Almost 50,000 runners crossed the finish line at the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday. Most posed for a photograph, collected a gold medal and then walked, limped and winced their way toward friends and family. Because that’s the truth of it ― for most, even the professionals, running 26.2 miles hurts.
Which leads to the question: What does it take to accomplish such a tremendous and taxing fitness goal?
The Huffington Post caught up with runners who just crossed the finish line to get their advice. Between sips of post-race water and handfuls of pretzels, they shared tips on how to stay focused and where to find encouragement. The best part? None of the tips have anything to do with athletic ability.
“The nice thing about marathons and running in general is that you don’t have to be an athlete to do it,” said Christopher Moutos, a 25-year-old marathoner from Arkansas. “As long as you’ve got a pair of shoes and you can put one foot in front of the other, you’re able to run.”
Take a look at marathoners’ best advice for reaching any goal below:
1. Find someone to hold you accountable
Mark Kim, 38, and Karen Jablonski, 32, met in medical school. Now physicians and married, they ran the marathon together.
“I think you have to build outside commitment,” Kim said. “Family and friends are watching us and we want to run hard for them. We don’t want to disappoint them.”
2. Think in small increments
Thinking in small, achievable goals helped Jablonski finish the race.
“Just try to break it up into chunks,” she said. “You can’t think of the whole thing. You’re like, ‘Let me get to this mile, and mile marker,’ and then you think of the next mile, rather than the whole race.”
3. Focus on the journey rather than the end point
“I do believe that running a marathon is not really getting to the end. You’re training ― that should be your goal,” said Alessandro Frati, 29, an architect from Italy who lives and works in New York. “And if you’re not going to the end, that doesn’t really matter. The work has been already done. It’s just, ‘Oh I got a medal ― great.’ It’s really the journey.”
4. Know that persistence is half the battle
In order to reach a goal you have to stick with it no matter what.
“One of the fantastic things about running the marathon is you do all the analysis, and the conclusion you draw is that you gotta get out and you gotta run. In other words, you gotta get up and you gotta keep doing it ― even on those days where it feels a little bit tough,” said Andrew Cochrane, 54, who traveled from Australia to compete. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how fast you run, how slow you run. Persistence ― it teaches you that.”
Tracy Lawrence-Black, 57, is a pediatrician who completed her seventh marathon on Sunday. She says that dedication to the craft is what kept her motivated.
“No matter the distance, there’s always a point where I say, ‘This was really stupid. Why did I sign up to do this?’ It could be a 5k race, it could be a marathon and I think, ‘Oh, I’ve had a enough, can I just ring and go home right now?’” Lawrence-Black said, “But then you think, ‘No, I’ve been training for this and people around me are running, and my goal is to cross the finish line.’ You kind of grumble through that low spot and you get your second wind.”
5. Maintain a positive headspace
Jablonski repeated personal mantras to herself such as, “I’m strong,” “I can do this,” or “you got this” throughout the race. Kim turned to NYC’s famously cheerful supporters to cull positive self-talk when he needed a pick-me-up.
“I just started reading people’s billboards and I’m like, ‘I am awesome. I am fast,’” Kim said, laughing. “Just positive reinforcement.”
A number of runners said motivation rests simply in believing they could accomplish something huge.
“There’s a speech where Arnold Schwarzenegger says like, ‘Don’t listen to the naysayers.’ And if anyone says that they can’t do it, well then they can’t, because they have that mentality,” said Selina Ruiz, 31, who teaches first grade. “So dream big and trust yourself.”
6. Share your goal with a partner
Paulo Azevedo, who is from Portugal and has a disability, once joked to his coworker Ivonio Martins that he’d like to run a marathon.
“I told him once that he would run with us,” Martins said. “I said, ‘Let’s go to New York to run.’ Our boss helped us and with a lot of work we got here.”
It was Azevedo’s goal, but only one made possible with the help of another person.
“He’s the legs,” Azevedo said. “We talked to each other, we smiled, we laughed.”
7. Understand that the journey can be unpleasant at times.
Runners at the marathon knew reaching the finish line was going to hurt. An acceptance around pain makes pushing through it a bit more manageable.
“At the 39th kilometer [24th mile] it was very, very difficult,” said Renaud Xavier Dejean, 44, a chiropractor from Italy. “I had cramps everywhere, pain everywhere, so I had to.”
Dejean made a fist and ground his teeth. “[This is what you do] to make it to the end,” he said.
That echoes a sentiment from the Olympic runner Alexi Pappas, who wrote in Lenny Letter about “calling a truce” with pain: “The pain I feel during a tough workout or competitive race is like an expected guest at my dinner party; I know it will be there and I am fully prepared to open the door,” he said.
The runners also shared what the marathon taught them about fitness and life.
“Just that anything is possible,” Sarah Funderburk, 34, said.
It’s really true. Even running 26.2 miles straight.