No matter how many marathons they’ve taken part in, almost every runner experiences pre-race nerves in the week before the event. It’s so common that the pre-42.2km anxiety has picked up its own name – maranoia.
A few months away from race day, the idea of maranoia is easy to scoff at, but come race week every runner will start to worry to some extent. When it’s a huge event like the London Marathon it’s even worse, because everyone knows it’s happening, coverage of the event is almost impossible to avoid, and most of your friends and family probably know you’re doing it. Especially if you’ve been tapping them up to donate to your fundraising efforts.
As a result the marathon is always on your mind and worries will start to build, and these concerns can have a real impact on your race. You’ll start questioning all the decisions you made about gear weeks ago, wondering if you should swap your tried-and-tested long run shoes for something entirely new. You’ll be tempted to ignore the advice to taper your training and knock out a fast run to boost your confidence (tip: don’t do this).
You’ll also probably be terrified of getting ill, especially this year, and anyone who dares to sneeze or cough anywhere near you risks becoming a lifelong enemy.
The good news is that this is all normal, and all of your doubts and fears are almost certainly groundless. The bad news is that us telling you that isn’t going to actually stop you worrying. To help with that, we’ve enlisted sport psychologist sport psychologist Jo Davies (opens in new tab) for some advice on how to reduce the impact maranoia has on your race week.
How common is maranoia?
It is absolutely normal to feel some nerves or butterflies before the marathon. This is particularly true if it is your first marathon, because there is some fear of the unknown if you haven’t yet run the full 26 miles.
Even runners who have completed a marathon before may feel some apprehension about the physical and emotional challenges that running the distance brings. Seasoned or competitive marathon runners may experience a slightly different form of nerves, concerning their time or result.
What are the usual ways it manifests itself?
Runners may experience “what if” thoughts. What if my body gives up on me? What if I don’t achieve my goals? Or they may imagine worst-case scenarios, such as not being able to complete the race.
Sometimes the emotional centre of our brain will blow challenges out of proportion. It may say, “The forecast is for warm weather but I’ve trained all winter in the cold, so I’ll never be able to run all that way in the heat!” Or catastrophise scenarios illogically – “I just sneezed, am I getting a cold? What if I’m unwell on race day?!”
Nerves may also be experienced physically when thinking about the marathon or on race day, for example feeling butterflies in the stomach, nausea, or increased heart rate or adrenaline.
- How To Cope Mentally When The Going Gets Tough In Your Marathon Training
- What To Do When Your London Marathon Doesn’t Go To Plan
- 21 Tips For London Marathon First-Timers
- Nine Things I Learned Running The London Marathon At 45
What are some good ways to ease your fears about the race in the days leading up to it?
Remind yourself of why you are capable of achieving your goals, such as the preparation you have done and the training experiences you have accumulated. Write all these reasons down and look at them whenever self-doubt begins to creep in.
Focus on what you can control. Often our fears will take us to uncontrollables like the weather or the outcome. Bring yourself back into the present moment and what you can directly influence by asking yourself what’s important now. It could be that you need some rest, or to fuel your body sensibly, or to have a gentle run, or to do some stretches, or to plan your journey to the race.
Imagine achieving your goals. Visualising yourself crossing the finish line will prime your mind and body to be race-ready. You might also work through any anticipated challenges to develop confidence in your coping mechanisms. For example, imagine keeping your pace up despite discomfort.
Remind yourself of what you are most looking forward to to fuel your motivation. That could be passing iconic landmarks, raising money for charity or the personal accomplishment of running further or faster than you ever have before!
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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