When it’s not your first marathon

What a cliche – new year, new DECADE even, and I decide to resurrect my blog… But one of my aims for this year is to just DO stuff. Just get on with things, not think and procrastinate too much (because I am the very QUEEN of procrastination – I am that person who’s house is only ever tidied when there is something else I should be doing, and can waste hours playing stupid games on my phone. I’ve just deleted a bunch of them by the way, I think I was actually addicted… and as you can tell I can also ramble like a BOSS). So here it is, it won’t be perfect, but fuck trying to be perfect too.

At the end of last year I was running with a friend who I help train – she has got a coveted place at London Marathon and was feeling the pressure. She was feeling unsure as to whether she could complete the training or run the distance, she said she felt like her fitness was ‘going backwards’, that she wasn’t ready…  Fair enough really – running your first marathon is a big deal – but that’s the thing, this isn’t her first marathon.

And that got me thinking about those second time marathoners, or even those third or fourth time marathoners. If you’ve read other blog posts you’ll know that it was my third time running 26.2 that really kicked me RIGHT in the lady nards. It was one of the most truly humbling experiences of my life and taught me that you have to respect that distance no matter how many times you’ve done it. It’s ALWAYS hard, of course it is, it’s a fucking marathon, and contrary to what running muggles seem to think – they are ALL 26.2 miles, not just London. But there’s usually a huge buzz around the first one – everyone gets excited for you and gees you on, if you’re running for charity you get extra support there. And the interest of friends and family can tail off a bit once you’ve done it once. It can become old hat, or ‘but you’ve already done a marathon’ so it’s not such a big deal any more…. and that, is an error. It’s ALWAYS a big deal.

A lot of the same things do still apply the second time – feeling like you’re not ready, doubts that you can do it. And what I said to my friend, (and what we, as coaches tell all of our runners) applies first, second, third, whatever time – that of course you’re not ready right NOW. It’s January. You’re at the beginning of your spring marathon training. No one is at peak condition all the time – not even Farrah or Kipchoge – they, and you, train to become ready ON THE ACTUAL DAY. All that build up of mileage etc, and then the taper so you’re rested is designed so that you peak on the day.

For a second marathon, there’s an additional pressure coming from the fact that you know you’ve done it before – the first time you hopefully think you can do it, but you don’t KNOW know until the finish line. Second time around you know you’ve done it, but actually forget some of the process that got you there. That you felt exactly like this the last time. And you worry that you’ve ‘lost all that fitness’ well, yeah, actually you have, and of course you have, because you cannot physically be at your peak ALL OF THE FUCKING TIME.

The first time should all be about just completing the distance, that’s it. There should be no pressure to do it in a certain time. But the second and third and however many times you do this – there’s inevitably a pressure to beat the last time. And this can be really mentally tricky. You may feel like actually you left everything out there the first time and you couldn’t go any faster than you did. It’s just an additional pressure that hopefully you wouldn’t have burdened yourself with first time around. There’s also a weird pressure in the fact that you have already done a marathon, so there’s that old bastard word “should” rearing it’s head – you feel like you SHOULD be able to do it faster next time.

Sometimes being in a running club doesn’t help either, because we’re surrounded by people who – and these are examples from my club alone – run 100 mile ultras like it’s no big deal, have run every day for five years, are running 25 marathons in 25 days, have run 200 marathons, do New York Marathon in under 3 hours and don’t even look bloody tired in their finisher pictures… it can warp your idea of what an achievement is! I admire these people greatly, they are all amazing and incredibly inspirational! But I also hugely and equally admire my friend who has just completed couch to 5k and is planning her first 10K race. Or another who had the courage to return to parkrun on a freezing cold day after a very long break from running and battle through to the finish. These achievements are equally amazing.

So I guess my point is this – be kind to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Try not to let the “shoulds” get to you. Trust the training – actually DO the training, and recover properly, eat well, and you’ll be ok whether it’s your first, second or twentieth.

The picture, by the way, was taken by my buddy Saeed, at the finish line of my second marathon – I think he captured the look of pure happiness at the achievement and the fact that I could now finally stop running probably contributed too.

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