Getting close now – the fleeting doubts of a first time marathoner

Tomorrow marks the second of my ‘Mad Month’ long runs. Having done 20 last week and finishing feeling good, this week I expect a similar performance, if not a better one.

But here’s the thing.

With the realisation that the big day is getting very close now, little seeds of doubt keep creeping in around whether or not I will be able to maintain my race pace for the duration. I’m now comfortable holding the pace for 10 miles but another 16.2 on top of that is a tall order.

Are my fleeting marathon doubts normal? Now I know they are!

So I started hunting around to see whether or not my fleeting doubts were normal and came across something which really helped re-calibrate my focus. A blog posting at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com is quite possibly the best-timed blog post I have ever read.

On the doubts us first-timers can have Coachjoeenglish writes:

“First, your 20 mile training run comes at the end of a long training week — probably a long work-week too– and you most likely didn’t do the things that that you’ll do before your marathon. Things like getting extra sleep, drinking more fluid, eating more carbs and mentally preparing yourself for the hugest thing in your life. You come into a 20 mile training run much less prepared than you will come into your marathon.

Second, your training has been accumulating through the season and you don’t yet have the benefit of completing this long 20 mile run. The benefits of both your training and the 20 mile run won’t actually hit you for another 2 to 3 weeks, which is why you do that 20 miler a few weeks before the race. Another way to think about this is that you actually AREN’T ready for your marathon yet, because you’re just finishing the training during that 20 miler.

Third, you haven’t tapered yet. This rest period will allow to recover from your training and be fresh going into the race. The taper is a critical piece of your training and since you haven’t gone through that process, you haven’t reaped the benefits of it. Tapering allows you to recharge physically as well as to begin the mental process of preparing for the marathon itself.

Fourth, you haven’t had the mental build-up associated with the week or two before the race. Most marathon runners have “race head” for a couple of weeks before the race. This is the time when their thoughts are focused on the race. During this time, the brain is getting mentally prepared for the challenge. Since you haven’t gone through this period during your 20 miler, you don’t have that mental sharpness that you’ll have on race day.

Finally, race day is different in many ways than that regular Saturday morning on the empty streets of your home-town. From the moment you get up in the morning on marathon morning, you’ll be filled with a sort of gripping excitement — and maybe anxiety — that will carry you through much of the day. Being out there on a race course with hundreds or thousands of other runners sharpens your wits and tells your body that the day is an important one to perform. This is especially true in the early miles of marathon, which may seem to fly by (hopefully, you won’t be running them faster than your normal pace, but that’s another discussion).”

If I were to summarise how I’m finding this marathon training experience overall I’d say it is a lessen in faith. Faith in the training schedule and that by following it my body will be prepared for what I’m going to ask of it. Faith that the advice I receive from everyone around me is good, even if it doesn’t quite sit straight with me at the time. Faith that I am capable of amazing things and that with a positive attitude and belief in my ability great things happen. Faith that I’ll be ready when I stand with 39,999 other people on 15th April to complete the biggest challenge in my life so far.

Bring on tomorrow. It’s going to take me another step closer…

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