racing · running

Ditching My Fear of the Marathon (or at least sending it to the corner)

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The Mississauga Marathon is on May 3rd. That’s just a few weeks from now. I have been very negative about it — fear, regret that I signed up, a general sense of “why did I do this?”  That attitude has cast a pall on the whole thing for me. It’s not the most motivating way to approach 42. 2 km.

Now, I may not be the most positive person in the whole world, but I’m not usually the most negative either.  A few days ago, I caught myself in another negative spiral about the upcoming marathon. I talked to Gabbi after my swim, and asked whether I should change to the half.  She hesitated.  It’s not that you can’t do the full, she said. But it’s better if you feel confident about it, and you don’t.

That prompted me to spend the next few weeks changing my attitude about it. I hereby swear to face the reality of my commitment and stop being such a whiney baby, living in fear of a thing that’s supposed to be a fun challenge.

It’s a big deal, there’s no doubt about it. My Around the Bay training has given me a solid base. Marathons aren’t supposed to be super easy anyway.  And new things like this can be exciting.  Instead of being all fearful and down on it, I’m working up some enthusiasm.

This is not “the power of positive thinking.” I think positive thinking has its limitations. Positive self-talk can get me over a hurdle some of the time, but in general I don’t think everything’s always amazing and that we need to tell ourselves that all the time. Some things suck. I’m sure I will have moments in the marathon where I will doubt everything good about the world.

But that’s part of the reality of doing a thing like that.  The mental game isn’t won simply by denying that there will be struggle and pretending that everything’s amazing. No. For me, the mental game is about awareness.  When I’m aware of my mind trying to tell me I should downgrade to a half marathon, I make a mental note and then kind of laugh it off.  I don’t need to let it get its hooks into me and throw me into a fearful tizzy.

My mind isn’t going to stop messing with me, but I can stop engaging.  I found this really great piece on the Rockland Road Runners website talking about the mental challenge of the marathon. The author, Ernst Joseph, says you need to train your mind before race day just the way you need to train your body.

First thing’s first: stick with the goal. I’ve already looked up the process for changing from the full to a half. That’s not sticking with the goal!  I need to wrap my head around this one key fact: on May 3rd, I’m doing the marathon. All 42.2 km of it. That’s the mental toughness:

Sticking with the goal – If you have decided to run a marathon, then run it. Barring injury, there is no plan B as far as to run or not to run. This commitment not only motivates the runners out of the bed for training during cold winter and hot-humid summer days, but also trains their minds to believe that the decision to run the upcoming marathon is non-negotiable. If the training was not good enough to achieve the goal that was set up at the beginning of the training program, then run within the limitation. This is the fundamental step to the mental training. This develops a positive attitude throughout training period and when the going gets tough in the race, the mind will be focused on how to finish and not on whether to finish.

Another thing you can do is work adversity into your training. It might be hot, rainy, or cold on race day. I know for me, training for Around the Bay through this brutal winter made race day seem like a picnic weatherwise, even though it was kind of chilly. Here’s what Joseph says is essential:

Sticking with the training schedule – If today is the training day of the week, then train. If the weather is extreme, modify the training but do not modify the schedule. This commitment to training will train the runner’s mind to run with confidence if the marathon day brings rain, cold, hot or humid weather.

You train the mind by knowing there will be pain:

Understanding and accepting the marathon associated pain– 2:08:00 or 8:02:00 marathoners will be left with common phenomenon of fatigue and inflammation of the joints at the end of a marathon. This is a normal physiological phenomenon associated with prolonged exercise such as marathon, so accept it. It is the ability to overcome or deal with the pain at this point in the race that will be the difference between peak and mediocre performance. Pain is part of the marathon. Deal with it in the training and get it out of the system.

I like that he talks about a huge range of race times (from 2:08 to 8:02). I’m estimating that the marathon is going to take me at least 5 hours, possibly a little longer. That’s a long time to be out there but I can do it. Pain or no pain. Since we started the blog, my ability to suffer has taken a dramatic upswing.

Finally, last on the list of suggestions, he recommends staying positive:

Once relaxed and accepting of the situation, find ways to stay positive. Draw positive energy from the surrounding. During training, take the mind off the fatigue and pain by talking with the running partner about positive things. If going solo, visualize positive and inspirational thoughts. But the important thing is; during the training run when the going gets tough, keep going because this is the most valuable mental training you will ever receive on the pain management. During the race, feed on the crowd’s support. Get involved with the crowd. Read those inspirational signs on the course. And if you ever encounter the wall, please remember that walls do have windows.

