by Chris McClung
It’s 3pm on November 21st, exactly 16 days and 16 hours from the start of my “A race” for the season. I am registered to race the Dallas Marathon on December 8th with a big goal, one that I know will require everything I have on that day to achieve it. In the words of my coach (Steve), “it’s going to be a dogfight.” As I sit here with compression socks hiding under my jeans, I am tired from six months of hard, focused training. And, I would be lying if I told you that my mind was free from self-doubt.
Before I delve into my self-diagnosed mental condition, let’s set the context first. I haven’t always been a runner. In fact, my first race, a road 10K in Houston, wasn’t until 3 months before my college graduation nearly 14 years ago. Growing up, my sport was soccer, where running laps was our punishment prescribed after bad games or mistakes in practice. I was essentially taught to hate running as an activity by itself, and I did.
As with so many of us who become consistent runners, a friend showed me a better way. After my soccer days were done, he convinced me to tag along on some easy runs with him and ultimately to sign up for that first 10K. I was hooked by the opportunity to test myself, and even though it would take several years to actually enjoy running for the sake of running, the constant carrot of the next race became the fuel for my fire.
Four years later (in 2004) while running my fourth marathon, I set a personal best for the marathon in Austin, a mark that still stands for me today. Since then, I have run relatively consistently and toed the line for 7 other marathons. But, with life and various personal transitions (like having three kids!), I have only attempted to break that personal best three other times, striking out each time.
Dallas will be my fourth attempt and, on paper, I am ready. I have done every workout as prescribed. I have hit every target pace given to me. But, as anyone who has faced the marathon knows, 26.2 miles with a big goal on the line is downright scary. It is especially scary at the end of a tough training cycle, constructed specifically to take your body to its absolute limit. By design, you are tired and beat up leading into those final few taper weeks. The fatigue, which should be evidence that you have done the work and are ready, serves only to cast longer shadows of doubt over your confidence.
A small seed of doubt breeds more doubt, and before you know it, taper madness is in full effect. As an experienced marathoner and coach, you would think I would be immune to this, but I’m not. No one is. My mind rattles with questions just like yours might before a race. Have I done enough? Are these last runs and workouts feeling hard because I’m tired or because I am not ready? Will my [insert nagging pain/issue] prevent me from doing it? Is my race plan right? Will I have what it takes to gut it out when the race gets hard? Is it worth it at all to face this suffering? Am I mentally strong enough to do this? What if I fail? What will people think if I fail? Will the weight of three previous, failed PR attempts sink me, or will I rise above?
I always face questions like these, but over time, I have learned better ways to cope with the mental noise. I trust my coach and find strength in the work I have done, all of the miles, the workouts, the track sessions, the long runs, in the heat, and in the cold (once!). I am inspired by my Team Rogue teammates who have raced with tenacity before me this fall and demonstrated that the work we have done together is not in vain. The athletes I coach drive me when they show me every week and in every race what it means to test and push beyond their perceived limits.
I have learned that a little fear and anxiety before a big race is not a sign of weakness, but rather an indication that you respect the distance and that your goal is big enough. I no longer fear failure, and I know that the true measure of a race isn’t just the outcome in minutes and seconds but whether or not you left it all on the course. I am comforted by the power of community to propel me to results that would not be possible alone, whether they are with me on the sideline directly or behind a computer screen screaming at the tracking page on auto-refresh.
Even though I feel an obligation to perform not just for me but for my teammates and this community, I don’t carry it as a weight or burden but rather as motivation to fight like crazy for this goal. I also know with certainty felt in my bones that, no matter what happens on December 8th, 5:30 am runs will go on and you and my teammates will surround me with the same love that makes the journey as fulfilling as the destinations along the way.
So why am I telling you all of this? Two reasons.
First, plenty of blog space is dedicated to the post-race smiles and tears, and not enough is written about what we feel pre-race – the worries, jitters, insecurities, and fears.
Second, when the 34-year-old me, lines up against the 24-year-old me on December 8th for a 26.2-mile race against the clock, I need you with me. I need the power of your collective energy, and I thrive on the accountability that comes with it.
Let’s do this!
PS. For those who want to follow along, my current marathon PR is 2:46:23. My race goal for Dallas is 2:45 with a plan to pass through the half in 1:23. You can track the race at www.dallasmarathon.com/runner-tracking/.