If you've come this far and are still planning to join us at the starting line, you've done the hardest part. You've spent months putting in 100's of miles. You've done the long runs, in my opinion the most important part of the marathon training regimen. You are physically ready! That's the hardest part. Now, all you have left are whatever miles you plan to run this week and then a 26.2 mile long run on Sunday.
Now that you're physically prepared, there are two classes of things that can go wrong enough to keep you from crossing the finish line -- those you can control and those you can't. Because the things you can control are 100% up to you, I can't see any reason to worry about them. Because you can't control the others, worrying over them does you absolutely no good. So I can't see why you'd waste time and energy worrying about them.
Let's talk about those things you can control first. This week's training. This week's eating. Logistics. Race day -- pace and nutrition.
First, how you train this week can impact your race day performance. My advice here is to just follow your training plan! You've spent months using this plan, but this last week can sometimes seem so light that it makes you feel like you're not doing enough. But more than likely, whoever developed your plan knows more about this than you do. If they didn't, you wouldn't have trusted them to start with. If it's worked for you this far, trust it to get you to the end.
The next thing you can control is how you eat this week. Just like the training plan, if you've been following a marathon nutrition plan, stick with it. If you haven't been following a strict plan, you have been experimenting throughout your training. You've likely had good long runs and bad long runs and part of what made them good or bad could have been your eating habits during the week before. Think back to what you did before those good long runs and have faith that if it worked then, it will work now. It's common to get nervous this week and start searching the internet for magic tips and pointers. They all sound good if they promise good results, especially for the first time marathoner. The last thing you need to do at this point is to make major changes to your diet, especially untested and untried changes. Just do what worked for you during training!
Logistics covers quite a lot, but nothing you can't handle. The key here is to get everything ready in advance. You know what gear you need, so don't leave it scattered around the house until marathon morning. Make a checklist and get it together now, in one bag, contained so you don't have to hunt for it last minute. Include clothes for any kind of weather so you'll be ready for whatever mother nature throws at you. Watch, water bottles, nutrition belts, sunscreen, chapstick, gels, or anything else that's worked for you during training should be in this bag, long before race day. If you do this, even if your schedule is disrupted the day before the race, you'll be ready with time to spare. Get ready now, and you'll be ready on race day!
The last thing you can control is your race, specifically your pace and nutrition. I'm nowhere near as experienced as a lot of marathon runners, but Little Rock this year will be my 12th marathon since I started in 2011, and I've made costly mistakes in more of them than I've run well. The easiest mistake to make, in my opinion, is to start too fast or to get overconfident early in the race and push the pace. Unless you're an elite runner, or good enough to win an award, (neither of which am I) your primary goal should be to finish. I'm not going to get too cliche and say you shouldn't even set a time goal. I've always had a finish time in mind at the start of every race, even though I've missed it more than I've met it. But your primary goal should be to finish! Unless you're one of those elites or award-winners mentioned above, your medal is going to look exactly like those who finish before you and those who finish after you. So wrap your mind around the fact that finishing is the primary goal, and do it now!
With that said, you're more than likely going to feel good at the start of the race. You WILL be tempted to pick up the pace, to get ahead of your target pace, and you might even reach a point where you're convinced you can finish significantly faster than your goal. Even though I know better, I still fall prey to these same temptations often. But I can promise you, more often than not, veering from your goal pace and pushing to finish faster will come back to haunt you late in the race. Discipline is the key to finishing well, and maybe to finishing at all. No matter how great you feel in the first few miles, stick with your target pace. If you do that, you're less likely to crash and burn and a lot more likely to finish and finish well.
Nutrition during the race. This is another thing you should have experimented with during your training. Think back to those good long runs and how you managed your nutrition before and during those runs. Stick with what worked during training! A lot of people may be offering you advice, usually what works best for them, that sounds really tempting to try. But this is not the time to try something new! Just because it worked well for a friend, doesn't mean it will work the same for you. I don't know anyone who manages nutrition intake like I do, but it works for me. Use what works for you and don't listen to all the news about great stuff that works for everyone else. If you want to experiment with something you here this week, wait until after the marathon.
That's it for my advice on the things you can control. Now let's move to the things you can't. And I'll go ahead and say it now, why are you worried about things you can't do anything about? Is your worrying now going to change anything? Is it going to change anything on race day? There is absolutely no good for your race that can come from worrying about things beyond your control. So just stop!
The weather is something I've seen several people worrying over. Why? I'm not sure. This has been the hardest winter training I've experienced since I started running, and especially since I started running marathons. I've run cold ones and hot ones and in between ones, but I've never been able to bend the weather to my will. Not one time. Especially not by worrying about it. Whatever weather God throws at us next Sunday, we'll deal with it and run. If it's cold or hot, raining or sunshine, snow or sleet or even hail, as long as they don't cancel the race, we're going to run. So stop worrying about it.
There are other things you might not be able to control that could arise as well. Illness is the main one that comes to mind. But again, if you can't control it, why worry over it. In fact, I'd hypothesize that you could actually INCREASE the chances of making yourself sick by worrying. If something happens and you do take ill on race day, this race isn't worth killing yourself over. If you get sick and can't run the race, or can't finish the race, they will hold it again in a year, and there will be lots of other marathons between now and then if you don't want to wait that long.
Anything else that could happen that's beyond your control isn't worth worrying over either, because worrying isn't going to stop it or help it or make it better. And even if something did happen, just getting to this point is an amazing accomplishment! You've already done more than most people ever will. You've run more miles, endured more pain and discomfort, pushed yourself harder and farther than maybe even you believed was possible. You are an athlete, and an amazing one at that.
Now, you didn't think you were going to get through one of my posts without a little preaching did you? Well, here it comes. Instead of worrying, pray. Pray for strength. Pray for peace. Pray for comfort. But most of all, pray that God will be glorified by all of our efforts next Sunday!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4:6
That's what the Bible tells us and I have to tell you it works for me. While every race hasn't been what I'd consider a good one, and I even DNF'd one, I honestly believe that God has been glorified in each and every one. And that's really what we should be pursuing in every aspect of our lives, even our running.
So this week, stop worrying and pray. You've done the hardest part. Keep your head, focus on remaining disciplined, and do what's worked through your training. And most importantly, do it for the glory of God. If you do that, whatever happens, however you run, however you finish, you're already amazing!
So good luck and God bless all running the Little Rock Marathon next week!
If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.