally

No doubt that the marathon requires a high level of fitness. That’s why we train for months and do long runs every weekend to develop the endurance necessary to cover 26.2 miles.

Aside from the physical component of the marathon, what about the mental side of running 26.2? To borrow a line from my high school track coach, it surely requires more “mental toughness” than shorter distances where you won’t run out of fuel and bonk. The marathon is also hours long, requiring a focus unlike most other road race distances.

October brought many challenges and while I had a solid month of training, my attitude toward training was often distracted and unmotivated. If you follow my workouts on dailymile you’d never notice, but with long weekends in Chicago, San Jose, and New York I wasn’t able to focus 100% on my marathon preparation.

Instead I was hanging out with friends and family who aren’t running 85+ miles per week and accordingly, don’t have to prioritize sleep, sobriety, and a routine. I was jealous of that freedom and I think it negatively impacted the quality of my workouts.

But I got in the training for the most part. I trudged through it. Half-way through the month things got worse: the days got shorter, the weather got colder, and I lost motivation again. Here’s a confession: I hate the winter. Snow, darkness, freezing temps…count me out. It makes me depressed.

When you add in a bad workout, a race run entirely alone, and a long run in freezing rain, I was just fed up with running in general. There weren’t enough small wins to keep me motivated. I was tired of training hard and I couldn’t wait for my taper to begin so I could get this damn race over with.

Long Run

Running a 29:27 8k at the end of a 22-mile long run, in snow and freezing rain.

But I trudged through the training. I still posted respectable times for my workouts. October is my highest volume month of 2011. My long runs were the longest – and with fast running at the end. Most of the physical aspects of the training are there.

But mentally…?

As I look back on the month, I’ve started to realize that the mental hurdles I had to jump over will actually help me on race day. The mental toughness I developed and the hardship (however real or imagined it actually was) I endured will help callus my mind to the discomfort of racing a marathon.

Yes, I ran in freezing rain and cold.

Yes, I won a half-marathon on a challenging course all alone.

Yes, I had shitty workouts where I felt slow and out of shape.

Yes, I ran in the dark even though I absolutely despise doing it.

Yes, I felt unmotivated, tired, and apathetic.

But I’m still here. And I’m still ready to dominate.

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  1. I’m looking forward to reading all about this marathon! Good luck!

  2. Thanks for sharing the good and the bad aspects of your training, it is very informative, motivating and helps me deal with my own ups and downs. I hope you peak at the right time for your marathon!

  3. Chris Starrs says:

    You’re dead right on the mental toughness needed for marathon training. I bonked my first marathon (last fall) so jumped right back in (spring 2011) to training for my second to get the rid of the bad taste of the bonk. Ultimately I succeeded, qualified for Boston, but running in the dark and 10 degree weather was brutal. As bad as that was, the hardest part was the mental aspect. Particularly I find it very difficult that most family/friends just don’t get why we do it. You just finished a 20 plus mile long run or a got your ass kicked with a hard tempo and they look at you like your nuts or their completely indifferent. I guess that’s why the motivation has to come from within. Good luck in Philly!

  4. Jason, you sound human! What doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger, right? Keep it up, you’re an inspiring athlete. Thank you for all your posts.

  5. Winter is my least motivated time of year to run as well. Running in the freezing cold and dark doesn’t make me too excited. Looks like your training is going great though and you should see success in your upcoming marathon. Looking forward to reading how it goes. Good luck!

  6. You are going to kick butt! This is the Year of the PR after all. 🙂

    You know I’ll be sending speedy thoughts your way that day.

  7. You are more than ready. Go get ’em, Fitz.

  8. You are def ready to dominate.

    May I suggest strongly a Move down to Clermont Fl. Lots of great training here, we do have hills, and we don’t have winter.

    I’m sure your running in wintery weather has helped prep you for a new PB. The Marathon is so much more than just twice the distance of the HM. It’s a little hard to explain…but there’s a whole diffferent strategy for “putting the race together” I still have not mastered it, but one day….

    • No winter, but what about brutal summers?! That may be harder training than winter, though I prefer the heat.

      The marathon is a tough beast to master, but good luck. Let me know if I can help!

      • LOL, I’m already one in the running for your giveaway this month, I’m of Scottish descent so I’m one who likes to see if it works before paying, but I do pay for quality. I’ve just barely started to jog again after my hip labrum repair surgery…it’s the best feeling ever.

        Summer in Clermont. It’s like running in a Sauna, but if you get up early, there is are so many shaded trails. Well yeah, it is still not that great and it rains quite a bit in the afternoons. Heat training…makes you really strong. And I am a “bronze goddess” Yeah…well, in my mind!

  9. The runs where you are soaked through before you have even finished the first mile are tough. I remember a point during my IronMan training where I had to fit in at least one 112 mile practice cycle. The day came and my training partner set out under a dim sky. Sure enough, within an hour I was so wet that I could feel water streaming down the inside of my lycra and my contact lenses were full of grit from the rain. These kind of training sessions make us stronger as there were points where I just wanted to give up and go home instead of cycling for another 6 hours…but I didnt and it made race day all the easier.

    Sorry for the boring story!

    Tweeted 🙂

  10. I was tired of training hard and I couldn’t wait for my taper to begin so I could get this damn race over with.

    couldn’t have said it better…

    I have my 3rd stand alone marathon this Saturday. I’m sure I can do better than my 5 hour current PR. Hoping for sub-4. Come race day, it’s a lazer like focus, then beer. Lotsa beer…

  11. Jason, It is great to hear about your training difficulties. I got up to 16 miles on my long days and began to have the dreadful IT band problems. Needless to say, I’m taking a step back and refocusing on core and flexibility to postpone my first marathon until the spring. In the mean time I’m running an 8 mile race and a couple of 1/2 marathons to prepare.

  12. Kristen Peterson says:

    Hi Jason,
    I know you wrote this article several weeks ago and have reached your marathon goal (a big congratulations to you!); but this article details where I am at this very moment. I am running a late-January marathon and right now I am in the midst of socializing with friends (in sobriety), recently juggled training with a vacation (Disneyworld with 2 children), feeling unmotivated – I want all of my long runs overwith NOW, and feel overwhelmed by my goal (qualify for Boston).

    To top it off, this week I ran an 18 miler with temps in the 70’s and 95% humidity (71% dew point) – it was awful and from the first mile I just ran terribly… but after a day of rest I laced up my shoes and kept going. How do I explain all of this self-inflicted pain to my non-runner husband? ANSWER: Have him read your article! LOL! Thanks for “keeping it real”…

    • Thanks Kristen – I was in the same spot for a lot of October so I know exactly what you’re going through. It’s a tough spot but believe me, it’ll all be worth it when you get that BQ!