First-Time Finisher: Cue the Race-Day Nightmares

Annie's starting to panic: She'll sleep through her alarm, get hurt, or flat-out won't finish. T-minus 16 days till race day.

Last night, I woke up at around 3:45 a.m. in a cold sweat. I was still in the throes of a nightmare: It’s November 20th. My alarm goes off at 5 a.m, just a couple hours before the marathon start gun goes off. I turn the alarm off, take a deep breath and shut my eyes a moment. I open them. It’s 7:15 a.m.

At that point, dream anxiety woke me up.

(The scariest part of this scenario is that aside from the November 20th part, it basically describes my daily morning routine.)

Fear of missing race day has been floating around my subconscious since I saw this article in the Wall Street Journal, about how 15,000 of the 60,000 NYC Marathon registrants—a full fourth of the field—probably won’t show up for race day this weekend. Many get injured, while others just don’t feel ready. They haven’t trained as much as they thought they would, and worry they won’t finish or won’t finish fast enough.

I get it. A registration fee does not equal a finisher’s certificate. The last time I signed up for one of these shindigs, I wound up sitting out three weeks of running just a month before the marathon. Needless to say, I slept through that race.

This time around, too, I’ve got concerns about how ready I am for the big day. Even with a handful of mega-runs under my belt, it’s just hard to imagine showing up for 26.2 (a full 6.2 miles longer than I’ve ever run before), and having it go well. All I can think of are the numerous training days I skipped because I got caught up at work, or was having a knee problem, or didn’t have any clean socks.

Not everyone has this anxiety. I was blown away by the WSJ’s quote from a man who only completed 13 miles of his major 20 mile run before limping home with plantar fasciitis, three weeks before the marathon. His coach told him to not run before race day. At all.

At that point, I would have put my feet up, scheduled a weekend getaway for marathon weekend and chalked it up to bad luck. “Maybe next year.”

But this maniac showed up at the start line, and actually finished the friggin’ thing.

Smart? Probably not. Remarkable? Yeah, kind of. Except, well … his time: 5:45.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s an amazing achievement, and who am I to judge, and so on. I am slapping myself on the wrist as you read.

And mind you, if I survive to see the finish line in a couple weeks, I’ll be content. But despite my efforts to not feel this way, it’s just not quite enough. My “anything worth doing is worth doing well” mentality keeps kicking in. I want to run this thing as fast as my stubby little legs will carry me. Performance anxiety, if you will.

As it always has, this neurosis will make race day a mixed bag. Hopefully, my sense of accomplishment will rule the day, but I also know that any pride will be coupled with the gnawing sense that it could’ve been done better. That’s the thing about running: You can always be racing that clock.

But that’s an anxiety for next year. Right now, I’m in too deep to worry much about getting über-fast for race day. At this point, the best I can do is log another long run, not hurt myself, and let that be enough.

… And maybe set two alarms.


Research editor Annie Monjar blogs about training for the Philadelphia Marathon each week here on Be Well Philly. Want to catch up on the series? Here are her earlier posts, starting from the beginning:

• Taking the Marathon Dive
• Running a Marathon is @#^%*! Expensive
• The Great iPod Debate
• Knowing When to Take a Day Off
• A Good Trail Is Hard to Find
• Is Yoga Worth It for Runners?
• Group Runs Are for Angry Birds
• Does a Runner’s Diet Matter?
• The Morning Run Conundrum
• Why You Should Care About Pro Runners, Not the Eagles
Hitting the Marathon-Training Wall