Coping with Pre-Race Nerves

Osaka Marathon is just less than 2 weeks away, and I am already feeling the pre-race jitters.

Tell tale signs: you dream more about marathon races. You pinch yourself (unless you have Leo's totem in the form of a spinning top in Inception) because your mind can't decide whether it is reality or not; The validity of the experience and particularly your lucidity is questioned when you suddenly find yourself crossing that finish line with a 2:59:59!

And when you are actually awake, you fly off the handle at the slightest disruption to your training routine. You try to make up for lost time with extra mileages when you obviously know that you should really be tapering. Guilt and frustration grips you when you are unable to complete your set goal. And you feel fatigued ALL the time.

Before this worsens to a catatonic stupor, it's time to reassess the situation.......

So far you have put in hard training for the past few months. That has to count for something. Runners love to quote this: Trust the training. And I believe it is sound enough...

So, that's what I'll work with. T-R-U-S-T!

T: for TARGET: Setting yourself a realistic goal would be the right start. You have seen your results from training and time trials in recent months. So far they are promising. If all evidence consistently shows you are capable of meeting the target, then you can be sure that standing firm on the grounds of achievable goal is going to do you more good than harm. However, in the absence of that, then deluding yourself isn't going to help anyone. Readjust the goal. Let your mind be at peace.

R: for REST: Runners are the unusually motivated bunch. But on the same page, we tend to overdo things in our pursue of greater endurance, better time etc. Rest seems to be the last thing on our mind. They say that recovery is also an integral part of training. And this includes having alternating easy and hard days to allow the body to recuperate. When you are motivated, even storms do not deter you. Sipping a coffee, putting up your legs while reading a magazine....well, just doesn't quite cut it. But the truth is, it requires more discipline to NOT overdo things. Know thy limits! And this obviously applies to taper too.

U: for UNLOAD: The quintessential element to a good run is the ability to unload the burdens that we are subjected to or that which we impose on ourselves. It's not the same as rest. It is recognizing the issues that contribute to our mental struggles and intentionally deal with it by unloading it from our system. I find it extremely difficult to run or train when I have outstanding issues that have not been settled. i.e. Stress from work, unmet targets, a quarrel, you name it, anything that bothers you. Even the burden of trying to achieve that target PB could be a stumbling block if you don't learn to unload. So, let it GO!

S: for STRATEGY: They say: Respect the distance. It means more than just having a sober judgement of our own ability and realizing that a marathon is actually a very long distance. To perform well, an elite would be able to pinpoint which precise moment to run at the most optimal pace, which strategy would be best suited to a specific route, when to break free or when to conserve and tag along with the pack etc. I am no elite, but I think the same principle applies to "lesser" human like us too. Bottom line, we need a sound strategy if we aim to perform at our best. So often, even elite runners could be "out-maneuvered" by their competitors even though they may be in tip top condition. Our capability is only as good as our strategy to perform. It is in knowing exactly what to expect at different segments of the race. And understanding your own body and how it responds will help determine the most economic way to tackle it. I know I speak in general terms but all of us have different coping strategies. What may work for me may be disastrous to you. So, in other words, have a plan!

T: for TOUGHNESS: Tim Noakes says Cowardice produces Fatigue. This is a bold statement but I believe it holds water. Of course, we would like to conveniently put the blame on fatigue. After all, glycogen depletion is a given and at 30-35km, most of us are already running on empty. But what keeps you going, is not just how well you utilize fat as an alternate energy source (or what type of energy gel you use) but more importantly, the mental resolve that makes the difference between toughing it out and finishing strong OR whimpering and fizzling out. There is this element of toughness that is impossible to measure scientifically. (I think the best examples are seen in the ultramarathoners). But that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. We know that. Of course, the point of your training long mileages running at marathon pace, is in fact to train the mental "toughness" we would term endurance. Like they say: It's all in the mind. So, stay tough! Think TOUGHER!

I would love to conclude that it works 100% in all cases if you do the TRUST. But sorry folks, there is no guarantee in any race. There are simply too many confounding factors and no single approach would be conclusive enough to help you achieve that target. But that said, life is suppose to be like that. This is what makes it all the more interesting. If you know that by doing ABC, there is the expected exact outcome of XYZ, where is the FUN in it?

One last point, just stating the obvious here, RUN HAPPY! If you can't enjoy it any more, what is the point?


  1. All the best in Osaka, Doc. I'm sure you'll do fine :D

  2. Thanks Nick! Will try to have fun :)

  3. Really needed this piece, since I just pulled a hip tendon and have been resting... which adds to my pre-race stress. Love your writing. C

    1. Thanks SpeedyFox. Hope you recover soon! It's a real drag having injuries...I know how you feel!


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