Don’t fear the fear

It’s funny, I’ve run two marathons but I still don’t really feel part of the elusive marathon club. I know that sounds silly, but it’s true.

I just don’t feel like I went through the same process that other marathoners went through. The long training runs, the high mileage, the aching legs, the insatiable runger…I didn’t really have that. With both marathons I’d been hit with injuries and my mileage had to drop consequently. I did lots of cross-training for Paris with intermittent running (and failed runs plagued with niggles), and for Berlin I did lots of cycling and some pool running but it wasn’t the same.

Now obviously I’m over the moon that both marathons went well (beyond my expectation and I’m in no way unhappy with my times). But it meant lining up at the start I felt a little but like a fraud compared to the runners around me and I had huge doubts that I’d survive the whole 26.2 miles. In fact I seriously doubted I’d get past 10 miles for Paris.

Oddly it does mean that this time around I’m feeling a little bit more pressure because my training is actually going well (*TOUCH WOOD*) so surely that means I’ll do better? Well, I don’t know about that! There’s a huge danger of self-sabotage here: “Oh I’m far better trained this time so I’ll just take off like a rocket at the start and be fine”.

I think what really helped me in my previous marathons was the fact that I had so much uncertainty and fear. It kept me cautious all the way to 20 miles, and even then when I got past the “half way” point I still kept reminding myself I wasn’t out of the woods yet and still thought I could fail. I literally monitored my watch and pace the entire time, never letting myself go too much faster than I had planned.

If anything this fear is the most important thing I learnt and as good as my training seems to be going (*touch wood again*) I mustn’t forget that. Start slow, keep slow, and constantly reassess how I feel. The only difference is that “slow” has a different meaning this time around as I’m better trained.

For Liverpool I’ll do exactly as I did for my previous marathons. I’ll have a pacing band that will have my paces dictated for each mile. I’ll make sure I keep close to those times as much as possible (meaning no “oh mile one feels great, I’ll just run 30 seconds faster”), but let myself go a bit if I feel confident at the end. I’m a control freak perfectionist so find this strategy works perfectly. I just need to work out the correct pacing beforehand and I can’t really do that until closer to the time (hey, I’ve also got enough time to get injured and go back to square one!)

For anyone training for a marathon or about to do their first marathon, my biggest piece of advice is keep the fear. Don’t let it consume you or hinder you obviously, but let it hold you back a bit and keep you squarely on the path you’ve been training for. You cannot bank time but you can bank energy. Start slow and you’ll be surprised at how much oomph you have in the end. There’s nothing better than finishing a marathon strong.

What would be your most important marathon advice?

How do you conquer your nerves before a big event?

Do you depend a lot upon your watch/running app when racing? One day I want to run a marathon WITHOUT my Garmin (or at least keep it hidden from me). That would be a true test of pacing.

9 Replies to “Don’t fear the fear”

  1. I’ve only ever run one marathon (training for my second), but I think that’s some spot on advice about keeping the fear. I’ve heard so many stories of people feeling great and starting out faster than they had planned, only to bonk catastrophically before the end and finishing with a much slower time than they had hoped for.

    I’m doing my best to keep calm at the moment whilst still embracing the nervous excitement. I’m currently distracting myself by spending more time than usual in the kitchen 🙂
    Autumn recently posted…Don’t Descend Into Taper MadnessMy Profile

  2. I wear my Garmin for every race but I never look at it unless I’m really unsure of my pace or distance. I would say I’ve run 90% of my races without glancing at it once, because it messes with my head so badly both if I’m doing well (rarely) and if I’m doing badly (frequently). Honestly if I know how awful my pace is I’m likely to have a total breakdown and not finish the race at all…at least I can be disappointed and upset in retrospect rather than mid-race.

    Liverpool has pacers if you want to use them as a guide too? They definitely have 3:15 and 3:30 pacers and they’re not hard to locate at the start as it’s all fairly compact. I’m not sure of your time goals, but there’s also the option of trying to stay midway between the two (I stupidly went off with the 3:15 pacer, lost him and then got overtaken by the 3:30 guy around mile 16 I think…)
    Jess @ One Step Closer recently posted…Don’t Call It A ComebackMy Profile

    1. I need to get better at pace management. I’m sure in reality I’d be fine but it’s just letting go of that control (or at least perception of control) by not constantly checking…
      That’s great news about the pacers, it would be nice to hang with one of them and let my mind relax a bit! And also there’s always a good group of people around pacers which makes things more fun and social.
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…What I’ve been munching on and a very chirpy snackMy Profile

  3. You are right – you have to respect the marathon and not sprint off all cocky thinking you’ll smash it in 3 hours.

    I think the reason I’m not thinking about running a marathon again is all the time that goes into training and all the gazillion variables that are at play for months and months and months that determine how you are going to do on the day BUT ALSO everything can be right for the training and then the gazillion and 1st variable comes to play during the race and 😐 That’s why you’ve got to have the fear, the respect of the distance and go with the flow, take it easy, do keep to your pace and only put your sprinting legs on at the very very end (2kms :). If that’s possible by then 🙂
    MrsB recently posted…Strong is the new black (but only if it’s sexy)My Profile

  4. Marathons are such weird things- unlike other distances it really is a bit of the unknown as you stand on the start line. I must say I did have a few silly thoughts that went along the line of – I’m not injured, perhaps I didn’t train hard enough- which of course is stupid but the madness creeps in!
    Starting off steady is so sensible- you never know how you will feel at 20 miles. I kept thinking about the 20 miles being halfway, so as not to feel optimistic and speed up.
    My first marathon was run without a Garmin,- I used to have a Nike+ which gave some indication of speed, but it wasn’t very accurate. All my races before I was in hospital were without a Garmin because I only bought it then. I like to glance at it to check my pace, but what I tend to do it remember what the pace should be (eg 10 min miles, or between two paces) and then check I am there. I had all the times written down for Brighton, and a pacer band, but it was hard reading it while I was running anyway!
    Maria @ runningcupcake recently posted…Magic soaps!My Profile

  5. I go a lot more on feel now than I ever used to. I’m too much of a data geek to ever run a marathon completely Garmin-less but I think I trust my body enough that it would get me round in a similar sort of state to normal!
    My marathon advice for first time marathon runners has always been to cut your toenails before race day! For previous runners of the distance it is to have a race-day plan…and also a back-up plan. To come up with three goals; a gold, silver and bronze goal is another good tip I picked up from someone else.
    Mary recently posted…Taper, run, taper again!My Profile

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