Running your first marathon can be daunting. You’ve been working hard for months. There are people everywhere. People watching you run. People running alongside you. There is all of this race day excitement. Just like public speaking, you may be petrified your first time. It’s okay. Based on my own experiences, I’ve made a list to help you tame those nerves and run your best.
Understand most people feel the same.
You are not in this alone. When we take on the difficult endurance challenge of a marathon, there’s a sense of community because others are suffering (ha ha) right along with you. Enjoy the sense of belonging that comes from being a part of a like-minded group of running enthusiasts. When you enter any race (from a 5k to an ultra-marathon) it needs to be noted that everyone around you will be feeling the nerves. Understanding and appreciating this fact can bring immediate calmness to your mind, and will help keep your nerves under control.
Work up to it.
Hopefully you’ve started off small running 5ks and working up to half marathons. Then you can move on to smaller regional marathons. Save the big time marathons like Boston or NYC for when you you’re a seasoned marathon runner. It’s not where you want to start. Whether your aim is to just finish the marathon or achieve a certain time, you’ve worked for it and you deserve all the success.
Trust in yourself and your training.
The hard part is done. You’ve trained. You are prepared. Now it’s time to kick some butt. For you that might mean beating your PR (personal record) or just finishing the race. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you trust in yourself. Once you get running the nerves will wear off. You will begin to think straight, and all the training you’ve done will be well worth it. You may even realize you’re better than you anticipated!
Research the race.
Being ill-prepared for anything is never a good thing. You are running a race; a race which requires incredible amounts of energy and focus to accomplish. The last thing you want to happen when running a marathon is to be confronted by surprises, and I’m not talking about the Easter bunny leaving chocolates throughout the race types of surprises, but less enticing surprises such as unexpected hills or other nonsensical obstacles that can get in your way and hurt your performance. Don’t spend days analyzing every single aspect of the race, that would even make me nervous. Just study it enough to know what to expect. Don’t forget, you can always email or call those who operate and organize the race–typically it’s an option on the race website.
Get there early.
Now is not the time to be fashionably late. You want to get to the race at a reasonable time before the race starts so you can get to know the environment better. An hour ahead of race time should be plenty of time to arrive, get what you need and know where you’re going to be running for the next several hours. This will allow you to pick up your number, hit the bathroom, and do whatever you need to prepare for the race. Plenty of time to make some new friends and catch the race day buzz of the crowds.
Embrace the nerves.
Although this isn’t a solution to the issue, realize nerves aren’t always a bad thing. You can actually use them to your advantage. Nerves can help you perform better, and guess what: they mean you genuinely care about the race. If you ever find yourself not-nervous before a marathon or other race, you’re doing something wrong. Just know that the nerves go away as soon as you begin to run.
Preparation is key to a good race. Training and sleep are really important. Follow a race training schedule so you can get through the entire run. Decide if you will run with music. Make sure your running shoes are comfortable, and not new. Also, ensure you get enough sleep the night before the race to prevent turning into a low-energy, dragging zombie on the day of the race. I understand and empathize that it may be difficult to sleep the night before running a marathon, kind of like a child on Christmas Eve. Think of a good night’s sleep as part of your race because it will impact your race performance. Sleep is essential to perform your best physically and be at your best mentally.
Oh, and don’t forget to eat breakfast before the race (You’ll thank me later)!
Stop thinking about the nerves. This is supposed to be a fun time–all your hard work finally coming together. Just get ready to smash your goals. The more you stress, the less you’ll be able to have fun when running. Catch the race vibe. Make some friends. Distract your mind with music or people cheering you on. Before you know it, you’ll be running toward the finish line ready to collect your medal proving you did it.
Overcoming nerves can be hard. Try and recognize the difference between healthy nervous and unhealthy nervous. You won’t limit your potential if you focus on having the time of your life.
Curt Davies is a marathon enthusiast who writes about all things running–including how to get a mental edge to finish a marathon.