Wednesday, October 10, 2012


The following is an article I posted about a year and a half ago.  It was entitled "Trepidation" and I felt, having just received a message from an online friend about their nerves in taking on their first marathon at the Prairie Fire Marathon in Wichita Kansas, that this was a good time to re-run it.

When I meet athletes at an event, many times I am meeting first timers. I ask how they are feeling and fairly frequently the words “nervous” or “anxious” pop out of their mouths. I can relate, obviously. But I tell them these are good feelings to have. These feelings usually keep them from doing something stupid in the last few days before a big race. I also think they are extremely important for races of a longer nature. For example, with the marathon, it doesn’t matter how many races you run, if you do not respect the distance, chances are high it will not respect you either. You will be left to shuffle along, praying for the finish line, only to collapse in a heap at the end if you are lucky enough to make it.

This past weekend was my 130th lifetime marathon. Running for the Vermont Beef Council I realized on the starting line that I had not run a marathon in 50 days. I had only gone that long between marathons 14 times previously. I can usually keep fears and thoughts of under-preparedness away by simply toeing the line for the marathon on a fairly frequent basis. Granted in those 50 days I had done two triathlons, a duathlon, a half marathon and a 10k (personal best, mind you) but my mileage was way down. I wasn’t anywhere close to being ready for a marathon, or at least as ready as I would like. I felt a little lump in my throat. Nerves. They were striking me.

But I knew I was on familiar ground. If I used my head, I could harness the nervousness and use the energy to my advantage. The trepidation I felt was not something to be feared. It told me I knew what was in front of me was going to make me tired, sore and probably quite thirsty. These were all things I had experienced and knew were on their way. Suddenly, I felt relaxed. Acquiescing to the fact that my next three hours were going to include about every emotion one can have suddenly made everything so much easier to swallow.

A nice warm glow came over me. My miles for 2011 might be at the lowest for any year since I have been keeping track, but this just meant that my legs were fresher than ever (Yeah, right). My goal was to run a sub-3 hour marathon so I could tick Vermont off the states I needed to do that for. I had eaten a hearty steak for my usual pre-race meal so my nutrition was set. My mind was where I needed to be. All I had to do was go run.

But I learned a long time ago that the marathon does not care about your own personal milestones. As chance would have it, the weather for this race was right in the sweet spot of what decimates me: namely heat and humidity. But having been down this road before many times, I was able to change my race plans on the fly and have a successful day. And by “successful” I mean crossing the finish line upright and officially, even if it was with a ton of chafing.

Instead of using the nervous energy to propel me forward, I instead used it to hold myself back and then kick where and when I could. Undoubtedly these are things one can only learn in time or by following the advice of others. However, knowing that nerves and anxiety are often your friends, and not your foes, is a key lesson for beginners to learn.

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