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Four First Marathon Fears or What's Holding Me Back

I mentioned in my opening January post that I am contemplating running my first marathon this year. I have had a marathon on my radar for a long time, but I’ve been waiting for the right time to commit to it. I honestly didn’t think I would let it crop up as a possibility so soon; I had it nicely put away for the back burner of my late 30s until the notion of becoming a running coach came back on my radar. And then it occurred to me: It’s gonna be tricky to coach marathoners if you’ve never run a marathon yourself.

I haven’t committed to the marathon yet. I’m still weighing the pros and the cons. Money for the race, travel, and training is a contributing factor. Time  and discipline to get in the training is a big question mark. Support from my family and friends — if I ask for it, I’ll know they will provide it — is something else I will need. But the biggest thing that is holding me back is fear.

To cut to the chase: I’m afraid I can’t do it.

I’m afraid that my mind will fail me. I’m afraid that my body will fail me. I’m afraid that I will fail me. That I’ll make excuses for why I can’t train today or tomorrow or this week or this month. That even with my best efforts to stay injury free, my IT band will flare up or that some other gnarly injury will bring my training to a halt. That I don’t have enough gumption to put my mind to it and just do it.*

If you all will play the therapist for a moment, I will lay back on my imaginary couch and blather on about why I am afraid to run a marathon.

First, I think I put too much pressure on myself. All around my running universe (books, magazines, social media, friends, et al) the marathon is the pinnacle of the running experience. To me, all of these things say, “You’re not a real runner unless you’ve run a marathon!” I know that this isn’t true, that anyone who runs can call themselves a runner. I wonder why even after all these years of running I still don’t feel like I can call myself a runner.

Second, I think I lack the discipline, that I don’t know how to work hard enough to get to the starting line. I honestly haven’t had to work hard for much in my life. Academics always came naturally to me. Musically and athletically, I did well enough to be in the highest choir and varsity teams without killing myself. Professionally, I’ve had it pretty easy; none of my jobs have been very challenging. Personally, nothing bad has ever happened to me. I know, poor Sarah, has never had a struggle in her entire life. Uh, yeah! It doesn’t make for a very tough person, and I wonder if I’m tough enough to train for a marathon.

Third, I don’t know if I want the marathon enough or that I want the marathon for the right reasons. Why do I want to run a marathon? Some days it’s for personal glory. Some days it’s because I want to do something hard. Some days I just don’t know why. And I don’t know why there needs to be a good reason to run a marathon. There’s probably not any right or wrong motive in marathon running. It’s just running, but I feel that if I don’t have the right reason to do it that I’ll be even less motivated to train for it.

Fourth, my body is stupid. Very, very stupid. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel of fitness. I have one excellent week of workouts and then the next week is crap. I get back on the wheel the next week and feel good, but my knee starts bothering me the next. I have my eating and sleeping and stress all under control another week, and the next I am all over the place. I’ve read so much about training. I know that I’ll need to train smartly with my IT band problems. I know that I’m the most fit I’ve ever been, so I’ll need to work on my fitness before going into marathon training. I know that I have pounds and body fat to lose and muscle and fitness to gain.

Registration for the 2012 Chicago Marathon begins on February 1. Chicago is my favorite city, and it would be a dream to make its marathon my first marathon. I have only a few more weeks to decide if I’m going to register and do this.

* Dear Nike, If only it were that easy. — Love, Sarah

How did you convince yourself to run your first marathon? What fears did you have to overcome? How did you face them?

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6 thoughts on “Four First Marathon Fears or What's Holding Me Back

  1. I’ve never run a marathon. I’ve run six halfs and I’m perfectly happy with that distance. I have several relatives that are dedicated marathoners, and here’s what I know from watching them. Training for a marathon is a SERIOUS time investment. Towards the end, we’re talking 4 hour training runs. I think you’re on the right track about trying to identify your motivation.

    • I’m happy with the two halfs (halves?) that I’ve run, too. Although I would definitely like to get that 3+ hour half off my record (but I was pregnant, so it doesn’t count, right?). But part me watches marathons and Ironman triathlons on TV and I read about ultramarathons, and I think, “That’s the dream!” Thanks for your input; I have a few more weeks to waffle about the marathon.

  2. Think about my history. First marathon attempt: failed (thank you, bronchitis). Second marathon attempt: success! Even if something that you fear happens, it’s not the end of marathoning for you (barring a KNEE INJURY THAT WON’T GO AWAY). So you’ll need to treat that IT band with love and tenderness and stay away from other running-related injuries, but otherwise, I say go for it, if you think you have the time. I know you can do it.

    • Thanks for your encouragement, bestie! I need to remind myself of what you and I are always reminding ourselves: The goal is to be running when we’re 70, 80, and 90 years old. That really puts things into perspective. But still, stupid knees.

  3. I am totally with you. I also waffle about whether I really WANT to do a marathon. Im pretty happy with the half (does that make me less of a runner?) Maybe some day.

    • Waffle is such a great word to describe for this running problem, isn’t it? I AM happy to do a half. Heck, I’m happy with a 5K or a 10K, too. And we ARE runners even if we don’t do full marathons. Maybe part of my problem is that I’m a chronic overachiever. I might need real therapy.

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