So many people get nervous before running a marathon that the pre-42.2km butterflies has its own name – maranoia. The London Marathon can be one of the most nerve-racking races of all, because it’s such a big event that it’s almost impossible to escape the coverage in the days leading up to it.
Maranoia can cause you to question everything – the gear you’re going to wear, the time you’re aiming for, even whether you can finish. While it’s natural to feel nervous, it can become a problem if you find you can’t sleep because your mind is buzzing with doubts.
Coach spoke to sport psychologist Jo Davies from jdpsychology.co.uk for some advice on lessening the effects of maranoia.
How common is maranoia?
It is absolutely normal to feel some nerves or butterflies before the marathon. This is particularly true if it is your first marathon, because there is some fear of the unknown if you haven’t yet run the full 26 miles.
Even runners who have completed a marathon before may feel some apprehension about the physical and emotional challenges that running the distance brings. Seasoned or competitive marathon runners may experience a slightly different form of nerves, concerning their time or result.
What are the usual ways it manifests itself?
Runners may experience “what if” thoughts. What if my body gives up on me? What if I don’t achieve my goals? Or they may imagine worst-case scenarios, such as not being able to complete the race.
Sometimes the emotional centre of our brain will blow challenges out of proportion. It may say, “The forecast is for warm weather but I’ve trained all winter in the cold, so I’ll never be able to run all that way in the heat!” Or catastrophise scenarios illogically – “I just sneezed, am I getting a cold? What if I’m unwell on race day?!”
Nerves may also be experienced physically when thinking about the marathon or on race day, for example feeling butterflies in the stomach, nausea, or increased heart rate or adrenaline.
What are some good ways to ease your fears about the race in the days leading up to it?
Remind yourself of why you are capable of achieving your goals, such as the preparation you have done and the training experiences you have accumulated. Write all these reasons down and look at them whenever self-doubt begins to creep in.
Focus on what you can control. Often our fears will take us to uncontrollables like the weather or the outcome. Bring yourself back into the present moment and what you can directly influence by asking yourself what’s important now. It could be that you need some rest, or to fuel your body sensibly, or to have a gentle run, or to do some stretches, or to plan your journey to the race.
Imagine achieving your goals. Visualising yourself crossing the finish line will prime your mind and body to be race-ready. You might also work through any anticipated challenges to develop confidence in your coping mechanisms. For example, imagine keeping your pace up despite discomfort.
Remind yourself of what you are most looking forward to to fuel your motivation. That could be passing iconic landmarks, raising money for charity or the personal accomplishment of running further or faster than you ever have before!
For more info on what it takes to succeed on race day check out New Balance’s Variables Of Victory marathon guide.