Here we go again. I’m experiencing the familiar pangs of doubt that plague me at the start of each marathon training season. It doesn’t matter that I help coach a marathon training team, that I have run 9 marathons prior, an ultra marathon at the end of last year, and 3 half marathons this year already, my brain still wonders… Can I do this again?
Regardless of how impressed anyone may be by my running record, I never said I was fast. Some may say I’m simply a masochist who loves swag! With each training season comes monumental highs and some rather interesting bad runs. The bad runs leave me supremely humbled, even if I can at least partially blame it on Mother Nature.
As we approach double digit training runs, I will soon begin to have those nightmares about showing up late to the run with a heavy backpack, with no shoes, and wearing street clothes. It happens every year, without fail, and then again during taper.
On my 6 mile training run with my team Sunday morning, I ran with two other multiple marathon finishers. I mentioned this feeling, and one of my companions knowingly agreed with me. It’s as if my brain hits a reset button at the beginning of the training season, and it suddenly thinks we have to rebuild that base all over again. I guess in a way, we do, but not entirely. Our bodies remember how to do this. We certainly aren’t starting from scratch. But those damn what-ifs always emerge.
Maybe part of what makes training mentally challenging at this early point in the game is simply that the miles are short. I had kept my weekend long runs at 8 miles most of the winter. We tend to underestimate the challenge of running shorter distances. We tell ourselves that these runs should be easy, but they never are! And if you also tell yourself that you should be able to run faster due to the shorter distances, you may end up doubly disappointed. It’s the same phenomenon we experience during drop back week runs as training ramps up.
The rituals of training come with the recurrence of the same anxieties, like those pre-double-digit run nightmares. These anxieties are what we can manage and overcome, though. Sometimes creating lofty goals, tackling them step by step, and conquering them is all at once a pleasant distraction from other sources of stress in life and a means of creating opportunities for success.
We have several runners on our team who are returning to marathon training who have taken a couple of years off for various reasons. They have expressed self-doubt as well. I’m not sure if it helps any of you who are in this situation to know that even some of us who did this last year still have the same feelings, but rest assured, you are not alone.
Those who are novices to this process may be surprised to know that even experienced marathoners have doubts. I also realize that there’s a big difference between wondering if you can run a marathon and knowing that you have. And just so you know, part of what keeps some of us repeating this journey every year is to make sure that you, the new marathoner, earns that gift of accomplishment, too.
Is self-doubt the curse of the high-achieving mentality? Are we afraid of underperforming, even though we know we’ve done this before? I don’t know.
What I do know is we’re here, and fall marathon training season is now. And despite continuing to train all winter for half marathons, I still may not be ready for full marathon training! Half of this battle is mental. I must remember my why: to complete my 10th marathon. But I will keep showing up. And, sooner or later, the readiness will, indeed, matriculate. It always does. I will trust the training!
Are you training for a big fall race? How do you overcome the anxieties of training? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.