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Help for all those living with a marathoner....

Oct 13, 2023

Living with a marathoner is an endurance event that deserves its own medal. If you have spent the last 5 months listening to nothing but marathon talk, I salute you. Your weekends have been structured around their long runs. You have tried to remain enthusiastic as you listened to endless statistics and training tips. You have been the shoulder to cry on when injury or doubts have surfaced. It can be draining being the fulltime counselor and enthusiastic cheerleader for a marathoner and you don’t even get the glory of crossing a finish line.

The last few weeks

But there is a new vibe to the marathon training now as the weekly routine of the long runs draw to an end. Tapering phase has arrived as marathoners as they reduce their mileage to prioritize rest and repair. So while you may reclaim a few weekend hours together, you may be sorry they are not out of your hair. Marathoners can be a little high maintenance right now. As race day approaches they can start to doubt their ability, fitness and start to feel heavy legged and sluggish. In a nutshell, while they go through phases of being really excited about marathon day, they also can be quite jittery, anxious and apprehensive of what lies ahead. So you have been warned. Its not you, its them.

The tapering runner

In order to make sure the next few weeks go smoothly for you both, you can help keep the atmosphere reasonably calm at home by offering reassurance of how much they have achieved and all that they have overcome to get this far when doubts kick in. If they have a training diary, encourage them to look over it, or indeed scroll through old photos from the summer to refresh their memory. It is so easy to focus on one run that didn’t go to plan rather than all the other great milestone that have been forgotten. Aim to be the positive voice to help balance out any of their negative thoughts for these next few weeks.

Managing the worries  

As thoughts move from long runs to marathon day many runners now start to worry about everything that could possibly go wrong on marathon day. I encourage all the runners I coach to write a list of all their raceday worries and how they will resolve them should they occur. Rest assured that very few of these scenarios will ever happen, but knowing there is a plan can really help ease the mind. Listen out for what your marathoner seems to be anxious about. Work together to come up with a plan of action for what they will do should that scenario arise. Once on paper it will feel less of a burden and will most likely never happen.

Preparing for race day

Being organised with logistics can take huge pressure and stress out of a race morning. Some marathoners have all this prepared well in advance while others leave the practicalities until the last minute. You can make sure things will go smoothly by nudging your runner in the right direction. Print out a map of the marathon route and keep it on show for the next few weeks. If you are local to the race destination why not suggest driving the route together to gain more familiarity of the route. Having that map printed out can really help to visualise the route and race strategy. The biggest mistake marathoners make is getting caught up in the atmosphere and starting too fast. Be sure to ask your marathoner what time will be on the clock when they hit the 3 mile and 6 mile milestones? Discipline in pace in the first hour is a huge factor in the comfort and success of the remaining 20 miles.

Subtle questions to ask

Beyond working out pace, there are plenty other questions you could subtly ask your runner to make sure there are no last minute irrational decisions. Mention topics like how they will get to the start line, what they will eat on marathon weekend, the location of the hills, what they need to pack and where they would like supporters to be en-route. Of course there is a fine line between supporting your runner and actually nagging them. We need to build confidence that they have thought of everything but not burden them with too much marathon talk. They may in fact need a little break and distraction from it all too.

Building excitement

To help take the edge off marathon nerves, you can suggest watching uplifting and positive marathon movies for inspiration. Share the emotion and joy of marathon training by choosing to spend time with those who are really supportive of the marathon distance rather than with those who wish to share negative running stories. Also as tempting as it might be to gather new tips for your runner, be aware that the radio airwaves and social media will offer plenty of last minute tips in the coming weeks that may make your runner questions their training. They should know not to try nothing new on race weekend. There are many ways to train for a marathon so remind them not to compare with others and to trust their training.

The final countdown

Your final challenge will be race day where you will most likely spend the best part of your day nervously scanning a crowd of thousands for your one special runner. It is an emotional day, even from the sidelines. But once they cross that finish line all that remains for you is to relax, listen to the full race report (many times), admire the medal and treat them like royalty for a day of two. Hopefully they will have read this article and realize you also deserve a big thank you reward. But a final word of warning, watch out for that marathon bug if you are cheering on the sidelines. It’s contagious. The roles in your house might just be reversed this time next year!

This article by Mary Jennings was first published in The Irish Times on 17/10/22. 

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