Walls have windows! I love that. I’m actually excited about my long run this weekend. Gabbi suggested 3.5 hours of running on Sunday morning. I figure that will be about 30K.  I’m leaving the house just after 7, doing the first part on my own and then meeting up with Anita at 9 so I can have some support for the last stretch. She may need to do all the talking.

So my new approach to the Mississauga Marathon is to keep the fear at bay and not let it dominate the mental narrative. It’s an exciting thing and I’ve been working hard through a rough winter to get ready for the Around the Bay and the Mississauga Marathon. Around the Bay is now behind me.

Mississauga here I come!





15 thoughts on “Ditching My Fear of the Marathon (or at least sending it to the corner)

  1. Yes – do it! You will be glad you did. I think a lot of us question ourselves, and some of us do it all the way until race morning; but I promise as soon as you cross the finish line, you will be so happy you stuck with it! Good luck! 🙂

  2. You can do it. And you will do it. Now get it done! The mental component of running a marathon- especially 3 weeks out- is tougher than the physical. You’ve done the work. Now work on your mind. YOU’VE GOT THIS! 🙂

  3. 3 things! 1. Your awesome and congrats on the marathon you WILL run. 2. Gabi noted something important, run 3h. Dont focus on doing 30ks… Just run 3hs, 26-30+ dont mesure just run 3h. 3. You already know the most important things about running a marathon its gonna hurt and you accepted it, but most importantly you’re prepared for it! Enjoy! Follow my blog for some fun running related reads

  4. Go get it, lady! I ran my first marathon last May in 4:45 and had a ton of freakouts beforehand. Something that helped me tame them was (counter-intuitive to the power of positive thinking) imagining my worst fear (i.e. I could not finish) and what the consequences of that fear coming true would be (i.e. I’d try it again later with a little more experience under my belt). It’s easy to get worked up about it, but if you can step back and give yourself a little space to look at the reality of the situation, you’ll find a healthier perspective.

  5. Wow, best wishes! One day I’d like to run a marathon as well and I’m sure there’ll be some initial fear and regret associated with that. But this advice is very helpful for getting through that and preparing oneself to enjoy the run. I also liked what you mentioned about positive thinking, yes there are limits and that’s how it should be if you’re looking at things realistically.

  6. I think it is really good that you are taking on this marathon… One of my goals is to be able to finish a spartan race…!!!!! Check out my blog

  7. Great blog! I am four weeks out from my next marathon and have had those dark moments as well. Usually that is a sign that I need to eat more, especially more carbs!! Your mind turns to the dark side when it doesn’t have the right fuelling. 🙂 Your sentiments are along the lines of a great book I have just been reading, Ben Kaplan’s Feet Dont Fail Me Now. This is our hobby. This is what we do for fun…. Let’s keep it that way. Go well and enjoy every moment that you can. You will be a marathoner.

  8. Remember, the first and second goals for any race are to finish and to have FUN!! I remember also freaking out after my first 3h training run. I felt so awful after and was really doubting my ability to finish a full race. In retrospect, I was just really dehydrated nd didn’t bring enough to eat during the run. My one suggestion would be to stick to a snacking schedule during the race. I ran with a pack of Jelly Belly Sports Beans and after the first half, I ate 2 or 3 beans every 5 km, even if I didn’t feel like I needed it. Sticking to a schedule like that really helped me to maintain my energy levels so that they never really crashed. Also, take full advantage of the energy gels, bananas and/or oranges that might be handed out during the race. Good luck, Tracy! You can do it 🙂

  9. Great and inspiring post, Tracy! One thing that really struck me was the thought that one has to embrace and experience pain (and I would add, feelings of fear and ideas of rebellion) during training in order to deal with managing them during a race. That’s right on the mark! Let us know how the long run goes– your accounts are helping all of us out here, and we are cheering for you.

  10. You can do this! I am feeling the same way about my half marathon that I signed up for that is coming up in October. I know I have time to train but I have never gone a full 13.1 miles before and it is freaking me out! But I WILL NOT BACK OUT OF THIS RACE! I can do my first half and you can do your firt full! We got this!

  11. This is actually really inspiring. I’m nowhere near a distance runner – I’m just training for a 10k, but I’ve come from not being able to run for 30 seconds due to being ridiculously to being able to run about 5k at the moment. I was beginning to feel discouraged that I would never get past that 5k point, but reading posts like this put me into the ‘stop being a baby’ mindset. Wishing you all of the luck and determination!

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