This one is for all you first-timers…and is adapted from a message sent to one of my clients running Boston.
First, you’re completely and totally physically ready for this race.
Did you hear me? Read that again… (I’ll wait).
OK. Now, your head is going to play all kinds of games with you over the next couple of days. Doubts. Fears. Inadequacies. Phantom aches and pains. Worries that you’re getting fat and out of shape in this final week with less running. All of that is completely normal. But remember, you’ve put in the miles and the time to train. If you’ve put in 75% of your planned training, you’re ready. You’ve totally got this.
In these final days, the most important thing you can do is to prepare your mind for the race. Because there’s going to come a point where your body wants to quit and your head needs to take charge and get you to the finish line. If you hit “the wall” (and you may not) there is going to come a point where you will question your sanity and swear you will never run again. Ever. A point where every cell in your body screams for you to stop, sit down and give it up. At that point your head needs to take over and tell your feet “right, left, right, left…” or perhaps imagine that a cougar is chasing you. So here are a few things to focus on in the next few days.
Visualize the Finish. Take a few minutes each day to imagine yourself running the final stretch in front of the grandstands. What will that be like? Who will you see? See it. Hear it. Smell it. The applause. You’re tired, but you’re smiling. You’re getting your space blanket. Your medal. Your water bottle. You’ve done it! You can’t believe it. You’re a marathoner. Own that moment for a few minutes! Let it sink in.
Mantra. Do you have one? Something you can repeat to yourself when you’re bored out of your skull. Or when things get really hard on those final hills. Just a few words that remind you of what you need. Mine was “Strength. Power. Tenacity. Kick Ass” Over and over. And I wrote it on my forearm so that I would see it and remind myself. And yes, I used it!
Mentally Prep for the Course. Do as much as you can to get familiar with the course. Plan out your strategy for each 5-6 mile segment. And start off slow!
Cheering. Is your name on your bib? Is it big enough to read at a distance? If not, I think you should seriously consider defacing your running shirt by writing your name in big black letters on the front and something like “Marathon Virgin” or “Jane’s First Marathon” on the back. It helps so much to have people cheering you by name from the sidelines and as they pass. And if nothing else, you can give the people behind you a chuckle.
Self-care. Take care of yourself this weekend. It’s all about being as ready as you can for the big day. Sleep. Eat well. Stay off your feet as much as possible. Don’t spend too much time at the marathon expo — especially if you go the day before.
Be confident. I know this is your first marathon and that you didn’t “qualify” to run Boston. There are qualifying runners, charity runners, bandit runners, runners who had a friend… and runners who won a lottery. But when the starting gun goes off, no one cares how you got there, everyone crosses the same finish line, and there are people who qualified who are going to have a bad day and finish behind you.
No matter how this race goes down for you, you are going to remember this day for the rest of your life. The tears, the pain, the sights and sounds, and the utter joy of crossing the finish line. It will all become a bit of a blur and (as I am told about delivering a child), the pain will fade and the pride will be… forever.
You’ve totally got this!
Readers: Please share any other positive advice you can give first timers in the comments section!