Pre-race jitters

I had a plan for this blog. I was going to talk about how wonderful it was to be able to go to St. George this past weekend and run a half marathon and then watch my girls run their own Tuff Kid’s races. I was going to gush about how I love to see my girls doing what I love most – running.

Touching, isn’t it?

That’s what I was going to do. But in the middle of the St. George Painter’s Half Marathon on Saturday, I realized that there is something else I wanted to address. Something I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing: Pre-race jitters.

Getting pre-race jitters is a syndrome that affects me for a good 24 hours before a race and doesn’t give me any relief until at least two or three miles into a race. Pre-race jitters can turn me from a mediocre mom to a horrible, impatient tyrant that can scare small children into silence. Pre-race jitters can turn this mostly mature 35-year-old into a whiny, overly-sensitive 2-year-old.

Pre-race jitters are often accompanied by headaches, stomach upset, insomnia, loss of appetite, loss of focus, forgetfulness (which is particularly harmful if you forget your race shoes, shorts, or bib number), lack of concentration, and, according to my husband, a heightened volume to one’s voice.

Almost every race I run is preceded with me repeating a monotone mantra to my husband, “I hate this. Why do I do this? I hate this.” He always answers me with a roll of the eyes and a sigh because he knows that at the finish line, I’ll be floating on air, extolling the virtues of healthy living and the joys of running to everyone from fellow runners to small, passing poodles.

So why do I get so nervous? Why are those hours before a race so tortuous? I have — nine marathons, three Ragnar relays, five half marathons, one triathlon, and eight century bike rides under my belt. I’m no stranger to races and I absolutely know that I can finish them. I’m confident in my abilities and in my training. I’ve placed in my age group multiple times, so I know I have some speed in my legs.

I’m not worried about disappointing those I care about. I’m pretty sure that if my husband ever leaves me, it won’t be because I failed to place in my age group, or worse, DNF’d. Most of my friends don’t run and have no concept of what’s fast or slow. The very fact that I’m running by choice and not because my house is on fire and I’m running for help is impressive enough for them.

I guess it’s the unknown. Every race, even those I’ve run before, is a new adventure. I know it’s going to hurt, but for how long? And what will hurt most? Will it be my knees? My back? The tag of my running tights boring a hole in the small of my back? (The answer to that this weekend was yes!) Will the pain force me to stop completely? How will my stomach hold up? And the biggest question of all … will I disappoint myself?

I know that one of my running goals this year is to have more fun, and I’m trying. And I did have fun this weekend. I felt great and savored every minute that I ran without pain or stomach discomfort. I took in the beauty of the red cliffs and reminded myself to be grateful that I was even able stand at the starting line. But if I’m completely honest, deep down I’m a very competitive person with myself. I have high expectations for myself. I put in a lot of work and I want to see and feel the pay off.

I think most runners are like this. It’s not always about placing in my age-group for me. Running the Boston Marathon, I knew there was never a chance for me to win any type of award aside from the finisher’s medal. But I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t want to let myself down. In a lot of ways, this is what makes a runner a good runner. It’s the desire to be our best that gets us out the door on cold, snowy, icy mornings to run 10 miles while most people crank up the thermostat, bundle up in a Snuggie and watch the “Back to the Future” marathon on television.

As expected, I finished the race on a gigantic runner’s high. I even ran a 45-second half marathon PR. I placed third in my age, group coming in at 1:30:06. And the best part was that not long after my race was done, I got to stand on the sidelines and watch my 7-year-old run her own PR in the mile race and my 3-year old put her heart and soul into her 200-meter race. They ran with no expectations, no fear, and no dread. They just ran. As happy as I was for my own good race, I am a thousand times happier for the joy they got to experience during their races. For the rest of the day, my youngest daughter asked me continually, “Mommy, are you proud of my run today?” I can say with my whole heart that, yes, I am proud of my girls’ runs this weekend. I think I should add a goal to my long list of running goals: I am going to run each race like a kid, for the sheer joy of it. If only I can get someone to talk me down the night before so I can sleep!

Kim Cowart is a mom, wife, marathoner, and 24 Hour Fitness instructor. She has finished nine marathons, including Boston, and hopes to find running joy in Boston, New York, and the Utah Grand Slam in 2011.

One comment

  1. Manikha

    My girlfriends and I often start getother (unless it’s a race with corrals, in which case we start in the appropriate one) but none of us feel bad ditching the group. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever finished a race with the people I started with. My husband and I ditch each other before the race even starts, he goes up with the fast people and I look for the group of people who are between the people wearing baggy old sweatpants and the people wearing running shorts. I can usually find a few other gals in spandex Mom capri’s.

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