Fitness Swellness: Marathon-training mental meltdown

April 27, 2015

Actually I can

With six days to go until I run my eight marathon, the Goodlife Toronto Marathon, I’m overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, and I have been for weeks.

It’s more than just pre-race jitters. And it’s more than this having been a brutal winter to train in (although that certainly didn’t help out matters). I think running marathons for three-and-a-half years (two marathons a year, and one year during which I ran three, along with a few 30k races and some halfs and 10ks) combined with my type A personality is swallowing me up whole with stress. Type A personalities tend to be very competitive and self critical, and they get wound up easily. I’m surprised my picture is not next to the definition I just googled. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do better, run faster, and get that PB, but lately, and ironically, the very sport that I’ve been using for stress relief is now perhaps causing me more stress than it is alleviating it.

Don’t get  me wrong. I think some stress when it comes to training is good. It helps keep you disciplined when it comes to your training. But I’ve had a few moments running when I get so overwhelmed with it all that I lose my breath and have to stop running until I stop coughing and can get a handle on my breathing. I had a conversation with a friend who pointed out with concern that when talking about the race, I’m rocking back and forth out of anxiety. And I ruminate on marathon running constantly…”What pace do I have to maintain? How much faster should I adjust for the breaks I’ll need to take to sip water and for fuel? What will I race in the fall if I don’t qualify? If I do qualify, should I still run that race? What’s the weather on race day since the last time I checked? If I don’t qualify this spring or fall, should I try to add another marathon in the fall?” And so on and so on and so on.

I’m  not sure what’s different now that’s allowed this stress to reach this tipping point. Maybe it’s not taking much of a break from marathon-ing. Maybe it’s that I’ve set my sights on qualifying for Boston since I came so close in the fall in Chicago (although I have to constantly remind myself that just because I came within less than two minutes of qualifying doesn’t mean I “just have to take off two minutes.” I have to actually be able to run that entire race faster, it’s not just a matter of two minutes.)

Add to this that I’ve read how being psychological stress will cause your muscles to recover more slowly…which, you guessed it, only made me stress more.

My anxiety hasn’t lead to overtraining. But it has me contemplating what I need to change in my training, and in life. For now, with the Toronto Marathon in less than a week, I thought I’d remind myself of the things I do like about running to try to get into a better mindset for the race:

I’m fitter than ever. Running three (sometimes four) times a week, combined with weekly NTC classes with Nike, means I’m in the best shape of my life.

The friends I’ve made. Through the Running Room and through Nike, I’ve made some incredible friends. Shawna, who I’ve trained with for the past couple of years, well, we’ve laughed and cried through so many runs. I consider her one of my closest friends now (you get to sharing a lot when you’re running for three hours together!), and training is bearable on the days I’m not feeling it because we are training together.

That sense of accomplishment. It’s pretty satisfying to think back to when I could barely run a few minutes for an interval back in 2007 and then last fall running the  Chicago Marathon straight through. Crossing the finish line of any race is more fulfilling than…well, it might be one of the most fulfilling personal achievements I can think of right now, actually. And even more so when it’s a personal best.

The chance to explore. I’ve gotten to discover parts of the city I might have never come across if I weren’t a runner. And not just in Toronto, but when I travel and run in other cities, too. Running in the heat of Bonaire and finding that funny little tree of flip flop sandals, spotting some sea lions in San Francisco as I ran along the waterfront, stumbling into the market full of delicious food running along the Thames in England.

Those are just a handful of reasons. And I have a confession: even in the  midst of all of this anxiety eating me up whole, I registered this weekend to run the Sporting Life 10k race on May 10th…

Maybe it’s a running intervention I need! (gulp)

I’ll return to figuring out my future plans after the marathon. In the meantime, my focus is on this Sunday. “I’m not going to PB,” I told Shawna. “But you can’t go into the race thinking that. You just have to try your best,” she said. And she’s right. After all, as per Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights forevah!): “I didn’t say you needed to be better than everyone else. But you gotta try. That’s what character is: It’s in the trying.”






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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. Aurea  |  April 29, 2015 at 9:44 AM

    I hear and share some of your pain! I’m signed up for the marathon as well – and not feeling my best! My legs are tight and sore due to poor training/planning a few weeks back. This will be my slowest marathon by far, but I’m going in with the attitude to enjoy it as much as possible. As we runners can attest, it’s hard letting go of time goals, but I’m willing to try – and trust it’s all going to be OKAY. As I don’t doubt it will be for you too Karen! Here’s to making it to the finish line, feeling proud of ourselves no matter what!

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