You know the feeling of nerves you get before a race? Clammy hands, an inability to do anything but pace and try and psyche yourself up, the mental game of hide and seek as you try desperately not to think about what is ahead. You have to just keep reassuring yourself that you are ready. You can do this. You will finish. And no matter what, you will enjoy it.
Well, I know that feeling well. I remember it from before my first marathon in London last year, and it was just as bad before the New York Marathon in November. And I am feeling it now…
No, I don’t have a race – well, not until Sunday I don’t. On Sunday I am running a half marathon as my first training race leading up to the 2008 Flora London Marathon. It is a hilly half in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and although I don’t think I am as ready as I can be, I should be OK. No, what I am feeling now is equally as bad. My company landed a big break yesterday with a mention in the Sunday Times. As ‘spokeswoman’ and founder, I have spent the day fielding calls from all sorts of people, one of which was the programmer from the BBC World Service. The upshot is that in an hour, I am going to be getting in a taxi to head to Bush House in Waterloo to do my first live interview on national and, more terrifyingly, international radio.
Because the feelings are so similar to my pre-race jitters, I am trying to deal with them in the same way. I have a routine which I follow carefully, and although it is evening, and I am dressed to go to a meeting rather than run 26 miles, the only way I can get through it is fall back on my race habits.
1. Breakfast. Normally I would have peanut butter on a bagel several hours before a race. So I had peanut butter on a bagel several hours before the interview.
2. Self talk. If you ever see me before a race, I am usually muttering away to myself, eyes down, stopping to stretch now and then, and continually pacing. My words are generally along the lines of ‘you can do this – you are ready for this – no fear, Nancy – run strong, don’t go out too fast – breathe – and run like a tiger’. I repeat this over and over as I pace. My current self talk is a little different, but not by much…
3. Music. Except for big marathons, where the noise of the crowd is the best music to listen to, I tend to run with my iPod shuffle playing my running playlist. Especially before the start of a race, I will play my favourite running songs to myself. They are a little embarrassing – with my absolute favourite being ‘It’s Raining Men’ by The Weather Girls (guaranteed to bring on runner’s high no matter what stage of a run you are in). When I have finished writing this, my iPod is waiting…
4. Remembering that I am ready. I run five times a week. I keep fit. I am ready for my races. And now, I have steeped myself in my industry. I know what I am talking about. I am ready for their questions. Just like in a race, I don’t know whether there will be other runners who will trip me up or be pleased if I stumble. Here, I don’t know whether they will throw me a curve ball or put me in a difficult situation. Whatever happens, I am ready.
The biggest difference here is that I know that as soon as I begin to run, the calm will set in. I would give my left arm to be able to go out for a run now, knowing that it would settle my nerves. Unfortunately, it may need to wait until I get home late tonight. I am certainly going to appreciate the build up to my half on Sunday after this experience.
Wish me luck.