It’s the business end of the training programme now. The longest runs are a common feature of the training schedule and the marathon is now just a single-figure number of weeks away. I’m on course for my fifth marathon and I’m pleased with how training has gone. A new regime of focussed strength training seems to be working. The usual injury/ies to calf and soleus I’ve experienced in previous years (the last 3 years) have yet to materialise and I’m coming in to the final weeks of training perhaps better prepared than I have ever been. But remember, the first rule of running injury-free club is that you don’t talk about running injury-free club.
Race day will show the results from this, but despite now being relatively experienced in this game. Knowing what to expect from schedule, body and mind, previous fears and emotions still bubble up.
The first was excellently summed up by a club colleague who focussed on their long run experience by highlighting how they felt they were ‘running scared’. This is completely normal in my experience given the amount of time, and effort invested to get to this stage. What’s surprising is that in the lead up to my fifth marathon (four Brighton, one London) is that I still get this – indeed I have a feeling this will always be part of training, a running ‘sword of Damocles’ perhaps?
I still get the fear about injury striking, setting back all my efforts, potentially ruining what I’ve achieved, and even getting in the way of my race day. A worry about the fragility of my own body.
Equally, there’s another ‘scaredy catness’ that runs (whoops) alongside this – have I done enough training? Have I pushed myself enough? Am I making enough progress which means I’ll achieve my target come race day whether that’s a particular time “oooo under four hours would be lovely”, or to complete the course “I’ll just be happy to get round”, or even life preservation “as long as it doesn’t kill me”. At this stage of the training cycle there seems to be concurrent fears about what might go wrong and the perception that more training is needed. What’s particularly interesting is that if you respond to the second ‘come on train more’ fear then the former ‘getting injured’ scenario is all the more likely.
So yes, I am worried about my amount of training even though I know that for my second and third marathons I got my 1st and 3rd fastest times for the marathon after being injured on both occasions till at least mid-February so come race day I’d only completed around 7-8 weeks solid training. Despite this, both races were great successes. This time I’ve been training since early November, broken only by a break at Christmas.
I’m also concerned about keeping injury away. I don’t want any familiar old niggles returning, and growing into full blown strains, pulls, or real discomfort during running. And this is well before the final weeks of hypochondria where you seem to exist in a permanent state of impending injury as your whole body protests against the physical schedule you’ve put it through. This all spawns a plethora complaints about this, or that, really hurting, your knee aching in an unusual way, those glutes/hamstrings etc being really tight and/or painful. This stage is yet to come and I think everyone goes through it whether spoken out loud or not. If you don’t believe me just ask your running coach about those final weeks prior to the ‘marathon/half’ season. They’ll tell you how they’ve heard it all before from all kinds of runners – experienced and inexperienced. Equally, the anxiety at this time is often palpable.
Although it doesn’t seem pleasant, the ‘running scared’ experience is also an important reflection of how much you have invested in what you are now doing. Probably putting your body, diet etc through more than they ever have been will mean some strange reactions and be honest, this training lark is a very strange way to organise our lives. Looking at ways to make sure those training runs get done, having a whole new relationship with food/nutrition/alcohol, considering the different merits of gels versus blocks, testing out new varieties so come race day they will be familiar tastes and experiences, and contemplating whole new regimes of body care – Epsom salt bathing, how much Vaseline to apply for those rainy runs (chafing is your enemy), moisturising elbows and knuckles cos they’ve dried out from running, and…nope I’m not going there.
It’s important to reflect on these as part of your training. What is it about them that is causing you to ‘run scared’? Often there are things you can do about them where it is a worry about something going on for you whilst on the long runs, or a worry about what might happen on race day. I’ve found it’s often good to talk it through with someone, particularly those at a similar stage of their training. It’s at least something else to talk about rather than why did that old man shove me deliberately on Camden Road, or the football, or plans for the upcoming week. I’ve found that you’ll find that others are often thinking about exactly the same thing as you, and experience shows that these things are often boldly in technicolour when it comes to race day – so it’s perhaps best to prepare for them. This is another part of the training because by examining the issue in detail you can work on a strategy for dealing with it, or get some ideas from others about how you might address it. So take the issue on board, examine it and learn from it. It’s not as though you don’t have much time on the long runs to examine it all – it saves having to stare at the pavement for all that time.
Another area that seems to bubble up at the most surprising moments is emotional reaction/s. I’m pretty sure it’s not just me, but there are occasions during training and racing where my emotions just get the better of me. So yes, I have blubbed for no apparent reason whilst on training runs, during races, and post-run. The reaction to blubbing during races is very interesting to see on the faces of spectators as they cheer you along, shouting your name, and there you are blubbing as they seek to will you along. They seem so upset or worried about what’s going on for you. But they needn’t really worry because the blubbing can be set off (particularly on race day) by a seemingly infinite list of things. So…
I’ve blubbed during races because I haven’t seen family or friends at an expected point along the route. I’ve blubbed because I have seen family or friends at an expected point along the route. I’ve blubbed because I have seen family or friends at an unexpected point along the route. I’ve blubbed because I’ve seen someone else in the race I didn’t even know was running. I’ve blubbed because someone I don’t know has shouted out my name. I’ve blubbed because I just feel ridiculously tired and I’m certain I can’t carry on any more. I’ve blubbed because I feel absolutely fantastic finishing the run. I’ve blubbed because I’ve got shocking indigestion mid-race just from a gel or sports drink just consumed.
Yep I’ve blubbed, I’m a blubber.
Again, this just shows what is invested in the run for you whether it’s the cause, the time, the event, the experience, the ticking off of a bucket list item. All are valuable when it comes to those points in the race, which they will surely will, where you know you are struggling, battling against the sheer effort of what you are trying to achieve of whatever distance. These are the things to draw upon to get you through those challenging times, to get you to the finish, and achieve your goal..
Such emotions bubbling up are no bad thing, and I’d suggest neither is ‘running scared’ as long as you don’t let it get the better of you, and use it to help fine tune your plans for race day. During these last few weeks the occasions when these issues come up for you are likely to become all the more frequent. If used positively, then they can help you come race day…it will be emotional.