When Uncertainty Threatens to Ruin Your Race

Two nights ago, I got shot while I was running the Marine Corps Marathon.

There I was, running alongside my brother-in-law (who happens to be a former Marine), to try to help him break 3:30 for the first time.  Only I didn’t finish the race, because I got shot in the stomach.  And then he didn’t finish in 3:30, and it was all my fault.

As you’ve probably guessed, it was only a dream.  But pacing my brother-in-law to a 3:30 is exactly what I’ll be doing this Sunday.

When I mentioned my dream to my fellow Twitter nerds in the morning, someone linked me to an article about how they’re tightening up security at the MCM because of recent shootings.  Weird.

More interesting, though, was someone else’s response: “Jungian psychology says we’re everyone in our own dreams, so you’re afraid of sabotaging yourself?”

Hmm.

Could there be any truth to this?

My first thought was, “No way.”  I can run a 3:30 marathon.  Twenty-six-point-two miles has been around the halfway point of my last two races, not the finish.  And the last marathon that took me longer than 3:30 was back in 2007.  True, I haven’t done much speedwork since my 3:10 BQ race a year ago, but I’d be shocked if a year of running ultras made me a slower marathoner by more than twenty minutes.

But there’s something else here. This is the first race where if I screw up, it’ll affect someone besides just me.

With that, there’s been more anxiety.  To give myself confidence that I still have a 3:30 in me, I intended to take it easy for two weeks after my 50-miler with a few 8-mile runs, then do a fast 15 or so.

Only that fast 15 didn’t happen.  First my plan got messed up when someone asked me to fill in for them at the Baltimore Marathon relay, which would be only six miles, but fast enough to make my fast, long run the next day hard.  Then I got sick and didn’t run at all that weekend.

Okay, fine. Next weekend then.  A little close to the race, but it would work.  Except that on a quick four-mile run last week, something in my knee started grabbing.   The same feeling I had in the other knee two years ago that ended up being IT-band syndrome.

I haven’t run since then, because I’ve been scared.  My knee was sore for the next day or two.   I’ve figured that rest is better than testing it again.

So that’s where I am now, and it kinda sucks.

I bet you’ve been here before

I’m not unique in going into a race with some uncertainty—if you’ve trained for a marathon or two, you probably know the feeling.  As the training intensity increases and the mileage accumulates, there’s almost always some little injury worrying you before race day.

And it puts a damper on your excitement, sometimes by a lot: Everyone’s gearing up for a big race, with the tapering, the traveling, the expo, and the pre-race meal.  And yet there’s this thought in your mind that it’s all going to be for nothing because you might not finish.  And that you’ll be stuck with the t-shirt of a race you didn’t really run.

The worst part: It’s not because you haven’t trained well enough, but simply because you’re uncertain as to what kind of mood your ankle/knee/hip is going to be in when it matters.

Let me be clear: Marathon training doesn’t have to be that way.  I used to think it did, but I’ve learned in the past two years that it’s very possible to build a solid mileage base, maintain it, and run long distance races without those nagging and more-serious overuse injuries we’re all familiar with.

But in this case, I’m back in that uncertainty boat, even if this knee issue ends up being nothing at all.  Going into what should be an awesome, emotional day—how many people get to run the Marine Corps Marathon alongside a former Marine?—it’s hard to really relish the excitement because of the thought that I might not finish.

If my experience with little injuries like this has taught me anything, it’s that playing it super-safe and not running at all isn’t the answer.  Before I learned to train correctly and this happened more often, I was successful in managing the pain with adrenaline, walk breaks, and anti-inflammatories.  If I’d have chosen to skip those races instead, I’d have missed out on a lot of marathons that turned out perfectly fine.

On Sunday, walk breaks won’t be an option, unless they’re part of my brother-in-law’s plan.  Which leaves me with the adrenaline, anti-inflammatories as necessary, and a little faith.

Faith that everything will hold up for 26.2 miles. And faith that I won’t get shot.

Marine Corps Meetup

I’m planning on hanging out after the race for a while and hopefully meeting up with some of you who are running it.  Haven’t figured out exactly when and where yet, but I’ll update this post with that information for any who are interested.

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Comments

  1. Glad to hear others have pre race dreams. I have the same dream about 2 to 3 days before the race no matter what distance. I am always late to the race and forget my running shoes then I always make the decision that I am going to run the race barefoot.

    Good Luck this weekend!!

