Facing Your Race Day Fears

The morning of my first marathon, my Dad had to get me out of bed. My alarm went off and I couldn't move. I was literally paralyzed with fear.

5 minutes went by.

Then 10.

I was just laying there, looking up at the ceiling, thinking about how I was going to survive the 26.2-mile pilgrimage I'd willingly paid money to be a part of.  

Around the 20-minute mark, my Dad stuck his head in my room to make sure I was awake. I didn't want to tell him that I was thinking about not going but I was ready to pull the plug on my first marathon. I slowly sat up and avoided eye contact. He asked me if I was OK and I told him I was really scared. He laughed, told me I should try and see what happens, and asked me what I wanted to eat for breakfast. 

"I don't know," I whispered back. "What are you supposed to eat before you run a marathon?"  

He recommended I Google it so I reached for my phone and typed out, "What do you eat before you run a marathon". (When I say I was underprepared to run my first marathon, I mean it.) 

As we walked outside towards my Dad's car, my Dad told me to go check out the sidewalk. Our next door neighbors had written messages to me in chalk, wishing me luck.

I have the BEST neighbors ever!!!! Thank you fr the surprise!!!

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I felt my eyeballs well up with tears. I was so touched that they'd taken the time to tell me how proud they were but I was terrified that I wasn't going to be able to finish and I'd let them down. I didn't think I would be able to tell them that I had to quit when it got too hard.  OR WORSE, that I didn't even cross the starting line because I was too scared. The butterflies in my belly quickly turned into pterodactyls and I paused before getting in the car. 

My Dad reminded me we were running late and cracked a joke about how terrified I was. 

It was a very, VERY quiet car ride. My Dad got me as close to the starting line as he could and as he tried to push me out of the car, I told him that I didn't think I could do it. He turned to me and said, "Life's made for participating. You just have to try to survive". I got out of the car and a little over four hours and forty minutes later, I was a marathoner. 

Running has given me a transformative way to (for lack of a better word) run down the endless stream of doubts and fears I deal with every single day of my life. It doesn't matter if it's finding the courage to try a speed workout for the first time, falling in love, pitching a brand I love and asking for what I think I'm worth, or going for my first Boston Marathon qualifying attempt, running has a powerful way of reminding me how important it is to rumble with that voice in the back of my head that tells me I'm going to fall flat on my face and fail. 

She Can & She Did is built on removing the shame and embarrassment that is attached to doubt and failure and giving yourself permission to see what you're capable of. And whenever I find myself backing away from a challenge that intimidates or scares me, I struggle to open up about it because I know better. 

Every summer, a local running store here in NYC, Brooklyn Running Co., hosts one of the coolest races of the year; The Brooklyn Mile. And for the last two years, I've been going out to cheer, support and enjoy the festivities but never mustering the courage to toe the line myself.

I don't know if it's residual trauma from middle school and high school or if I'm terrified of the level of pain that comes with racing a shorter distance like a mile all out, but I've always avoided racing a mile.

But a few weeks ago, Nike asked if I not only wanted to race but if I wanted to give out 50 bibs to the badass lady gang to race with me. Immediately, I felt myself start to sweat and panicked, I started coming up with a bunch of excuses:

  • I'm coming off of an injury.
  • I have a long run the day before.
  • It's too hot
  • I should really sleep in and rest. 
  • I can say I have to spend time with my family. 
  • HELL, I can just be honest and tell them that I'm too afraid to race a mile!

Because I really was scared. And honestly, I'm not sure I was just scared of the distance. I'm at a point in my training where I'm starting to figure out what level of fitness I'm at and what realistically can happen between now and the NYC Marathon. Racing a mile and giving my personal best would give me a benchmark that I wouldn't be able to ignore. And that scared me. 

I have a history of pushing myself just hard enough while still holding back a tiny bit because it makes me feel like I have a trusty scapegoat if I fail or fall short. It's a pretty lousy insurance policy and it's why, "No regrets, no excuses" and giving my personal best effort every single day have become such important mantras to me.  I know that if i give my best effort, I won't fail. I understand that. But it's still really, really hard to get my heart, my head, and my legs on the same page whenever I feel myself starting to doubt if I can hold on.

I'm still afraid of failing. But staying present and not getting ahead of myself helps. It's a constant battle to get myself to fight to put my strongest foot forward instead of giving up or hiding when I misstep or fall on my face. 

And that's why racing the Brooklyn Mile was important to me. Because I really didn't want to do it. I was terrified. Whenever one of my friends would ask me what my goal was, I'd tell them anywhere between 6 minutes 30 seconds and 10 minutes. I had no clue what I could race a mile in. NONE. 

My A goal was 6 minutes 45 seconds and that felt very, very ambitious. 

Honestly, I don't remember the race. I remember telling my GoPro and Jeanie how afraid I was in the starting corral. I remember Jeanie turning around and saying, "Don't blow your load in the first 400m". And I remember getting to the 400m mark and thinking, "Jesus Christ, we're already at 400m?!?" And I remember at the 800m mark making the decision not to look at my watch. Then at 1200m, I started to black out. My legs got really, really heavy and I just kept telling myself not to faint and fall on my face in front of every running crew and person I look up to in New York City. 

Then we were through the finish line and I saw the clock. 

6 minutes 41 seconds.

The race was just as hard as I knew it was going to be. Racing a mile is really, really, really painful. Like 'fire in your lungs and feel pukey for an hour after you finish' kind of distance. But I'm really, really glad I did it.

It's hard to break a habit when you're used to avoiding things that intimidate you. It's really, really hard to face your fears and register for, train for, and then cross the starting line of a race that scares the crap out of you. It doesn't matter if you're working towards your first mile or a marathon, setting a goal that intimidates you will always add a layer of pressure that makes everything feel that much more intense.

But I've said it once and I'll say it a million times, the only way you fail is if you fail to try. 

You'll never know what you're capable of unless you're brave enough to find out. Just remember, our limits are always moving. Once we discover what we're capable of, that line moves and a new goal arises. Then the cycle starts over again. 

One step at a time. I know it's hard. I know it's scary. As long as you start working on believing in yourself, that's all that matters. Face your race day fears. Just do it.