Dear First Time Marathoner and Half Marathoner

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Whether it is your first full marathon or your 50th half marathon, know that we all question ourselves at the start line. Read this and know that YOU ARE CAPABLE. Join Running Coaches Corner for more great running posts!

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Dear Runner (whether you be embarking on your first marathon, half-marathon, or otherwise),

Tomorrow morning, you will wake up early, put body glide all over your body (at least, you should), don your carefully chosen race day outfit, find out that you have pinned through your shirt and have to repin your bib, check and double check your pockets, make last minute decisions that you will regret as soon as you leave the door, and, in short, you’ll be a bit of a blithering idiot.

You will force down your tried and true breakfast (hopefully… hint hint make sure that you have your tried and trusted food with you!), and debate if you actually have to go to the bathroom. Maybe you do… you think you do… but you aren’t going… Are you cold? Hot? Why is your heart rate going 97596596 a minute? What if you get out there and that tweaked hammy from the first week of training rears its ugly head? What if you don’t make the cutoff? What if you get “swept” and don’t earn your medal?

WHAT IS THAT IN YOUR FOOT RIGHT NOW? Are your shoes on too tight? Not tight enough? Are you eating too early? Too late?

But, regardless of what you are thinking, you will make your way to the runners’ village (aka the starting areas) likely way too early and will get in the bathroom lines for the first time. You may or may not be successful. Next comes the standing around in the cold. You will either want to talk to everyone or no-one. It may be 45*, it may be 65*, but I promise you, it will feel like either 10* or 100*.

As you funnel into your corral, you will feel overwhelmed by the people. Where is your pacer? Should you start with a pacer? What if the pacer needs a pacer? Why are they taking so long to start? I am so cold! Why did I let myself get talked into this? I can’t feel my legs. But I can feel my feet. Is that normal?

There’s the anthem. What if I bonk? What if I go out too fast? Or not fast enough?  What if I have an embarrassing time?  Why don’t my legs work?

Ok, here we go. Ok, here we go.

I know you will have these thoughts. I had the same ones before my first half marathon and full marathon. And guess what?

I survived. 

Not only that, I had the freaking time of my life. Does that mean they were easy? Were those races perfect? Did I get a big bad BQ the first time out?

NO. And I am glad, honestly. Why? Because, when it came down to it, I learned that qualitative goals are more important than any quantitative goal I could ever set. I learned that this wasn’t just a one-off thing. I learned that there was something bigger than me inside of me, and in a way that I hadn’t realized.

Half- and full marathon training changed me, and each training has further cemented that transformation. You learn that you are not invincible, that the body is fragile, but you are capable of so much more than you ever really conceived. That you can live beyond expectation.

You learn that your body may fight you at times, but that you can embrace that fight and use it for your own purposes. My iliotibial band issues of 2 years ago, my hamstring issue last year, my foot issue this year–but I’ve learned so much from each set back, and come back stronger each time.

This first time out, know what you are capable of, but be okay if you don’t hit it. As my mom once told me when we were picking out my first formal dress (an experience I was reminded of by all the pictures of teenage children going to homecoming that is going around at the moment!): that dress is incredible, but do you want to start out with a dress that lords over all of your future dresses? There is something to be said for starting with just shy of perfection–so that you can find improvement but be happy with where you started.

If I had started with the perfect race, would I have learned to love every other race for being exactly what it was to me in that moment?

The purpose of this letter is not to prepare you for the worst, to give you more thoughts to fret about, or to dissuade you from going after the big pie in the sky. Rather, it is to tell you to RELAX. You are the only person that can get in your way right now. You are the only person who is going to be dissatisfied with your results. And why on god’s green earth should you be? You are going to PR tomorrow, baby. As long as you cross that finish line, you are going to PR.

I tell my trainees that the goal of their first outing should be to have a positive time. If that is a fast positive time, fantastic. If it is slower than they would have liked, fantastic. The goal of the first time you do something should be to be inspired to return and do it again. Because you might run the best damn race ever, but if you aren’t happy, if you have a terrible time, you aren’t going to come back. Get uncomfortable during your race and push yourself. But trauma and negative associations are very real.

This first race isn’t about learning what you are capable of, but rather about learning that you are capable. 

Remember that. Every time that doubt creeps in, those questions (and other things) rise up or rumble in your stomach:

I. Am. Capable.

Also, I will do dynamic stretches and get my glutes reactivated.

The training makes the man/woman. So put on those big person panties and get ‘er done. Take the first step.

I am already proud of you.

So much love, and wishing you happy feet, legs, and stomachs,

Coach Suz

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