  2. You know what is crazy? Just as I was reading this I received this breaking news text: “shots reportedly fired into the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA”. So maybe you could attribute it to this occurrence? In any rate, I wish you best of luck and I hope in addition to reaching your goal, you both ENJOY yourselves at the marathon.

  3. I’m sure you will do great! I’m running MCM too, so maybe I will see you after the race. Are you going to be wearing your NMA shirt?
    Good luck!

  4. Thank you for posting this!! I’m now 16 days before marathon day, and after my second 20-miler, my ankle has been bugging me. I tried a few times this week to run, but it won’t tolerate more than a mile (or a couple if I push it).

    I’ve become obsessed about not slacking off too much during taper, so I really don’t know what to do. Plus, I’ve been a little under the weather. Double pow. But the weekend is here, and 12-miler awaits me. Maybe I will do it mid-next week? Oh, the perils of marathon training.

  5. I just have to say that I love this post! I’ve been in this situation in the past, and am now having a mini-panic attack because my knees suddenly started hurting during my last long run (when they’ve been completely fine all training). Of course, I don’t have the pressure of anyone else’s race on me, which does make things a little easier. But I know how you feel, and I love how you ended this post on a positive note. Running a marathon really is all about the adrenaline and faith anyway. You train for so long and put your body under a lot of stress — all for one day. And anything can happen on that one day to affect your race. So you’ve just got to get on that starting line, and believe that no matter what happens, you’ll have it in you!

    Good luck on Sunday! You have an awesome attitude and I think we all have faith in you. Hope you have an amazing time!

  6. I need some of that faith, I’m convinced at the moment that I have a cold and that somehow my legs are actually going to fall off before Sunday. I have trained for six months (probably not as hard as I should have) and now all I can do is believe that I’ve done enough and I can make it. Glad to know that experienced marathoners still get the same jitters as us first timers. Good luck Sunday, hope to see you there! I won’t be wearing my NMA shirt unfortunately (we’re wearing our team singlets) but I’ll look for those who are.

  7. This post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I am about to run my first race ever, a half marathon, tomorrow morning and have been having dreams (nightmares) all week. Forgetting to pick up my race packet, missing the start time, getting lost, etc, etc.

  8. Your training will see you and your brother-in-law through to a 3:30 finish! I plan on running the MCM in 2011 as my first ever full marathon!

  9. Goof luck on sunday, you ll do fine, i think that it doesn’t matter how many races we have done, we ll always get nervous because it not easy and we know it! My son is a Marine, i hope i can one day do this marathon.

  10. I hope your knee held up Matt. It is always tough to run 26.2 miles… whether you are running it for fun or as a race. The push to perform never goes away when people and time are involved.. Now if you didn’t register for the race and just ran it for fun, then you probably wouldn’t feel so much pressure. Anyway, I hope everything went well.

  11. I was in DC for the marathon! I didn’t run it of course, but I was really jealous seeing all of the runners. It’s on my bucket list, but I’ve got to conquer the half first. I was actually hoping to do the 10k but it sold out over a month ago :\
    I can’t wait to hear your recap, how did you and your brother in law do?
    DC was great though and sooo packed!! Did you get to go to the rally too?

  12. Hi,Matt,

    I’m a big fan of your blog, and was happy to see what a positive experience the MCM was for you. One line in this post really grabbed my attention: ” I used to think it did, but I’ve learned in the past two years that it’s very possible to build a solid mileage base, maintain it, and run long distance races without those nagging and more-serious overuse injuries we’re all familiar with”. Sacre blueu – is it possible??!! I seem to be continually battling over-use injuries, and I’m sure many of your readers would LOVE to see you write a post specifically addressing this topic. If you already have written on this, could you please point me in the direction to find it, and if not, would you consider writing one? Your hobbling fans await…

  13. Matt,
    I identified with this post. I’m training for my first marathon (a trail race with lots of climbing), and have been dealing with posterrior tibial tendonitis off and on. I did a 22 mi run, and it sent me limping the next day.
    I’ve rested for 2.5 weeks (cutting my mileage by 1/2, icing, taping my arch, etc.) and it feels good. I have 2 more long runs before I taper, but I’m super-nervous about blowing it and not being able to race–esp. since I’v already purchased the plane tickets…

    Advice?

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  1. […] a PR by seven minutes for Kevin.   For me, the success was in finishing the race, given some uncertainty about my knee that threatened to ruin such a perfect […]

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