In the beginning (where have I heard that phrase before…), just running for any length of time may be a challenge (see Slow and Steady if you’re still at that stage). Sooner or later though, if you’re lucky and persistent enough to keep with it, you’ll probably find yourself setting a distance goal. It may be to run for a mile without stopping, it may be to run your first 5K (five thousand meters; just over 3 miles) – or your first marathon. Whatever the distance, one way to stay motivated and on target is to divide the distance into fractions. Not only does this give you attainable short term goals (“if I can only make it half way…”) it also provides psychic rewards (“Yes! I’m one quarter of the way there”). On top of that, doing the math in your head can be a useful distraction (trying to figure out 66.6% of 21.6 in my head pushes the blister on my toe out of mind every time).
Example: a recent ‘long run’ was an out and back from home, and since I’d had a couple of disappointing runs recently, I was not feeling confident I could do the distance without bonking badly. Picturing the distance as a succession of milestones really helped it feel more do-able. About a third of the way out, there’s a right angle turn from road onto a bike path; I made a point not to check my time until I got there, and could say I was a third of the way to the halfway mark, enough to feel like real progress. Halfway from there to the turn-around is the high school, where I could congratulate myself again, for being more than halfway to the turn-around. Thinking of it as ‘two thirds of the way out’ – instead of one third of the total distance – created the impression of nearing the completion of a hard piece of work, sufficient incentive to up my level of effort just a bit. Then the turn-around of an out-and-back is always great, because you tell yourself you’ve come that far, and it’s no farther going back and every step means less mileage to go ahead than is already behind (plus in this case the outward leg runs up-river, so the return leg is literally ‘downhill all the way’).
Same thing works on the way back: “I’ve made it a third of the way back, which is two thirds of the total, heck I’m more than half way there.” Two thirds of the way back means you’ve already done the remaining distance five times over, heck you’re practically there already…”
These are just mind games of course, but so are a lot of the negative thoughts that may crop up unbidden, like “who am I kidding,” or “this isn’t supposed to be this hard,” or “look at how fast that gal passed me…” Creating your own positive mind games can have real benefits, freeing your body to show what it can do and making the workout rewarding instead of an obligation.
Whatever distance you choose to run, my recommendation is to visualize it divided into fractions, describe them in the most positive way possible and congratulate yourself for each fraction you finish – then any distance will seem easier to conquer.