Running your first marathon this year? Enjoy training and ignore Google
Let negative talk of the ‘wall’, blisters, upset stomachs and cramping calves go over your head
Your long runs each week are your opportunity to experiment, learn your lessons and basically make all your mistakes before the big day. Photograph: Getty Images
It is completely natural to fear the unknown. Moving into the endurance phase of a marathon training plan is certainly daunting. This stage of training asks first timers to complete the longest run of their life each week for the next two months. The comfort zone has most certainly been left behind. So in case you think you are alone, fear not, almost everyone is feeling the jitters right now.
Even if your training has been going well, albeit with a few hiccups, it is still common to be apprehensive about what lies ahead. Twenty-six miles still seems very far away.
But take a moment to look back at all that has changed in the last two months. Back in June, most of you considered 10km a long run. Now you run double that distance reasonably comfortably. You have learnt so much about your running body and the same will happen in the next few months.
It is not you, but a more experienced version of you, that will line up for the marathon. Just focus on the week you are in and you will be surprised at how your confidence will build week on week.
It is so easy to become obsessed with the perfect marathon when it is your first. In fairness, it is all anyone talks to you about and possibly all you want to talk about too. Everyone wants to give you advice and you are keen to learn. Your weeks are full of training, fuelling, planning and recovery.
It is understandable that you want to do everything right, but it is important to remember that you cannot do everything. From online tips to work colleagues’ words of experience, you will receive so much contradictory information in the next few weeks that you will start to doubt your preparation and training.
The negative talk of the “wall”, blisters, upset stomachs and cramping calves are enough to make anyone question their chances of getting out smiling. Listen to all the tips but let most of them go over your head. Keep your support circle small and don’t get carried away on Google. Trust your training, stick to your plan and accept that others train differently.
As I have mentioned many times before, your long runs each week are your opportunity to experiment, learn your lessons and basically make all your mistakes before the big day. Each of these long runs is character-building as well as endurance-building.
Write a few notes after each of the next long runs about everything from pacing to clothing, food to recovery. Each long run should build on the success and the challenges of the previous and all of these lessons set you up for the big day.
All is not lost
If your training has not quite gone to plan so far, all is not lost. Rather than chase your original goal and risk burnout or injury, adapt your goal to what is now realistic for your fitness and body. Use the lessons you have learnt this summer to amend your training schedule to a plan that suits your body and your other responsibilities. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you will do extra now as the marathon gets closer. Being adaptable and listening to your body is key to success.
It is healthy to have respect for the marathon, both the distance and the training. But there is absolutely no benefit to living in fear of the big day. Get a strategy in place to handle your concerns rather than spend the next few months worrying if they are going to haunt you on race day.
So what are you most nervous about? The main concerns for many first timers at this stage of the game are injury, pacing, stomach upsets and generally a doubt in their own ability to reach the distance of the 26-mile finish line.
Make a note of your main concern and come up with a plan of action as to how you are going to deal with that worry in the coming days and weeks. Consult your coach or close running buddies for advice. Once it is on paper, the worry leaves your head and may even seem less of a big deal.
Each week ask yourself the same question and notice how the worries change and disappear as time progresses. One thing is certain, the main concern you have right now will probably not be an issue on race day.
You can spend the next two months worrying about all that could possibly go wrong, or you could use the time ahead to be sensible, practical and organised. Writing down all you learn about yourself and your body each week will offer you a notebook of great ideas, confidence-building tips and moments to remember which you will enjoy reading in the final weeks leading up to marathon day.
It is so important that you enjoy these coming weeks and not put off the appreciation for what your body is accomplishing until the final finish line. The longest run of your life each week is truly something to be celebrated. Remember that and pat yourself on the back each week you tick off your plan. It will lift your spirits and help you believe that you, yes you, can indeed complete your first marathon.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie.
Mary’s new book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now