Q: I’m running my first marathon next week and I’m so nervous! Is there anything I can do to calm my nerves and help ensure a good race? – Lydia
A: Running your first marathon is very exciting! The most important thing for you to do now is relax! Easier said than done, I know. Remember this, your training is done. There is nothing you can do between now and race day to improve your fitness level. Worrying will not help you and can even sabotage your race. So, now it’s time to think positive, eat nutritiously, hydrate appropriately, and get plenty of sleep.
Mentally prepare yourself for the race by focusing your thoughts on a successful outcome. Visualize crossing the finish line and receiving your finisher’s medal. Rather than worry about the race, plan how you will handle challenges you might face, like hitting the wall. Your plan might include packing a special treat to eat, taking electrolytes, and/or deciding it’s ok to walk until you can run again. Thinking through difficult moments ahead of time and having a plan of action in place will help you deal with any challenges that might come up.
Here are more tips to help you ace your race:
1) Break it down! Rather than think about running 42 kilometres, break the race down into three parts, basically three 14 kilometre segments. Run the first part easy, staying at a very comfortable pace. This is your warm up. Don’t fight the crowds, don’t weave around people, and don’t waste any energy. Relax into the run and let your body warm up. Around kilometre 14, begin the second part of the race. Pick up your pace just a bit, but still staying within your comfort zone. Find your rhythm at this slightly faster pace and settle in. At the 27 to 28 kilometre mark, do an assessment and see how you feel. Typically, this last part of the marathon is the toughest, but by running conservatively on the front end of the race, you should be ready for the final third of the race. Based on how you feel, adjust your pace accordingly; maintain your pace, pick it up, or slow it down as needed. At kilometre 38, you may find some energy as you realise the end is near! You can see the light at the end of the tunnel with just 4 kilometres to go! Pick up the pace if you can and bring it in! This racing strategy should allow you to run a negative split for the race, which means you run the second half of the race faster than the first half. Negative splits help you feel good and finish strong.
2) Set several race goals. Having several goals for your race sets you up for a successful experience. First, make a basic goal, one that is very realistic and achievable. For example, it’s your first race, so maybe set a goal of just finishing. Next, make another goal that is a bit more difficult, like running the second half of the race faster than the first half, aiming for that negative split. And, your last goal is one that is your optimal goal, which could be setting a time goal if you have one in mind. For example, if you have done some previous races, you can use a race prediction chart to help you set a time goal for the marathon.
3) Re-direct your thoughts. Look ahead, beyond the race. Think about what you want to do AFTER this race, rather than just focus on the race itself. Distract yourself from thinking only about the race by thinking about what is next? Set some future goals or select another race. What do you want to do? Get faster, go longer? A triathlon, another marathon? Making a future plan to follow after your post-race recovery period is a great way to channel your energy now.
All the best to you!