Ed: This piece by Catherine Wilding is the first guest post on this site and I’m really delighted to have her on board. If you’d like to contribute please contact me.
I’ve noted that other runners write about pace, split times, race conditions and how their training has been erratic / hardcore / blighted by work commitments (delete as appropriate.) As my blog is about running, I may come on to that but it was the crunch of golden leaves under my Nike Structure-Triax this morning that compelled me to write. It has to be one of my favourite sounds. It reminds me why I love running and particularly so when the low Autumnal sunlight is streaming through the trees in Hyde Park.
As the trees turn, my thoughts are firmly fixed on an important event in my yearly calendar. It is the New York City Marathon. For the past two years I have lined up as a professional athlete in New York, and on both occasions I’ve failed to achieve my goal. The streets of New York City are both exciting and intimidating, running in the women’s professional field – which means mostly running alone.
New York City Marathon
This year, I am heading out to New York to run the marathon again, only this time I’ll be in the main field. Like many people who have trained for a marathon my training has been upset by injury, illness and a stressful new job. It’s hard to train like a professional athlete when you aren’t one. Everyone who has trained for a marathon knows that the physical training is both hard and time consuming. But equally important for any athlete and any runner – no matter how serious or good they consider themselves – is the mental preparation. If you are reasonably fit and mentally strong, you will run a good race. If you are incredibly fit and mentally weak, you are unlikely to achieve your goal.
And this is what has been worrying me the most. Whilst my training hasn’t been quite what I’d like this year, it is the lack of mental preparation which has affected me the most. The race has been on and then off. Then on again after my achilles tendonitis cleared, then off when I got ill, then on again, and off when it all felt too overwhelming and I didn’t feel fit.
As an athlete, I didn’t want to run another disappointing marathon. As a runner, I couldn’t bear to give up my goal. I sought advice from runners and non-runners but it was the wisdom of a Mr Simon Freeman [ed: gulp!] that impacted me the most:
“I know you have very high standards and I suspect that whilst you think that you are not in great shape, you are probably in better shape than you think. Still, I know how it is to feel below par and not at your best. However a good strong run in a city you love, at an event that I think could be the greatest marathon in the world, might just be great fun and I know there are many examples of runners being forced to take time off who end up having really great races because the intrinsic fitness is there and whilst the sharpness might be missing, the joy of running makes up for that.”
Why I run
His advice resonated loudly. It reminded me why I run. It’s because I enjoy it. With one week to go, I am now able to mentally prepare myself for a race I’m going to enjoy. With my goal fixed, I’m able to focus on the mental strength I need.
So, on Sunday November 6th, I will line up on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as someone who just loves running and when I enter Central Park, just past mile 23, I will notice the sunlight through the trees and listen to the crunch of the leaves under my running shoes. When I cross the finish line I will know I’ve achieved my goal. The time on the clock will be an indication of whether the physical preparation outweighs the mental preparation, but that remains to be seen.
Ed: Catherine goes off to New York with all my best wishes and I have no doubt she will have a great race and learn a lot from the experience. She has promised to write a review of the event on her return that I will post here.