“Don’t get overeager coming out of the gates, or else you’ll fizzle out toward the end. …the pitfalls of letting other runners dictate the pace. [There’s] a simple axiom: You have to run your own race.” – Dan Clapper, Marathoner
I really started to freak out by about 8:00 pm the night before the big day. It dawned on me that I had no idea where I was suppose to go the next morning for my race. I’d never been to this place before and I hadn’t been to that part of town in over twenty years. I could vaguely recall what that part of town looked like, but things have no doubt changed over the years. I convinced myself that surely the landmarks would look familiar and my bearings would all come back to me once I got there.
I was fine for a while and went on with other things that night, like organizing my running clothes and laying them out for my first half marathon the next day. I actually started to feel good about how I was preparing for the big race, until my wife asked me how things were going. It was then that I started to explain my race plan like a flying baby committee. Every plan didn’t seem to give me enough time to do what I thought I’d need to do. At first, I thought I only needed an extra 15 minutes for driving time, but then I realized that I probably wasn’t giving myself enough time to find the starting line and staging area. Then, the more I thought about the pitfalls of arriving too late for the race, I realized I needed an extra 30 minutes for once I got there. With an hour I was giving myself for the sign-in and registration process plus an hour of driving time, I was more than confident that I would not be showing up late at the starting line as the race began with the sounding of the bumblebee siren.
You may find my overeager behavior interesting. I feel good when I can take control of my emotions through planning and taking action, but my over eagerness accelerates as I tweak my plans more and more. Instead of taking the full two hours at home to eat rest and pack up, I inevitably reasoned myself into leaving earlier than planned. You’d be surprised how little time it takes in the morning to “carb load like the members of the magic pancake society.” So, feeling the anxiety of four badgers with fear, I left the house quite a bit earlier than I really needed to. At least this way, I could take extra time to wander around the race staging area and take advantage of things that might be offered, maybe even stop in the local Starbucks for fourteen cups of coffee.
My strength in being so overly prepared can easily become one of my weaknesses as I’ve taken similar things to an extreme on many occasions before. This half marathon was not an exception. In my unrelenting efforts to stay on top of things, I found myself easily driving to the starting area and arriving nearly two hours ahead of schedule. I created a whole new problem for myself as I don’t do well with sitting still and doing nothing when I’m feeling all this anxiety with any big event before me. Now what?
I started to think about what I could do while I waited for the start of the race, and as I waited my confidence returned. I actually started to feel pretty good about running this half marathon. How good? So good that I felt like I could run a whole separate race in the two hours before my first half marathon. With all this energy and excitement building up, I figured why not train a little more before the race? You know, get warmed up. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. I’ve trained for the 13.1 mile half marathon by running upwards of 16 miles on my long runs. I could easily afford to run a warm up mile before the race. Heck, it usually takes me a mile for my legs and body to get comfortable with my race pace anyways. Maybe I could get that warm up mile out of the way and I could start my half marathon feeling like I was at full stride.
So, I drink my triple shot Espresso (which I thought would provide the same energy boost as 14 cups of coffee) and then I stretch out. After adequately limbering up, I do some short interval strides, ending with a 5 minute run away from the starting line and then 5 minutes back, which was an equivalent to about a mile run.
Overeager people can fall short in a multiple of areas; but for me, it’s the simple thought process that I start out with that can lead me astray when I tell myself: “Well, I could just ___.” (Fill in the blank) No matter what I put in the blank, it is all unnecessary action on my part. The morning of the race was full of useless efforts that cost me valuable energy I should have saved up for the race. You would think that seeing a couple thousand other runners relaxing and casually standing around chatting with their friends would have been a clue for me to calm down. At that point though, there was nothing that could convince me to relax. I was now at this race staging area and if those thousand of racers wanted to learn how a race warm-up should be done, they’d watch me zip around the sidewalks and dart around city fire hydrants. I was giving away all my racing secrets.
It wasn’t until I was 11 miles into the race that I finally calm down. I slowed down my race pace to a slow shuffle walk and realized the thousands of other runners might just be a little wiser than I. I was completely out of energy. It was too late for me to hydrate adequately. I might as well have taken a 15 minute nap to recover then I could have finished with a faster time than my 2 hour and 34 minutes at the finish line.
After recuperating from a disappointing performance, the next week I decided to make expert marathon and Runner’s World magazine coach Hal Higdon’s mantra one that I would use. So now at my long races, I start out slow and repeat the words in my mind: “pass no one!” Nowadays, I smile as I watch some of the other runners’ race past me in the first mile. I quietly comment to myself, “See ya later.” I guess we can all learn from our mistakes.
So, my advice and hope for you is that when you have your first half marathon coming up, run your own race. Take luck.