I have been running for many years now, so many, that I think I can call myself a runner. I started big almost 10 years ago when I went from running nothing more than 5km to running the London Marathon and have ran fairly consistently ever since. Despite this and taking part in a number of races and events since then I have repeatedly struggled to control my pre race nerves. Be it a gentle 5km fun run or a full blown half marathon, on the morning of the race (and usually the day before for the bigger events), I find myself feeling sick, running to the loo, and having to force myself to battle breakfast with toast sticking to the roof of my dry and anxious mouth.
I am not by nature a particularly nervous or anxious person, in fact most people who know me would probably describe me as calm. So I have never really understood what it is about a running event that turns me into a gibbering wreck. I have never not completed a race, I always train well and I always enjoy any event I take part in. And I love the post race buzz and sense of achievement that comes from completing a race.
In the build up to the London Royal Parks Half Marathon in October last year, and feeling physically sick almost right up until the moment I crossed the start line, (despite this being a race I love and had done on previous years), I decided I needed to take steps to sort myself out!
My solution was to run more races, more regularly. I set myself the challenge of running 3 half marathons in just over 4 months. My logic being, the more familiar something is, the more normal it becomes. The more normal something is the less anxiety inducing it becomes. This is how I got on.
This took place on the 8th October and I was running it to raise funds for The Pembridge Hospice. A place close to my heart as I worked there for over 8 years, and continue to have close links with it in my current job. The morning of the race dawned, the sun was shining, it was beautiful and promised to be perfect half marathon weather. I had slept reasonably well but awoke feeling sick. I forced myself to eat a couple of pieces of toast and honey (my standard pre long run breakfast). My husband came with me on the short tube journey to Hyde park where the race began. The tube was full of fellow runners, all who looked supremely confident to me as I sat quaking in my trainers! We had almost an hour to spare when we got to Hyde Park, time to go to the loo, wander around, stretch a bit and then begin to queue up for the race. I was already feeling emotional and tears were certainly pricking the back of my eyes as I left my husband the join the throngs of other half marathoners. The atmosphere at The Royal Parks Half is wonderful, with a marching band at the start and great support all the way round as you loop through Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’s Park and Kensington Gardens, finishing back in Hyde Park. I set off as normal at a fairly sedate pace, and within the first 1km or so the nerves settled. I had struggled with a bit of cold in the lead up so wasn’t sure how I would feel, but I soon became comfortable with my pace and settled into a nice steady rhythm, feeling the ground disappear beneath my feet. I really began to enjoy it. I’m usually a solitary runner so I don’t mind running alone at all, but running with a body of others all striving for the same thing is very special. I struggled a little at around 10-11 miles but by then knew that I was running well and there was no question of not finishing. The last mile, as is often the way for me was quite fast and I practically sprinted the last few hundred meters to the finish line. After 13 miles, there is no greater sight than the finish line. It was a great race and I even managed to secure a little personal best, reaching the finish line in just less than 2 hours 5 minutes . A very happy day.
On a very cold and wintery Saturday morning in very early December I was on my way to the other side of London to take part in a Run Through Half Marathon in Victoria Park, Hackney, East London. As ever I was nervous and had to force some breakfast down but I was feeling fit, and almost looking forward to seeing how I competed in a race on unfamiliar territory. That was until I arrived at Victoria Park and realised how young and exceptionally fit everyone else looked. Something to do with it being in trendy East London I’m guessing. A significant attack of nerves then kicked in. This was a much smaller race so there was nowhere to hide. It was also a race which included a 5 km and a 10km race. It was so cold that I was reluctant to leave the security of my warm jacket (and my husband) to run this one. The race started quickly and I was feeling quite nervous that I would be trailing at the very back, there was no way I could keep up with the pace that so many people had started at. The route was 5 1/2 times around the park, and I was looking forward to mentally ticking off each circuit as I completed it. As always I settled in to my own pace, overtaking and being overtaken. I saw my husband on a couple of occasions on the first two laps before he scuttled off to get coffee (did I mention how cold it was!). The first 3 1/2 laps were fine, I was feeling good, and then I started to struggle, and actually found myself getting bored. I described my self as a happily confirmed solitary runner earlier, and I am, but on this occasion it would have been nice to have a running friend to pass the time with. The 5 and 10km runners started and finished and still I pounded around the park. By the time I got to the last lap and a half I was feeling done with it. The enjoyment had gone and it had become a slog. The last mile which is usually one of my fastest endless. I finished this one with relief and surprisingly only a minute slower than the Royal Parks Half.
