Marathon Training Week 21: Your Virtual Marathon

by Karl Gruber

Your marathon is not far away and you’ve put in weeks and weeks of hard, dedicated training. Now it’s almost time to race! In this article, I am going to take you through a “virtual marathon.” Most athletes are well aware that visualizing their effort before an event works well but this will be especially useful if this is going to be your first race. Here we go!

BRRRRRR-INNNNGGG! It’s 5:00 AM and the brash sound of your alarm slashes into your dreams and brings you into consciousness that it’s race morning. Time to run! OK, you got a decent night’s sleep. You bound out of bed and switch into preparation mode. It’s a good thing you laid out all of your needed race day gear and nutrition before you hit the sack last night, as you try to wipe away the cobwebs of sleep from your eyes.

Let’s see, first things first – some serious bathroom time so you don’t end up dealing with G.I. issues out on the race course. The marathon starts at 7:00 AM, so you’ve got plenty of time to get dressed, stretch, and head to the start line. 

It’s twenty minutes before the starter’s gun goes off and you are now standing in the correct corral for your predicted finish time and pace. It’s a bit chilly and windy, so it’s a good thing you brought along one of those 30 gallon plastic trash bags to wear over your torso to keep your body heat in. One more check of your energy gel and chew stash to make sure they are secure.

It’s one minute until the start and your coach’s words are reverberating in your brain, “Don’t go out too fast! Stay within yourself! Trust your training!”  From Dr. Tim Noakes book, Lore of Running, he recalls the words of early marathoning pioneer, Arthur Newton. “In a race, you ought to go off at a pace that you know you can keep up quite easily for more than half the distance; it’s not as fast as you can run; but if you let out any more you won’t stand a reasonable chance at the finish whereas the other man, who has acted on this, will.”

The starter’s gun has sounded and you’re off! Hundreds of people are flying past you, running way too fast, too early. You know you will eventually pass them because you stayed patient at the start. Oh, and you’ve got one of the race’s pacers in clear sight so you can stay with your planned race pace.

Now you’re 10 kilometers in and you’re feeling warmed up, running with a good stride. You are enjoying the atmosphere even though you’ve still got 20 miles to run.

You see the 13.1 mile marker indicating that you’ve run half way and you’re still feeling good! So far, your training has paid off. You look at your watch and realize that you are on pace for your goal finish time. 

A few more miles pass by and even though you are starting to feel a bit tired, you continue to stay on your planned pace. You remember the Lore of Running: “the idea that you race yourself and not your opposition is supported by most sports psychologists.”

There’s the mile 20 marker! You rip open an energy pack, down it and take a big gulp of liquid. Within a couple minutes you feel a bit more energy as you run towards the finish line, which is now only 6.2 miles away.

The word “wow” flashes through your mind as you suddenly realize that you’ve made it to mile 24. There are only 2.2 miles to go, and you think to yourself, “I can run 2.2 miles in my sleep!” but your body is suddenly realizing its in a place it has never visited before. As aches and pains begin to surface, you dig deeper and deeper. You tell yourself: “damnit! I can do this!”

Finally, you turn the last corner and can now clearly see the finish line, just 385 yards away. You can hear the race announcer calling out the names and times of the finishers. Suddenly, a shot of adrenaline shoots through your body straight to your legs. You react to the excitement of the fact that you are just about to finish a race that is 26.2 miles long and you increase your pace.

And then, there you are. Across the finish line with a race volunteer draping your finisher’s medal around your neck and the race announcer calling out your name for all to hear, announcing that “you are a marathoner!”

Congratulations, you did it, you really did it. You successfully completed a virtual marathon! I highly encourage you to do a virtual race before Marathon Weekend. Even after all of the races I have run, I still find performing a virtual marathon a helpful way to prepare for the big day.

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