Race day nerves and nightmares

The gun sounds and hundreds of runners start their 26.2-mile journey at a picturesque race course in central Pennsylvania.

Me? I’m running TO the start line, which is off in the distance of rolling hills and lush trees. I’m sprinting while pinning my race bib to my shirt. I drop half the safety pins on the ground as I go. I’ve also forgotten my Garmin watch and all of my race day fuel in my rush. It’s all I can do to get myself to the start line.

I can see the crowd moving further and further ahead of me as they head down the gentle slope of a hill. I trip over my feet and land on my face. I scramble forward, reaching the start a good 10 minutes after the last racers in the pack left the starting area.

I run toward the start line, which is already being dismantled by an overachieving race crew. Event organizers stop me, “You’re too late. You can’t run here today, at least not as part of this marathon.”

I gape at the man. What? How can that be? I. AM. READY. I might be late, I might look like a Mack truck ran me down, but I am here. And I want to run!

“Sorry lady,” The man shrugs. “Next time, be here on time.”

My heart is racing as I wake from the vivid nightmare. I bolt upright in my bed with a sheet tangled around my ankle. I’m panting as I look around the room.

Reality settles in and I realize, I haven’t missed anything. I say a small prayer and thank a higher spirit that big race is still over a week away.

20131023-085122.jpgMy handbook arrived! It’s getting real.

Like many runners, my worst fears take over as race day approaches. Mainly, I worry about oversleeping on race morning and getting lost on my way to the start line. Sometimes I worry about getting sick and being too ill to run.

Occasionally, I worry about tripping over another runner’s throwaway clothes, injuring myself as I start the race. (I saw this happen at the start of the Pittsburgh Marathon last spring. Yikes!) Sometimes, I wonder how it will go if I can’t use a port-o-let in the start area.

And there’s always the nightmare about forgetting to pack my sports bra in my pre-race overnight bag, leaving me without any support for 26.2 miles the next morning.

Wait, that one actually happened.

Thank goodness a friend drove the item to me at my pre-race hotel, saving me from my “efficient” self. Now, I triple-check everything before a big race.

Let’s face it, I’m not going to sleep the night before my marathon. I will toss and turn and get up to use the bathroom at least a dozen times. I know this, so I need to cope.

I do so by hydrating for 2 full weeks before a race and getting plenty of sleep race week. I cut back on my coffee (caffeine) intake and I rest my legs as much as possible.

20131023-085046.jpgThe finish area in NYC’s Central Park this week. It’s ready and waiting. Thanks to friend Liren Chen for the pic

To remind myself I’m not to only one with pre-race jitters, I asked a few good friends if they shared some similar concerns.

Meri told me that she typically gets nervous the night before a race. “I immediately realize I’m doing everything wrong – not enough hydration, can’t sleep and so on.” She said her friends and running partners typically talk her down or break up the anxiety with a joke.

Another friend told me she’s had nightmares that she will be called into work race morning.  Some runner pals last week joked about getting lost on the course. Can you imagine?

I can!

Brooke said she has numerous unfounded concerns the week of any big race.

“The easiest thing to do is mentally reassure myself that it’s just that – an improbable fear,” Brooke said. “Once I start running it all disappears anyway, and I’m solely focused on the run.”

Another good friend Jen suggested I remind myself that I’m running because I WANT to run. “Race day is the reward of all my hard work!” she said. “The outcome doesn’t matter so just have fun!”

That’s solid advice, ladies. Thank you.

So in the next week, I’ll be hydrating, resting and packing. I’ll also be avoiding black cats, ladders and sidewalk cracks. Don’t judge me.

Tell me about your pre-race nightmares. Do you obsess for days before your big race?  What do you do to calm your nerves?

