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?