There is much to be said about running your first marathon. But if you’re heading for a spring marathon (and most of the group I help to train are doing Manchester in ooooooh 2 and a bit weeks! EEEK!) you will have pretty much completed your training and will be in the taper now, having sorted your kit and all your nutrition on your last few long runs. So given my experience in a previous marathon (not my first, that was the kicker, I wasn’t expecting it) of my mental game being the bit that let me down, I wanted to say something about how you can support yourself now when you’ve got a couple of weeks before you’re standing on the start line.
Hopefully you will have the best support crew in the world, and everyone you know is rooting for you (EVERYONE should be, unless they are a colossal arsehole, they will know how much you’ve put in to this). This is really really important, but there are times, I think for everyone, at least everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it, where you hit a dark moment during a marathon. And at that point – and maybe even for the whole 26.2 miles – you are kind of on your own. It’s an obvious thing to say, but no one can actually run it for you. Having support is AMAZING, but when it comes to race day, you, just YOU need stuff in your mental arsenal to get you through it. You can do all your training with others, you can even run the whole marathon with someone else, I’ve been lucky enough to have friends who offered to run with me (at my pace rather than theirs!) for two of the four marathons I’ve completed so far. And for the other two I started off with friends and then we parted ways along the route at some point. But even the two marathons I ran with a friend, it was me running it. It is your legs, and your brain, and your pure grit, that will get you across that finish line. Support along the route that can’t be underestimated either. But honestly there are times when you can be surrounded by people and still feel really REALLY lonely, and that’s when you need to bring out the big guns in your head.
So, that means things like mantras. Or just knowing what you’re going to draw upon when things feel a bit shit. You’ll know this from your long runs, there are times when you feel like you can’t do it. So what will you say to yourself in that moment?
For me the biggest mantra that gets me through and the thing that is like mental armour, is the knowledge that I’ve done the training. Obviously life can interfere, but each time I knew I had done all of the miserable rainy snowy long runs, or for an autumn marathon trained in the searing heat, got up at 6 EVERY SINGLE TUESDAY to hit the track for my intervals and I’d done the mileage. Marathon training is one of those things where you truly get back what you put in. Barring injury or unforeseen illness, if you do all the training you’re giving yourself your best shot at finishing the race strong.
So that has been my number one mantra – trust the training, trust the training, trust the training.
And actually having people who really believe in you, as with the true friends I mentioned at the start, having people who have no doubt in their souls that you can do it, is really important too. My coach and best running buddy is a ridiculously positive guy, whatever mad shit I come up with that I want to do next, he just says “yeah, you WILL do that” there’s no if’s or buts or what he calls ‘weasel words’ . When I look at myself through his eyes, I’m just this super capable person who can do anything! My boss is like that too – he just assumes I can do anything and that makes me believe I can. Whatever he throws at me, it turns out I can do it. There’s never any doubt in Bryan’s mind that I’m capable of it, so I just give it a go. Edit an online magazine? Why not! Launch a range of running leggings? Yep, already on it. Contrast that to a former boss who just seemed to think I was incompetent from the word go, and when I got called into his office so he could micromanage every detail of my job he would just sit and stare at me until I started hysterically waffling to fill the silence! And lo and behold I hated that job and wasn’t very good at it, because I had no faith in my ability. Actually I could do the work standing on my head, I just hated it. But all those people who DO believe in you, hold on to that thought, because you can think of them when you’re flagging. They KNOW you can do it, even if you have a moment of doubt. My daughter thinks I’m some combination of Wonder Woman, Sarah Connor and Ripley (or maybe those are just the women I’m channelling to get me through – if you’ve seen a picture of my face going full Ripley at a cross country race when someone tried to take me out IN THE FINISH TUNNEL, you’ll know what I mean…).
Knowing you have people who believe in you and are willing you on to the finish line when you’re at mile 20 and your legs are starting to hate your guts and the weasel words are creeping in to your brain, can give you the strength to carry on. Because you’ve done the training so it really is all in your head at this point.
So if you’re training for your first marathon and you’re reading this – even if you feel silly, EVEN if you think I’m a total hippy, just give it a go. Visualise yourself crossing that finish line, and who will be waiting for you. Visualise yourself having that medal put round your neck. Think about what you will use mentally in the dark moments, think of some mantras you could use, think of WHY you’re doing this, if you’re doing it for a charity, think about that too – that really helped me running my first marathon for Mind.
And for the love of all that is good and holy get your name printed on your running vest so that all those strangers who have come out to see you, YES YOU run that marathon, can scream your name and make you feel like a freaking celebrity.