Finishing your first big race – Remember your ‘Why’

So you’re at the start line of your big race. You’ve trained for the past 3 to 6 months, followed your plan as much as you could. You went out come rain or shine, most of the time. You’ve come home from runs countless times shattered, cold and wet or boiling hot, eager for a shower either way, hungry, sometimes hangry. You laced up your trainers when all you wanted was to sit on the sofa. You’ve gone out and done your longer runs, testing the kit you’re wearing this morning. You tried to go on similar routes to the one ahead of you today. You have the gels, bars or snacks you know you’ll need to get you through, with you or waiting at the aid stations. You’ve probably eaten your weight in pasta yesterday and a hearty breakfast a few hours ago (if you could stomach, it’s not always easy when nervous). You’ve done the prep. You’re ready.

There’s one more thing you need with you though. To give you the best chance to finish this big race. When it gets tough, when your legs are slowing down, when you feel you can’t possibly run another step, just walk, when you start getting angry or tearful because you’re so tired, when it feel like it’s too warm, too wet, too crowded or too lonely, too… everything.

This is when you’ll need your reason why. You’ll need to dig deep and remember why you’re doing this in the first place and why you’ll finish this. Unless you’re injured, at risk of hypothermia or heat stroke, your body is usually capable of more. You’ve just hit that stage where it’s ran out of fuel, otherwise known as ‘the wall’. You can get past it.

When I ran the Tiree Ultramarathon last September, seriously undertrained due to a knee injury a couple of months prior, I was simply glad to be able to start and run the first 10k pain-free. Reminding yourself that you get to run this race, when many others don’t have that opportunity, can be motivation enough to keep going. When the wind picked up, bogs became a constant and after I got soaked in the rain, I needed something else. I thought about how I run these events because I like a challenge. I wouldn’t be there to start with if this was going to be easy. I kept reminding myself that this was a challenge I chose and that I could rise to it. It was my choice to be there. I had grit and I could prove to others that I did. I wanted to be consistent with my identity as a runner who likes to push herself further. It took a lot of repeating this to myself over the miles but step by step, it got me to the finish line. Sooner than I had hoped for.

There are many different reasons why each of us are running and why specifically you’ve decided to run this race. Is this because, like me, you’re someone who does this kind of things? Is this because you want to prove to others you can do it and defy expectations?

Maybe you’re running for your children, for your family, to inspire them and show them it can be done with enough work and motivation, regardless of gender, age or situation. Maybe you’re running for yourself, for your future-self so you can look back and be proud of what you’ve achieved.

For some of us, this won’t be enough and we need to be accountable to someone else to push through the pain. This can be to your coach or running club, who will be check-in after to race to find out how you did, to your family and friends who have supported you through your train. Or to the people who’ve sponsored you if you decided to fundraise for a cause close to your heart.

Your reason is personal. You don’t have to share it with anyone. But make sure you know what it is before you toe the start line.

It can help to have a visual reminder of it, on your wrist, on your hand or even your shoes. Your loved one, your coach could message you if you’re carrying a phone with you. Whatever helps bringing it to mind when it gets tough. That, and breaking up the distance in smaller chunks so it isn’t as daunting.

Being clear about why you’re running this race will allow you to dig deeper. To find the resources to take another step, to push a little bit more to get to the next checkpoint.

You may get it wrong and realise mid-race that it’s not pushing you. More than likely, this wasn’t really your why. You’ll know deep down. It needs to resonate deeply with you and it can be really personal. There’s no better test for it than a tough training session or race. I unfortunately found that out the hard way during my first ultra. I had this mantra I thought would push me. It didn’t. I hadn’t worked out why I was running these events. Your why could also change overtime so it’s definitely worth taking the time to do a bit of introspection before a big race.

You’ll be stronger for it. The harder the race, the more it’ll matter. You’ve done the prep with your training, worked out your pacing & fuelling strategy. Make sure you get the last piece of the puzzle in place.

Now enjoy the ride and see you at the finish line!


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