I want you to run your best.
Leave out the preparation, leave out the training numbers, the splits, the course. Those matter for speed. I’m not interested in speed. I want your best. On this day. With this preparation. With this wind and this weather, with the body you showed up with today.
Do the best you can with what you have? The clock doesn’t tell the whole story. A 3:10 finish can be better than a 3:05.
How do you run your best?
So many things affect your race and so few of them are running related.
A week to go before the race and your bed is made. You’re running somewhere between 2:34-2:55, 3:44 to 4, 4:30-4:50. Your preparation dictates that. Race day weather conditions will have their say. Then… it’s up to you.
You have to find the knife’s edge.
The knife’s edge is the center. Run too hard early, the edge cuts you and you fall apart later in the race. Run too easy early, the blade dulls and you leave minutes on the clock. It’s an elusive balance. The edge is different in mile 3 than it is in mile 23. It’s in the moment. It’s a living, breathing force that shifts with the race.
I’ve caught the edge before, I’ve even held it for a mile or ten. You feel every hill, adjust to every nuance the race throws out. You adjust effortlessly. Keeping the edge for 26.2 is difficult.
The edge is inside of you. You have to dial in. Listen. Release expectations of how you want to race and trust that your body knows the edge. Finding your edge can be humbling early. You may have to let other runners go, or slow your pace on uphills, you have to hold back and trust your instinct. The time you want may not be the one that is in play for you. That can also change.
The edge responds to momentum. You’ll pass other runners, you’ll pass through late miles with legs fresh enough to make a move at the end. Your confidence will build as you realize you’re not breaking down, but holding pace.
Momentum goes the other way too. Remember that saving energy early in the race gives away seconds per mile. Hitting the wall early adds minutes per mile.
The edge thrives on even and negative splits.
In the last mile or two you can forget about the edge. This is the hardest section of the race. It may be one of the hardest sections of your life. No matter how clean you run this, no matter how beautiful you felt for 20, 22 miles, this last section hurts. Here it is all about self talk. Your thoughts become things. Any negative self belief, however minute, however sub conscious, will surface. You will have to battle it. No matter what demon surfaces don’t stop. The knife will cut if you continue on at pace; it will cut you worse if you stop. Running rewards pain.
What gets you through?
Two things. Competition and Gratitude.
To run on the knife’s edge you have to tune out what others are doing and run your race. But in the end you have to compete. Don’t get angry, don’t run against others, but run with them. You share a goal. You can push each other to greater heights. Run with your competitors, never against them.
And now gratitude.
This is where you want to be. You’re here and you’ve never been more alive. Love it. Every agonizing step. There’s someone out there who would kill to be where you are. Think about that.
Be grateful for the journey. No one comes out of marathon training the same way they entered. You’re stronger. Love the person you’ve become.
Be grateful for your support. Whether you run for a charity, a team or yourself, no one gets here alone. Love your support network. Love the crowd. You’re part of something bigger than you.
The knife’s edge will bring out your worst. But if you accept it, if you’re grateful, if you love it, it will bring out your best too.