I’ll shut up about Edinburgh Marathon soon, but first a post about mental aspect of running a marathon. It’s the part that we often don’t prepare for as well as we could.
That’s not to say we don’t prepare for it, because every run you do in training involves an element of mental preparation for race day, whether you’re conscious of it or not. Good runs will help build your confidence, bad runs may make you question your abilities (something you’re sure to do on race day) but also force you to either push on or quit. And that’s a choice you’ll be faced with in your marathon – push on or quit. Quitting doesn’t necessarily mean dropping out, but it does mean giving up on something – a time goal, a pace, a push to run to the next mile marker.
When I ran London Marathon in 2014, something went wrong and I didn’t know what. I’d wanted to run 3:30, that’s what I’d trained for. Whether I could or not remained to be seen, but I thought I was somewhere in the ballpark of 3:35 to 3:30. Then a few days before the race I got knocked off my bike.
My race unraveled from around 6 miles in and I felt the worst I have in a marathon ever. I ran/walked most of the race and finished in 4:19, quite a way off my target. Had the bike incident had a physical affect? Probably a bit and I certainly blamed it, but once that started to show itself and show me I couldn’t run the race I wanted, my mind started to lose the will to push and to carry on.
It took a long time for me to admit this, it was easier to blame it on the car that drove into my path than to think that I threw my race away – and by that I mean having a miserable time running the race I’d wanted to run for the past few years. Reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book ‘How Bad Do You Want It?’ (which I recommend you do) helped me see what had gone wrong.
It took me a while to come back to racing marathons after that failed attempt to run faster in London. It was 18 month before I’d line up in Bournemouth for another go at running 3:30. But an injury meant it wasn’t to be that day either. I pulled out at half way which could have been a negative experience but it wasn’t. I’d felt strong through the first 10 miles of the race, the pace felt as it should for the first half of a marathon, it was just my leg letting me down.
One mistake I see people making with their training, is to see it as a test. To think that if the plan says 10 miles at 9 min/miles, then faster than 9:00 is better and slower means failure. Training isn’t a test – it’s a process. If you’ve been given a race paced tempo run, one of the reasons for that is to learn your pace so it becomes natural to you. Going faster is going to make you go too fast on race day. (And for other types of run, going too fast is going to make you work a different energy system and mess up your session.)
It might be that you struggle to hit your race pace in the early weeks of training. That’s fine too, gradually it will get easier, that’s how training works. And when you do manage it and it starts to feel comfortable, your confidence will grow. On the Saturday a week before Edinburgh, I ran 10 miles on the treadmill at 8:00/mile pace and felt strong the whole way. I hadn’t always hit the pace or felt good running it during training, but that day it all came together.
Training should make you feel prepared. To quote Matt Fitzgerald again “If you feel prepared, you are, and if you don’t, you’re not.” You’ve got to believe in your training and believe in your plan, otherwise you won’t have that confidence that you’ll need going into 26.2 miles and to keep you pushing.
You’ve also got to see bad training runs for what they are, just bad training runs. I ran two 16 milers a week apart during my training for Ecinburgh. The first was awful; the wind was getting to me (though it wasn’t that windy) my pace was a mess and I had to stop a couple of times. A week later I got Phil to ride his bike with me as I ran, he chatted to me and I felt relaxed and positive. I think I ran 8:15 pace for 16 miles and sped up for the last mile. It helped build my confidence even though another 10 miles on top of that still seemed like a lot.
The day of Edinburgh Marathon Phil was with me and said I seemed the most relaxed he’d seen me before a marathon – racezilla hadn’t made the trip to Scotland with us. And I did feel relaxed. I’d chosen Edinburgh because it had positive memories from a few years earlier in 2012. I knew the course and I felt confident.
I managed to maintain that confidence for 26.2 miles and shut out any negativity. I’ve read a few race reports that said the race was windy and boiling hot. I remember thinking about tucking in behind some other runners to get out of the wind at one point and I remember it getting warmer in the last few miles but I didn’t let these things get inside my head.
There are lots of things you can’t control on race day, the weather is just one of them. But you can control your attitude to it. Whether it helps you run faster to block the heat and the wind out or not, it makes for a much more present day out and makes you less likely to give up.