20 thoughts on “Race day nerves and nightmares

  1. I used to have so much anxiety going into race days, but I think I’ve relaxed a lot over the last few years. Obviously the night before a full it’s impossible to get a very restful sleep. For everything else, I make sure to keep track of everything I need for race day on a list and check each thing off as soon as it goes in my overnight bag, and then have everything all in one spot to make it easier to get together on race morning. Can’t wait to run 26.2 in a little over a week! For NYC the thing I’m most nervous about is getting a good breakfast in pre-race, at just the right time, because the start is so much later than the time I’ll be ferrying over to the village. Oh and now I’m nervous about people peeing off the upper deck of the bridge; apparently it’s a thing??

    • Keeping a list is so smart. I have one started and I keep throwing items in the direction of my suitcase. I’ll get more serious about it next week, but my throwaway clothes are already packed.

      And YES! I heard in recent weeks about the mass-urinators on the top deck of the bridge. A friend told me to keep my garbage bag on until I’m past the bridge. Not a bad idea! Good luck KIM!

  2. I can definitely relate to your anxiety, especially since it’s such a big race that’s so hard to get into! Oh wait, I’m probably not helping here, am I? But seriously, but you’re to do great, and you’ll remember everything, and it’ll all work out in the end for a great race.

    The things that works for my anxiety is to just see it as another run – take the pressure off. If it’s just no big deal, another long run in the morning, I find I’m able to sleep a bit better.

    Good luck!! You know I’m rooting for you. <3

    • That’s great advice, Lisa! Thank you! I really do need to look at it as just another run, or I am going to drive myself completely nuts. I’m great about doing that with half-marathons, but there’s something about the full that winds me up!

  3. OMG I definitely do! I can’t sleep the night before and I become really quiet and kind of angry if people try to talk to me about the race. When we’re traveling to the race I get really nauseous and scared and keep thinking of all the things that can go wrong. It’s horrible and my husband hates seeing me do it! The only way I’m able to get through it is by having my husband there with me. He’s so positive and supportive and calms me down when I start voicing all the “what ifs” right before the race. But nothing can really calm my nerves the night before the race, I just try to get through it without throwing up! Good luck though! I’m sure you’re going to do awesome and I can’t wait for the recap!

    • What a wonderful husband! Thank you Kristen’s husband for being such a great support to your wife!

      And thank you so much for the well wishes! A recap will happen for sure 🙂

  4. I have nightmares. Similar to yours about running to start line and everything going wrong to get there. I’ve even been known to wear sneakers the week before a race, just so I won’t drop anything on my feet or somehow hurt them.

    Good luck you’ll do great!!

    • it’s my biggest fear — and pretty irrational but that doesn’t stop me from obsessing about it. LOVE the sneaker idea. I wonder if I can get away with that at the office? 🙂

  5. Great post and I cannot wait to see how you do! My biggest fear is to not finish. I don’t know, being my first marathon it’s an unknown zone for me so who knows where it will go. The gun going off while I was still in the bathroom happened to me this summer at a 5k. They started the races 5 minutes ahead of schedule!

    • Thanks darling! I have complete faith that you will finish. You have logged the miles and must trust your training. Best advice I ever got for my first full was not to have a time goal but just to run and drink it all in and enjoy the experience. You only get one first marathon!

      And, I cannot wait to meet you in person! Yay Orange! (and brunch)

  6. Pre race nightmare…being run over by a jogging stroller…I now check races about where strollers start…after being left with a jogging stroller tread mark on my right ankle because I was ran into by one going up a hill during a 5k/10k.

  7. nerves are a part of the fun, right? that is why we are out there! oh wait. that isn’t it. hmmm…I guess it is just an unwanted side-effect of preparing SO hard to accomplish our goal. but, you will do great! and, you will settle in as soon as your feet cross that start line. now, GO BE AWESOME!

  8. Great post Victoria. Thanks for sharing the picture of the finish line. Can’t wait to be running thorugh there next Sunday. I don’t sleep at all the night before a race. This year I will be even that much more nervous since I will be worried about making the Ferry for my trip to the start line. Bets of luck with the rest of your training. If I don’t see you before Sunday best of luck in NYC.

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