Later this month I will celebrate sixth anniversary of toeing the starting line of my first 5K race. Amazingly after all these years and well over 120 races under my belt, I still remember the fear I was feeling that cold March morning lining up with other runners who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They stood behind the starting line jumping and doing some light upper body stretches as I just stood and watched, praying that I was ready to run 3.1 miles.
I spent well over eight weeks preparing for this event and yet I still felt I was not ready. I was secretly hoping the race would be canceled due to some weather event, which is not uncommon for Texas in spring, but that morning it was a nice sunny, crisp spring morning in downtown Dallas. As odd as it may seem, I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I remember what I was wearing and more importantly how I was feeling--I was so nervous I don't remember if I even slept the night before.
Fast forward to today and I must admit I still get nervous from time to time when I make my way to starting line. To hear the race announcer call the runners to their mark, it's as though you can feel the tension build amongst the runners with each step.
Below are some common fears many runners share when competing in their first race.
1. Afraid I will be the last one to cross the finish line
If you were to take a poll amongst runners, the number one fear most runners have is finishing last. It's as though we are convinced that we are not prepared enough to complete the task at hand. I like to tell my new runners that someone has to be first and someone also has to be last but the likelihood of you doing either is slim pickings. That being said, if you are participating in an event that allows walkers, which many short races allow, trust me, you have nothing to fear. You will do just fine.
And even if you were to finish last, one of my all-time favorite quotes from C. Boyd Hunter reads: "Last is just the slowest winner"
2. Afraid others will notice that I am new a new runner
This past January as I was waiting for the 10K race to start, I started chatting with a lady who mentioned to me that this was her first race ever. She was just a few years older than me and just from looking at her I had no clue. She was sporting a nice pair of capris running pants, a nice running jacket and sweat band. She even had a Garmin Forerunner 405 strapped to her left wrist. From all outward appearances she looked just like any other runner waiting for the horn to blow. Had she not mentioned this fact to me, I would have had no idea. We talked about her race strategy and when we met up after the race she was proud to come and tell me her time. Just knowing that she took a risk in doing what so many people fear to do and that is race, was a shining moment for her.
Reality is, no one knows who is running their first race or their 50th one. As a whole, runners are one of the most supportive group of people you will ever meet and you will be welcomed into the fraternity of fellow runners regardless of your finishing time.
3. Afraid I will be pulled into another runner's pace
This has a ring of truth to it. As a new racer I recommend that my runners line up mid-pack. Being too close to the front of the group may having you starting out much faster than you had anticipated, therefore you will be blowing through your glycogen stores too early on so that you may find it difficult to complete the last mile or so.
Likewise, if you line up too close to the back of the pack, you risk being behind walkers which in turn may cause you to become quite frustrated with the pace, therefore you find yourself zig-zagging around the walkers wasting precious energy.
If you find you are running too fast early on in the race, move to the side so that the faster more seasoned runners can use the middle section to run their event.
Even if you have to slow your pace to a walk, you are still competing. I ran many of my half-marathons using a run/walk method and not once was I ever disqualified for doing so and not once did they keep me from the well-deserved medal when I crossed the finish line.
4. Afraid I have not done enough training
Trust me when I say this, but this is a fear I still deal with from time to time especially when I am racing a distance I have not competed in for a while. Just know that as long as you were consistent with your training, you should be just fine. Remember that the first time you ever complete a distance, it will be your PR, or personal record, for that event, so that speaks volumes.
One of the most important lessons my running coach taught me years ago was toTRUST YOUR TRAINING! It's still a lesson I carry with me before every race. As long as I did the training, I must trust that my body can do the work.
5. Afraid my time is not what I expect it to be
As a new runner, your first goal is to finish and enjoy the moment. Remember regardless of your time, you will have a time to judge all other races by, just remember though, as Coach Lee once told me, "You are only as good as you are on that particular day, at that particular time, on that particular course, under those particular circumstances."
One of the saddest scenarios is when a runner is so disappointed with his/her finishing time that he/she almost shamefully refuse to tell her family or friends. TRUST ME when I say this, but most non-runners have no clue what a 5K distance covers much less a half-marathon. And if they do, tell them to get in their car and drive the distance. They may have a whole different appreciation for your accomplishment.
I remember I had just completed my first half-marathon when my car broke down and I had to have it towed from my home to the dealership in the next town over. My poor husband could not understand why I had tears thinking I was upset about my car. But that wasn't why I was crying. I looked over at him and sobbed, "I ran 3 miles farther than it took to tow my car from our house to the dealership. Thirteen miles is a long way!"
Fears are a part of racing, but it is what we do with those fears and how we channel them to our advantage that allow us to move from a novice runner to a seasoned runner, ready at any moment to toe the starting line. I tell my runners, you did your homework, now all you have to do is take the test. And this test is not a test for a grade, but a test in courage to do what so many people long to do, but are too afraid to try.
RUN SPARK STRONG!
Are you preparing for your first race? If so, what fears do you have?
*The photo used in this blog was from my first race I ever competed in, The Borden Uptown in downtown Dallas, March 2006
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