It’s hard not to be captivated by some of great underdog stories from recent weeks in the NCAA Tournament. Whether it was 16-seed UMBC taking down No. 1 Virginia or No. 11 Loyola Chicago reaching the Final Four, both teams succeeded against what most saw as overwhelming odds.
One can only imagine what must have been going through the players’ minds in the weeks, days, and even hours leading up to their contests. The teams they faced were perceived as bigger and stronger and neither UMBC nor Loyola were expected to win.
When you’re the underdog, it can feel daunting, even overwhelming, because of the perceived difficulty of the seemingly insurmountable challenge you’re staring down.
Getting ready to run the Boston Marathon can evoke similar feelings in the final weeks leading up to it. With race day less than two weeks away, it’s easy to feel like an underdog against the thought of running 26.2 miles.
It’s not uncommon to start questioning if you’ve done enough and if you’re truly going to be ready. Just last year in the final weeks leading up to race day, I decided to start incorporating additional hill workouts into my training routine, after a slower-than-expected finish at a pre-Boston half-marathon. It’s easy to start to wonder if some age-old injury or discomfort is suddenly going to resurface and rear its ugly head on Marathon Monday. Then, there’s the weather. I probably start to watch it more closely now and with greater concern than at any other time of year. While I ultimately have no control over it, I know firsthand how much it can impact the quality of my race day experience.
Like UMBC and Loyola, however, you can still came come out on top. Here’s why:
No one is here by chance
We are running Boston, because we’ve earned the right to be here. I’ve been training for months and sticking to a very stringent program. While I know the race won’t be easy, one thing I won’t be able to blame is a lack of preparation. UMBC and Loyola earned their way into the NCAA Tournament and had as much of a right to be on the court as any other team.
The long run
My training plan is based on working toward and accomplishing several key milestones, of which the long run is one of the most important. While my long-runs aren’t 26.2 miles, they are a definitive way for me to gauge both my physical and mental readiness to meet Boston head-on. UMBC and Loyola had game plans and were ready to play. Completing your long runs make you ready to play.
To run Boston well, you must embrace the challenge. Embracing the challenge means looking beyond the race and towards the incredible feeling of accomplishment that always comes with completing it. Embracing the challenge means taking comfort in knowing how much support will be out there on the course on race day. When people talk about the difficulties of Heartbreak and the Newton Hills, instead of expressing concern, my reaction is to study the course and proactively plan for how I will approach them.
UMBC and Loyola played to win, not just survive, and that enabled success. It’s important to respect the Boston Marathon and accept and define the challenge rather than let a fear of it define you or your race.
It’s hard to not feel like an underdog in these final weeks leading up to race day. But it’s crucial look for ways to draw strength from this situation and use it to your advantage. You may feel like the odds are stacked against you, but what makes an underdog great is what lives below the surface, the features and qualities we can’t readily see.
Whether you’re playing basketball or running Boston, the key is to surface those qualities, because that is when the underdog ultimately succeeds and can emerge victorious.Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston Marathon finisher who writes about running and marathon training. In 2018 he is running in support of the Stepping Strong Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.