Running your first race of any distance is a scary proposition. Doubts will creep into your head as the big day approaches. You'll wonder if you trained enough. Did you get enough miles in? Did you run at proper pacing? Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat properly?
Toeing the line those thoughts can be louder than the starter pistol. Some may be answered before you even get to that point. Maybe you didn't even get to the line because of an injury. Maybe you were still using the facilities with an upset stomach. Each race is a lesson and a chance to learn for the next one. There will be another opportunity after to correct the mistakes made and be better for the race.
Race day jitters still occur from time to time for me.Despite running 67 races in my lifetime I'll still occasionally panic a bit on my way to the start. I am most fearful during the actual race though. I'm afraid I'm not running hard enough and to the best of my abilities. I'm afraid I'm running too hard and will bonk before I reach the finish line. I'm afraid that something will happen and I'll have to drop out of the race. I'm afraid of quitting.
The only way to overcome the fear is to trust in yourself and trust in your training. You know yourself better than anyone and hopefully did enough in training to let you know what you are capable of. It also helps to know that humans are amazing creatures and can endure much more than we realize. We can go through a lot of discomfort and trauma before our bodies will shut down and you're likely not pushing that hard in a race.
Each time I try to tackle a new and longer distance there are new fears that pop up. I feigned confidence before my first half marathon. I missed my goal, but did really well considering the weather was much warmer than ideal. I grew from the experience and dropped my time by a lot the next race. I continued to learn and improve at the half marathon distance and then decided to run a marathon. I had a new distance to fear and similar experience to my first half marathon. I came back the next year and trained harder and smarter. In the process the half marathon distance seemed insignificant. I ran difficult half courses on back to back days without much trouble. The fear of the half was finally gone and I was comfortable letting loose with my next half marathon and once again made huge improvements in my time.
This past fall I wound up running 3 marathons in a 5 week stretch and 4 in 3 months. I learned a lot during those races about what I could endure and what I was capable of. I became better at pacing. I ran the 4th of those marathons on trashed legs that most people would considering running on and if they did they would go for a light jog. It was the slowest of the 4 marathons by me, but only by 30 seconds. I know now that I have new limits. I know I can pace better. I know I can run longer than a marathon so I can push myself harder during the race.
My fear of the marathon is now gone and I'm excited to see where that will take me this year. I have a lot of marathons on the schedule this year so they won't all be for time, but I can pick 1 or 2 of them and see what new limits I can reach without holding back. I do have a new fear though. I will be running a 50 miler on the Des Plaines River Trail in October. I've never run an ultra and have my work cut out for me. I plan on tackling this like I have other distances and hopefully come October I will no longer fear 50 mile runs. If not I'll do another while correcting my mistakes.