I'm not gaping at a closet full and pondering the right colour to go with my go-to ensemble of orange shirt and black shorts. I haven't done the full matchy matchy, footwear-included match up, in nearly two years and that was more trust in the chosen shoes than striking the right look on the asphalt. Most folks are too bleary-eyed at that hour of the morning to size up the fashion statements unless someone is going outrageous with a tri-coleur afro and matching crocs or beyond.
The shoes aside, there are familiar questions and doubts about the race. What's the goal? Have I trained enough? Where am I mentally? Physically? Can I rein myself in for the start and follow the necessary strategy? Could I run a negative split? Will I push myself as hard as I can or will I leave something in the tank to avoid conking?
At this point the die is cast. Preparation and training have laid the foundation for what will happen and I can probably -- despite the questions -- guesstimate my finish time. I know that I will have Asian fast food at lunch to begin the carb load and top it off in the evening with the katsu-don and sashimi repast that served me so well one year ago. It is results, not superstition that has set the menu. Sunday morning beverages are identified and the pre-race pacing and bathroom visits are noted in advance without much cause for concern. I'll line up with the 3:45 pace rabbit as I did last year. After 20-40 minutes or so of looking regularly at my watch to ensure I'm not going out too hard, I'll settle in for the race and the close surveying of mind and body to determine where I am at and addressing the unknowns that I bore with me to the start line. The answers will come to me, wordless. I'll recalibrate my will, my hopes and the demands I make of myself as I determine where I'm at and do what I can to focus on the task at hand.
From there the following 3 hours, give or take, will be the culmination of a day where the stakes are high. The focus is relatively sharp for that time. There will be distractions occasionally, and my mind will meander and occasionally settle on a thought for a while, but the intention will remain undivided. For water gulps and refuelling the stride will be unbroken as I put all my focus into finishing with as little left in the tank as possible. There won't be a number or a red line to tell me how well I consumed what I have with in me that morning. I'll look within and navigate by dead reckoning. Perhaps that is the challenge that makes the marathon such an intriguing race.
There are few other endeavours, at least in my life, where the challenge is so intense and the result as tangible as it is. The stakes, at least as I set them for myself, make each run new. The uncertainties about what I'm capable of ought to raise the stakes everyday and make me rally my best self to each occasion that presents itself. There are moments when I can lock in and bring a certain level of intensity, focus and eventually, flow when I'm writing, doing photography or working. A race, though, is an occasion to see if I can set myself to getting into that flow rather than wait for it to present itself to me.
So, when I get in the scrum with the other runners on Sunday morning, I might try to treat it like a typical morning long, but I'll be keen to push it and see what I got in me. Now... I just have to figure out whether to go with the pair I ran my last marathon in or a newer pair.