Running a half marathon? Let this coach tell you how to power through the pain and discomfort
By Emily Hagan | Published on Oct 17, 2023
Have you ever heard the saying “No pain, no gain?” These words have the power to rescue us in the midst of our most challenging moments. I vividly remember the 2013 Mumbai Marathon. Everything seemed fine until I reached the 22 kilometer mark, when excruciating pain shot through my right leg. I was forced to stop running and tears filled my eyes.
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But in that moment, a small voice inside me whispered, “No pain, no gain.” I decided to start walking. After ten minutes, that same voice encouraged me to jog. I couldn’t jog for long, so I alternated between walking and jogging. My only focus was reaching the finish line and seeing my family and friends waiting for me. Quitting was never an option. After 4 hours and 56 minutes, I crossed the finish line!
Since then, I have come a long way in my running journey. In 2018, I achieved my personal best of completing the Berlin Marathon in 3 hours and 36 minutes. Running has become a lifelong passion, and the feeling of accomplishment after enduring so much pain is truly unrivaled.
Endurance running is a unique pursuit. It tests the harmony between your body and mind like nothing else. To succeed, you must learn to embrace the discomfort, push through the struggles, and emerge victorious. If you’re preparing for a half marathon, here are some strategies to help you overcome pain during your next race:
1. Prepare Two Race Plans
Before your race, it’s essential to have two race plans. Plan A should be centered around achieving your goal, while Plan B should account for any unexpected injuries or weather-induced discomfort. Take the time to study the race course, noting the locations of hydration and medical points. Plan your nutrition and hydration stops accordingly. Remember to drink water every four kilometers and consume carbohydrates or electrolytes every eight kilometers. These small actions will not only nourish your body but also boost your mental and physical focus. And don’t forget about the medical stops; make a mental note of their locations, just in case.
2. Gauge Your Pain Scale
Throughout the race, regularly assess your pain level on a scale of zero to ten. If your pain surpasses seven, it’s crucial to stop immediately. However, if your pain is at a six or below, you can continue running by making some adjustments.
3. Stay Positive and Never Give Up
Maintaining a positive mindset is vital. Don’t allow pain to flood your thoughts; instead, shift your focus to the finish line and the medal that awaits you. Redirect your brain’s perception from pain to determination, propelling you forward. Remind yourself of all the sacrifices you’ve made during training. Think about the early mornings and late nights dedicated to working towards your goal, the time spent away from loved ones, and the social engagements you’ve missed. Let all those sacrifices fuel your inner strength.
Engage in mental games to distract yourself from the pain. Count the number of runners you overtake or notice those wearing bright yellow tees or shorts. These small tricks can help divert your attention and keep your mind occupied.
4. Make Small Physical Adjustments to Reach the Finish Line
When faced with physical discomfort, there are several adjustments you can make to keep moving forward. If you experience sharp pain in your side or find yourself breathless, slow down and take deep breaths. Sync your breathing with your steps. If you’re cramping or feeling uncomfortable, try lengthening or shortening your stride. Lift your knees higher or kick your heels slightly. Additionally, regularly check your posture. Relax your shoulders, straighten your spine, and swing your arms. Fatigue is normal, so don’t be discouraged.
If necessary, alternate between walking and jogging segments. Choose a landmark, such as a water stop, a lamp post, or a tree, and decide to walk until you reach it, then jog again. Repeat this process until you cross the finish line. It’s crucial to replenish your body’s depleted stores. Take a few moments at a hydration stop to consume glucose or electrolytes.
5. Recognize When to Stop
While pushing yourself is admirable, it’s vital to know when to stop and seek medical attention. Be aware of the following symptoms:
- Sharp and/or radiating chest pain accompanied by excessive sweating.
- Lightheadedness and an inability to concentrate.
- High body temperature with dizziness, dry skin, nausea, or vomiting.
- Unbearable pain with sudden swelling or spasms in any part of your body.
If you experience any of these symptoms, stop running immediately and seek medical assistance.
6. Join a Running Community
Endurance running requires not only physical strength but also mental fortitude. Being part of a running community can provide the support and guidance you need. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share your passion and goals. They will become your extended family, inspiring and pushing you towards greatness.
Remember, life is similar to a marathon. Progress is made by taking it slow, one step at a time. It’s about endurance, not sprinting. Whether you’re preparing for the upcoming IDBI New Delhi Marathon or a future event, being part of a running community will provide continuous inspiration.
Sport has the power to transform lives. Even if you fail, it’s never the end, but rather a step forward in your journey of growth and progress.