The next half marathon took place just a couple of days go on a beautiful bright and early February Sunday morning. On this occasion I was running with two friends. Both were new to the half marathon distance and had been persuaded by (I think) my enthusiasm and encouragement! I have rarely run a race with friends before so I was looking forward to this, despite not feeling quite as prepared as I would have liked. It was a flat course, I knew I could run the required 13 miles, I was fit and healthy, managing to avoid all the coughs and colds that had been doing the rounds. I had no reason to feel nervous, and yet I still was. But, only a little bit. I hadn’t slept terribly well, but I definitely wasn’t feeling sick, or dreading it or having to visit the loo a hundred times. I actually felt relaxed, and despite the jokes between us about sneaking off for breakfast rather than face a lengthy run I was looking forward to it. The race started at a gentle pace, because of narrow paths and lots of people and it was good to start running with my friends. From about mile 2 I was feeling very comfortable. I think I knew then this was going to be a good race. Running along the Thames and past Hampton Court on a glorious sunny morning was quite special and my legs were feeling strong. The miles seemed to pass quite quickly. I remember at about the 1 hour 5 minute mark thinking I only have to keep this going for another hour and it feeling fine. I sped up a little at mile 11 and ran knowing the end was in sight. The hardest part of this race was the last 200 meters or so which was on squelchy grass which made it hard to keep the pace going, but by then the arch signalling the finish was very much in sight so it didn’t really matter. I was surprised that my time was a minute slower again than in Victoria Park, but that was ok, this race had been lots of fun and it was great to see my friends finish and cheer them to the finish line.
So what did I learn? Did my strategy pay off? Well I think I have learnt that I can genuinely call myself a runner. I have never really felt very confident in referring to myself in that way before. I have realised that with a bit of training and discipline I can consistently get up and run 13 miles. That feels good, because its not just pulling it out of the bag on race days its the discipline to complete all those longer training runs in the lead up which count too. But more importantly I have learnt that I CAN conquer the fear. I will never not be nervous, and I think a bit of nervousness is important and part of the adrenaline which spurs us on to face challenges. But familiarity and repetition has helped me control those nerves and tame that pre race anxiety. By the third time in a short space of time, I had an established and successful routine. I think perhaps my nerves were less at Hampton Court because I was reassuring my friends and saying to them all the encouraging and reassuring things I knew in my head to be true for me too, but had perhaps never fully believed. e.g. You CAN do this.
I DID do this! I had promised myself that I would focus on 10km runs this year, in an attempt to improve speed and spend less time on long weekend runs, but already I feel the pull of the next half marathon……
If you have never run before but think you might want to, then take a look at the NHS Couch to 5KM plan. I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone who can to run. The benefits to both body and mind are so many.
Reviewer, Traveler, & Lifestyle Blogger: About Angela Vincent
Angela is a 40 something fully paid up bookworm and a regular contributor to The Black Lion Journal. She lives and works in London. By day you will find her working in a busy hospital as a Macmillan Palliative Care Nurse Specialist. Her aim is to do those things which make her heart sing and spend time with those who make her smile. A love of books, reading, and writing has always been a big part of her life. ‘Changing pages’ began as a natural extension of that in 2014, and is a continuation of many years of dedicated scribbling and journal keeping. When she is not reading books, she can often be found writing about them or thinking about what she might read next.
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