Tips For Preparing Yourself Mentally For Your First Marathon In The Last Week Of Tapering.
With only one week to go before the Belfast Marathon I’ve regressed to my mindset before my first ever marathon in 2011 to try to provide some advice that will hopefully benefit any first time marathon runners out there.
- Try not to worry too much about the dreaded last 10k - If you’ve only trained for 16-18 miles as your longest run then it’s normal to fear those last 6.2 miles. Before my first marathon I put such pressure on myself to run all 26.2 miles that lost the mental and physical battle at mile 18 and walked much of the rest of the race. The sad thing is that I had more in my legs but thought I’d failed myself by walking. When you reach 20 miles in your first marathon you should celebrate every minute you carry on running thereafter and not chastise yourself for every minute spent walking. Just keep going and you’ll eventually get there.
- Plan something for after the race marathon to celebrate your achievement - Having a great meal to look forward to with friends after the race can help you mentally phase out from the pain at the end and struggle onwards through the end.
- Be wary of comfort eating that poses as ‘carb-loading’ during the taper week - If you’re prone to using food to control your emotions then you might be at risk of eating to excess to ease your marathon fears. The marathon won’t be any easier to run if you spend the build-up binging on cake. If I’m feeling afraid I like to have a slow walk around town to feel better about myself.
- Try not to worry too much about your sleeping pattern before the race - Every marathon tips guide I’ve ever read has a bit on the importance of sleep on the days before the marathon. Well guess what? It isn’t easy to sleep when you’re anxious. Sure, you can drink all of the hot milk in the world and listen to a new-age-soundtrack of an orca whale fucking a set of wind chimes on loop, but the chances are you will experience at least some disruption with your sleep cycle. It’s perfectly normal. In Paris I maybe slept for an hour before the run and got up early as the anxiety was killing me. I still managed to get around and if anything my sleeplessness gave me more adrenaline towards the end.
Don’t worry. You’ll have a whale of a time.
- Remember you’re not the only person that’s running the marathon for the first time - There are many first timers out there who are shitting themselves about the race too. The best way to get around this is to reach out to your fellow runners before the race. Talking always calms my pre-race jitters.
- The marathon will be all over soon - You’ll have spent the part of 5 months worrying about an event that will be over in a flash. Sure it will seem like it’s going on for fucking ever when you’re out there pounding the pavements. But I it will be over soon and the last thing you want to have to do is look back at the race with regrets. Go out there and give it your best shot and run your own race!
- Don’t weigh yourself in tapering week - If you’re running the marathon to try to achieve your weight loss target then you might want to hide the scale in the run up to the big day. It’s incredible how much you can ruin your confidence when you notice you’ve gained a few pounds in weight. Your muscles are hoarding glycogen for the big day and a little weight gain is natural. Make it easy on yourself and hide the scales!
- You will and should question your sanity - Before my first marathon I regularly asked myself “what have I got myself into? Am I fucking mad?”. The answer is you are probably fucking insane especially if you judge yourself by the standards of a piss-grey society whose only form of exercise is throwing the remote control at the television when their favourite singer gets voted out of the X-Factor. It’s OK to be insane. Go out there and be proud of yourself.
- Set yourself a time target if it motivates you into training stronger and smarter - But don’t be disappointed if you miss out on it. I cut myself up mentally about missing out on my 5 hour target in my first marathon. I was only 57 seconds out, but that still managed to sour the experience by making me believe I’d failed myself.
- Your first marathon isn’t everything – When you’re running 26.2 for the first ever time then you just don’t know what to expect. All you can do is do your best and enjoy it as much as possible. For me the journey up to those 26.2 miles is much more important than the race itself. You’ve spent all of these months conditioning your body and your mind and the marathon itself is the fruit of all the hard work. Regardless of what happens in the run, you should be proud of yourself for braving out 16-20 weeks of marathon training. It takes some amount of dedication!