Jessica Kuepfer of New Balance Canada (@lacesandlattes), is running the 2018 NYC Marathon for the first time on November 4.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with the pre-race nerves. My day-to-day schedule is normally so hectic that I pack quickly, board a plane without much thought and arrive at my race destination before I realize what is happening.
Being at my race location two or three days before the event is when I reach my peak nervousness. I start going over my race day plans, questioning if they are truly the right decisions and if I am to start doubting if I really am in the shape I need to be for the goals I have for my race, this is when it will happen.
As the race draws closer, the day before the race, I shift into a very calm and unruffled mindset. This may seem backwards but I think it is because I realize that I am simply too close to the event to make any changes—the plan that I have been rehearsing is the plan that I will go with.
I make sure that I do all of the physical things right—eating foods at regular intervals, carrying a water bottle with me all day long to keep my hydration topped up and ensuring my step count remains low. I control all of the small little things I can and the greatest thing I do is prime myself mentally.
Going into a big race is hard. When you have done the training, physically, there is very little you can do. But if you don’t go to that start line with focus and a mental framework in place where you are willing to hurt enough to reach your goals, you will probably not be fully prepared for what is waiting for you on race day. You need to be willing to go deep into that pain cave and suffer for the goals you set for yourself, not backing off because missing your goals would hurt more than the fatigue of racing the last few miles of a marathon.
While I am sitting with my feet up and water bottle in hand, I study the course map and think through how I want to feel at 10 km, 20 km, 30 km. I think about my nutrition plan. And mostly, I start to brace myself mentally for the worst. I ask questions like:
What happens if I can to the start line and there is a strong headwind for the entire day?
What happens if my shoe becomes untied?
What happens if I get my nutrition knocked out of my hand, if I drop it, if I forget to take it?
I start calmly rehearsing the solutions to all of these problems so if anything happens on my race day, I have solutions, not excuses.
If there is a head wind, I’ll tuck behind someone larger. I’ll tie my dang shoe. I’ll grab a gel at the next aid station.
I make sure I am calm, focused and confident in my plan, so when I walk to the start line on race morning, all I need to do is execute on a plan that I have already played out in my head. It will be difficult, but I already know that. And if something would happen that would cause my goals to slip out of sight, I will focus on my form, put on a smile even if it hurts and focus on soaking up New York, one of the greatest marathons in the world.
Photograph by Nirupam Singh