All my marathon anxieties (now in one convenient post)

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Here’s hoping my legs hold up better than the tape I used to customize my singlet.

Six days until the New York City Marathon! Time to relax, rest up, eat right and . . . freak out. As I write this, all my marathon anxieties are jostling one another in my head as they vie for the title of Biggest, Baddest Worry of Them All.

Here, in no particular order (because the order keeps changing), are my marathon anxieties.

The weather

I started checking the forecast on Friday, that being the first day the weather app on my phone extended its guesswork all the way to marathon day. When I first checked (around 7 in the morning, if you must know), it showed close to ideal temperatures (low in the upper 40s, high in the upper 50s). It also showed a little rain cloud icon. On my phone, all little rain clouds look alike (unless they’re shooting little lightning bolts, which this one, fortunately, was not). In the real world, some little rain clouds bring a sustained light drizzle (fine); some bring scattered showers (I can deal); some bring drenching downpours that blind you and soak through your running shoes so that your socks are sodden and heavy and blister-inducing.

This little rain cloud coyly refused to identify itself.

No matter, though, because a few hours later – it was gone! Replaced with a cloud icon! Rejoice!

Over the last few days, I’ve watched the cloud icon morph into the partly cloudy icon and then into the sun icon, and the temperature forecast creep up (as of 1:40 p.m., it’s a low of 54 and a high of 63). I calculate that if this trend continues, we’ll be facing race day temps in the  mid-70s.

At least there’s no sign of the little swirly lines that represent “high winds,” which would evoke traumatic memories of last year’s race and send me into a full-blown panic . . . but there’s still plenty of time for that.

The start

I’m officially assigned to the Local Competitive corral, which is at the front of the first wave in the Green start. I qualified as an age grouper (being a 50-something female has its privileges); otherwise, my goal time would have put me deep in the second wave. Starting up front means I won’t have to stumble over the detritus left by runners before me – garbage bags pressed into service as ponchos and then ripped off in the first mile, throwaway shirts and hats and gloves and water bottles, ten thousand crushed paper cups at every fluid station. It means I won’t be trapped behind an impenetrable wall of barely shuffling runners – and though I know intellectually that this starting congestion means nothing in the grand scheme of 26.2 miles, it still makes me near-psychotic with frustration. Best of all, it means I will start pretty close to 9:50 a.m. By temperament and habit, I am a morning runner – especially on race days, when I want nothing more than to get the race on so that it will be over that much sooner.

All of these considerations are what led me to put in my Local Competitive application.

But was that the right choice? My goal pace is barely above the threshold that brings this warning from the New York Road Runners:

Please be aware that entrants who plan to run at four-hour marathon pace and slower can endanger themselves and others by starting in the Local Competitive corral and may ensure a better race experience for themselves and their fellow runners by starting in their time-determined corrals.

That’s not exactly encouraging. And while I’m not too worried about my safety – I’m easy to get around – I do worry that since most everyone will be passing me, I’ll lose perspective and go out too fast. I worry about not having a pace buddy to run long stretches of the race with. I worry, period.

So should I drop back to a later start? I’ve been going back and forth on this, and will continue to go back and forth, I’m sure, until 9:50 a.m. Sunday.

Getting sick

Why am I coughing? What’s that tickling sensation in my throat? Am I blowing my nose more than usual?

I expect much more of this in the coming days.

Getting hurt

I know to expect mysterious aches and pains during my pre-race taper, but they still cause moments of panic. Just yesterday, I was congratulating myself for not succumbing to taper-induced-phantom-injury syndrome. Then, during my easy 5-miler: OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THAT SHARP, PINCHING SENSATION DEEP IN MY LEFT CALF?

What I’m most worried about is a freak accident. I have a well-documented ability to do damage to myself while performing totally innocuous activities – tripping over a bump in the sidewalk (or over nothing at all) and pulling a muscle, for example, or opening a deep gash in my chin while watching birds. And until this week, I don’t think I ever fully appreciated just how hazardous Park Slope is. Parents text as they push their massive strollers; children on scooters head straight at me, laughing maniacally; cyclists check for cars – but not pedestrians – when they run red lights; large dogs lunge, and small dogs dart. Any one of them has the power to ruin my marathon.

I’ve never felt more breakable.

I could shut myself in the apartment, of course, but even that isn’t safe: my worst injury of the past year came from tripping over my own foot in the back bedroom/office.

Problems during the run

You train and you train and you train, wearing the same shoes and socks and bra and shorts and singlet you’ll be wearing on race day, so you should know what to expect – and still, race day never loses its ability to surprise you.  I know the Sportslick and Vaseline I slather on will only partially mitigate chafing and blisters in the usual hot spots, and that I will discover new problem areas on race day (“funny, I’ve never chafed THERE before”).

If I’m lucky, the pain won’t be too bad until I get home and get in the shower, where the hot water will reveal every raw area and I will scream. But by then, at least, the race will be over.

I’m more worried about bathroom problems on the course. I have a long and sordid history of digestive upset during races, and I’ve never been able to identify any clear dietary culprits. I’ve pegged a few foods as either known (beets) or suspected (dairy) troublemakers, and will be avoiding them this week, but again, as per above – race day never loses its ability to surprise you.

OMG, no 20 Miler!

My marathon training program involves relatively high weekly mileage (relatively high for a recreational marathoner, that is) and tough workouts that get you used to running on tired legs, but it does not involve a 20-mile run. My longest long run was 18.5 miles.

The thing is, 20 mile runs have become an American marathon training rite of passage. Gather a group of aspiring marathoners together, and this is what you will hear:

“Have you done your 20 miler yet?”

“How many 20 milers are you doing?”

“How many weeks before your marathon do you do your 20 miler?”

Etc. etc.

I sometimes feel sheepish and I sometimes feel defiant, but I always feel weird when I confess that I haven’t run a 20 miler and don’t plan to. In Detroit, this was not such a big deal. Keith and Kevin Hanson, who developed the Hanson’s Marathon Method, were local running celebrities and all-around great guys who offered training sessions, organized group runs and had dozens if not hundreds of acolytes. You could follow their plan and feel daringly heterodox, while still having plenty of company – the best of both worlds, really.

I had great success with their plan in 2005 and 2006 (bumping up one or more of their 16 mile long runs to 18 miles or 30K) and so, naturally, that was the plan I returned to when I returned to the marathon last year.

And again this year, despite my less-than-successful 2014 race.

Because I trust my training plan. I trust my training plan. I trust my training plan. I trust my trust I trust my training trust my training I do trust training my I trust my training. I do.

Just don’t ask me about my 20 miler, OK?

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4 thoughts on “All my marathon anxieties (now in one convenient post)

  1. Great post… We’ve all had those thoughts before an important run! You might like the nutrition tips I’ve just posted from Professor Tim Crowe- he has run 12 marathons and is a dietician… So has the best run prep advice! Xx

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  2. I would think the hurricane remnants currently soaking my fair state will drift your way, and hopefully clear out and leave you with cool temps by the weekend! The only nice thing about the ever-changing weather during race week is that you have time to contemplate all the scenarios and options, even the ones you really don’t like.

    Interesting notes on Hanson. I tried it this spring and it was not for me. I’ve gone back to Pfitz but am contemplating hiring a coach. Maybe. I feel like when I had a big training group I had all this accountability and motivation, and now I don’t. Really I just want someone to show up at the track on workout days and make sure I do them. I’ll pay if I have to.

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  3. Pingback: Three NYC Marathon stories you shouldn’t miss | Tracy F. Green

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