Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Mental Turmoil Before a Race

Just 4 days to go to my marathon and there is nothing I can do to make myself fitter, increase endurance or lose weight. Nothing - absolutely nothing. All that left is to regret the things I did not do and worry about how things will turn out.

Who knows if I have put enough endurance in my legs? Although I fell short on my long runs I have been fairly consistent in my pattern of exercise, despite some injury gaps. I might be able to hang on – well that is what I am hoping; that is what I keep telling myself. However there is no margin for error. The cut-off time is 5 hours, so if I blow up and have to walk for long periods it could be touch and go as to whether I am allowed to finish.

Now I know that a pop psychologist will say that you should dismiss all such negative thoughts and just concentrate on succeeding, just picture yourself crossing that finishing line, just imagine running comfortably. That all makes sense and positive visualisation is quite enjoyable, in a daydreamy sort of way. I like doing that. However I can’t get too carried away because my default mental setting is pessimism about my own abilities, which has a tendency to corrode any rah-rah thinking. Instead I have to acknowledge my fears and work them through. I can’t wish them away.

The fears are largely based on the Amsterdam marathon last year, where I walked over a third of the course and finished a few seconds inside 5 hours. I have to convince myself that there were particular reasons for that and I am fitter and stronger this time. Although my head knows those reasons (I had picked up a virus and was not very well) my body still holds the memory of utter exhaustion. Because it was in my last marathon that memory looms large and a nasty voice in my head taunts me by saying ‘you’re only making excuses; maybe you can never last more than 15 miles’.

I have to be able to silence that voice and for this I have a number of strategies:

1) Letting go of the idea of failure. If it falls apart again, it is not a disaster. It is just another chapter in my running story – something I have to learn from. All that matters is that I do as well as I can on the day and then look upon it dispassionately, with the eyes of an outsider.

2) Turn Amsterdam around and look at it positively, as I was actually quite proud of myself. I kept going and finished. I think that was some sort of achievement.

3) Look at the positives of this years training – some sessions have been quite good. Overall I have enjoyed my running.

4) Feel the body getting stronger during this taper period and trust that feeling. I can believe that I will feel quite well rested at the start (even if I don’t know what time zone I am in).

5) Use the anxiety positively, to keep me cautious in the early stages . Just hold back and then hold back some more.

Above all I have to remember why I run and why I am doing this. I run partly for enjoyment, partly for fulfilment, partly for connections and partly to ask questions of myself. If I keep that in mind on Sunday then I am sure things will be OK.


WildWill said...

I think everyone goes thru the self doubts ... I always seem to have deems of arriving late, getting lost etc - the bigger the race the more nights i dream

It part of who we are and what we do

Highway Kind said...

You are right Will, we all go through this.

The interesting thing was that writing the blog helped exorcise a lot of the demons. I felt much more relaxed when I finished.

Perhaps I should turn this into a pre-marathon tip - write about what's bothering you, it helps put it in perspective.

Adele said...

All you can do at this stage is simply enjoy the run. There will be so much to see and distract you from any physical discomfort...and the crowds, the crowds are always such a lovely bunch of people willing you on. As you say, you had a nasty virus during last year's marathon and now you are fit and healthy.

Good luck, I really look forward to reading all about it.

Highway Kind said...

Thanks Adele

tomroper said...

Good luck for it. Cut-off times are cruel and unnatural in my opinion, and don't help racing anxiety. I agree with the idea of caution at first, though it's advice I often ignore, to my cost.
The knowledge that I have finished the distance before helps me. This time I may be slower, I may be faster, I know parts of the race will hurt, but I remind myself of the euphoria of finishing, the extraordinary few minutes after crossing the line.

Highway Kind said...

Thanks Tom

Focussuing on the reward at the end is good advice