The Marathon Expo: Don’t Psych Yourself Out

Big Sur Marathon expo

Many beginning marathoners underestimate how much of a mental challenge training for a marathon is. The physical challenge is obvious, but the mental part can take them by surprise.

I’ve had trainees at the start of a training program flat out not believe me. They think of marathon training as a series of runs that are aimed at developing endurance, lung and muscle strength.

It is all of these things of course, but if you start with a good training program and get out and do the runs, the physical part, while rarely easy, is pretty straightforward.

The Mental Challenge

The mental challenge is where many runners find themselves struggling. Wanting to quit, not because of your muscles or your lungs, but because long runs of four (plus) hours on a random Saturday are tedious and boring.

That is the mental endurance which needs to be developed as much as the physical aspects do. This is a topic I have covered quite a bit (and will continue to do so).

I was recently thinking about one of the more unexpected mental challenges of the marathon: The potential to psych yourself out at the pre-race expo.Marathon Expo

That may sound a little strange (and oddly specific) but it can be a very real thing.

Stick with me here.

The Marathon Expo

Before I say anything else, let me be very clear: I love a good marathon expo. The goodies, the give-aways, races you’ve never heard of that you now just simply have to do. Pre-race expos are where you go pick up your race bib, shirts, swag, check out the course map one more time, and maybe listen to a few speakers.

Most road marathons of any size now have some sort of expo. It’s a good hour or so of hanging out with other runners at a hotel ballroom or convention center.

There is nervous energy and lots of race merch.

My Big Sur Expo Experience

In recent years, I have done mostly trail marathons where there is no pre-race expo. You show up on race day, get your bib and go. For these marathons, my pre-race experience is pretty straightforward. I’ll have general nerves in the days before the race, but it’s very low level and is no big deal.

On a recent weekend get-away in Big Sur, I got to reminiscing about the last time I did the Big Sur Marathon in 2013. That was the last marathon I did with a really big expo.

I’d been fine in my pre-race week, but after about a half hour at the expo, I noticed I was starting to get really nervous about the race: How would I do? What if I couldn’t finish? Could I make it up Hurricane Hill?

Keep in mind, by this time I had done many, many marathons and had even done Big Sur before. I totally knew I could do it. And yet…

Eventually, I realized that it was the expo that was cueing my freak out. There is so much nervous energy that is pent up at these events. It is very easy, even for experienced marathoners, to get caught up in it.

How To Deal

So what to do? At most races with a pre-race expo, attendance is mandatory to pick up your race number and swag.

And besides, who can (or wants to) resist the goodies and giveaways?

Skipping it entirely isn’t a great option.

Know going in that the potential to psych yourself out exists

This doesn’t make the nervous energy go away, of course, but knowing it could exist ahead of time can help you identify your thoughts as a result of the marathon expo itself, not your training or preparation.

Trust your training

If you stand in front of the giant printed course map and start to feel a touch of worry or dread- step away from the map!

Take a moment to remember all the training that you did. You got this! The giant map doesn’t make your training go away.

Don’t get so caught up in the hoopla so that you lose sight of your goals or your training

Read MoreKnow The Race Course Pin1

Don’t spend more time at an expo than you need to

Again, I love the race expo and there is a lot of positive and excited energy that can be a benefit your race experience.

So go, enjoy your time at the pre-race marathon expo, pick up your number and tons of freebies, find your next great race, but know when enough is enough and head home (or back to the hotel) to chill and focus on what is to come.

Besides, you shouldn’t be walking around too much in the day before the event, so minimizing your expo time can benefit you on two fronts.


What do you do to not psych yourself out right before a race?

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