How to Train for a Marathon (and Stifle your Inner Critic)

So it’s the New Year and everyone is talking about resolutions. I’m not a big believer in resolutions (I much prefer creating intentions), but in case you decided that you want to do something exciting like, say train for running a marathon, here’s a tip:

It’s easier than you think.

Don’t get me wrong. Running a marathon is tough. I’ve run a couple marathons and several long distance races and have loved every minute/every mile. In December I had the opportunity to cheer on a few friends as they ran California International Marathon.  The looks on the runners’ faces were that of determination, commitment, and exhaustion even at the half way mark. Marathons are hard work.


Want to know the “magic” trick for crossing the finish line of a marathon?

Practice. That’s it.  Running a marathon takes practice.


I am pretty confident that most anyone, with the right training, can finish a marathon. 

Training involves physical practice in the form of weekly runs with increasingly longer distances, caring for your body in between with rest, eating the best foods to fuel your body, and using the right equipment (shoes, hydration packs, etc.)

The mental game to marathon training is the harder part to practice. If you ask most long distance runners they will tell you it’s not the physical aspects that make a marathon challenging, it’s about the barriers your mind will create. The part of your head that tells you to give up when you’re cold or hot, or in pain, or it’s dark outside, or you’re tired.  Crossing and overcoming the mental barriers is harder than any physical wall you will hit.

I’m sure you’ve experienced mental barriers before. The part of your brain that tells you you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you can’t succeed and should just quit.  Let’s call that your inner critic.

What runners know is that you can overcome your inner critic with practice.  Try this exercise to squelch your inner critic:

  • Pay attention when your negative talk comes in. Listen to what your inner critic is saying and write it down. Make a long list of the crap your inner critic says.
  • Step away from your list for a minute and come back with a fresh mind. Try to look at each statement from an outsider’s perspective.

  • Take each phrase and identify ways that you can modify the statement to be more effective/less negative for you.  For example, if you hear in your head “I won’t ever get a promotion at work because I don’t have the training/experience in XYZ,” find a new way to look at the situation. What about: “I have many strengths and attributes that make me an excellent employee and I’m willing to work hard and learn.” 

  • Check in with yourself about how accurate you believe the new statement to be. Does it feel true to you? Can you connect and buy into it? If not, rewrite it. The statement has to feel truthful to you. It may take some thought and time to identify an alternate statement, but you’re worth the time. Keep thinking and rewriting until you feel confident in what you are saying.

Mastering the mental game during a marathon takes the steps.  When you’re on the trail, have been running for two hours, feel exhausted and want to quit, you find ways to overcome the negative critic. You tell yourself “I’ve trained hard and I’m prepared” or remind yourself “I’ve got this, I can make it” or “It doesn’t need to be pretty, but I’m going to finish this race”.  Because next time will be better and easier and more enjoyable. Because with practice things become easier.


So practice stifling your inner critic. Practice it every day.  The only way to make it to a goal is to practice.


Adriana Joyner, LMFT is a Sacramento Area therapist specializing in counseling for people healing from trauma and abuse, and gender support for those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email