So you’re running your first half or full marathon

May 20, 2021

As a runner, you have to understand that your mind is a very important tool in getting to through a race and across the finish line. Here are some pointers that have helped me during my years of running and, truthfully, in many other areas of my life as well.

Running your first half marathon or marathon

Do your time

Make sure that you have done your time when it comes to preparing your body for the distance. This includes spending enough time on your legs while training, completed enough mileage and generally done your homework on what needs to be done. Remember that true confidence comes from being prepared.

Be mentally prepared

Know what you are in for on race day. If possible, study the route so you know landmarks along the way and roughly where they lie on the route. Where are the uphills and downhills on the route, so you know where you need to push and where you can recover.

Take time out to ”daydream”. I imagine myself running on the route and I keep moving forward. I see myself conquering one kilometre one another. I visualise myself running that last section of the route approaching the finish line, thinking about that feeling of accomplishment when I know that I have achieved my goal.

Plan your race

I like to split my marathon into 10km splits and half marathons into 5km splits. I make sure I know where I want to be at each point and by what time I need to be there in order to reach my desired time. However, it’s important though to be realistic about a time that you are physically able to achieve. Know and understand your goals clearly.

Have a plan “B”, especially for the novice who is not entirely sure yet of their abilities. We just can’t predict how things will pan out or how you  will feel on race day. A plan B will help to keep you on track, if your ideal goal starts to slip away. Rather have a plan “B” to help you finish the race than just call it a day when things don’t work out.


This is a vital part of training for me as it helps me to get into “the zone”. I take time to mentally work through my race a number of times to help gear myself up mentally for the good and tough times to come. I see myself enjoying the good moments and when I see myself having tough times,  that’s when visualise myself digging deep and staying focussed to conquer the race.

The key for me is to cut out all negative the thoughts and fears and rather visualise myself feeling strong and being in control of my race.

Deal with pre-race stress

Make sure that you have all your running gear is laid out and ready a day or two before race day and make sure that you don’t try anything new on race day. Make sure that everything has been tried and tested on a long run before – and I mean everything from your socks to the food you will eat on the run and what you will eat in the morning before the race.

The nerves of the race will often make it difficult to sleep the night before, so I make an effort to sleep well for the few nights before that to ensure I’m rested.

When you get to the start line, there will be a lot of excitement and nervous energy. Don’t get caught up in the hype and start too fast. Stick to your plan.  Also remember that, if you are at a physical race and not a virtual one, there will be a huge crowd at the start, so give yourself extra time in your plan to cross the start line.

Learn to talk

Running is a social sport, so when you’re on the route, feed off the energy of others and talk to your fellow runners. It helps pass the time and reminds you that others are going through them same.

If you’re doing a virtual race, self talk or have a mantra. Use words like “moving forward”, “getting stronger”, “power”, “strength” to keep yourself in “the zone”. Think of yourself as a mighty warrior conquering every kilometre without wavering and fearless as you reach for your crown.

Stay focused

Make the decision right from the start that quitting is not an option. When times are rough, and there will be those times, focus on all the hard work you’ve done to get this far. If plan “A” doesn’t work out on the day, then move to plan “B” and stay focused on conquering one kilometre after the next.  Keep reaching for your dream knowing that if you get your mind to cross the finish line, your body will follow. Keep moving forward, lamp post to lamp post or driveway to driveway if you need to, but keep moving forward one step at a time.


I keep replaying my mental finishing picture in my mind. I see myself giving it that final push and crossing the finish line, feeling victorious, looking like a champion, knowing that I have conquered my 1st, 2nd or 3rd marathon or half marathon – every one is a victory.

You are a Champion – wear your medal with pride!

Graham Block

Graham Block is a highly experienced and well-known runner in Johannesburg. He is the founder of the Run Zone running club and has earned permanent numbers for 10 different races. Read more about Graham here

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