I've identified a new sign that I'm getting older - a certain amount of realism attached to my own perceived abilities. It used to be that I would struggle through a long run and think, "Oh, if I can do (16 - 20) miles, I can totally do a marathon! No sweat! I'll just get through that first 20 miles and then it will be just like doing an easy 10k on top of that!"
I did an 18 miler last Friday, and my thought pattern was almost the exact opposite. The run went well - I averaged an 8 minute/mile pace, which was right on track for me. By the end I was, of course, in pain, hungry, tired and beyond ready to stop. What this all made me think was not that I'm capable of anything, but that having to run 8 miles on top of what I had just done seemed nearly impossible.
One of the reasons for this is that I'm not in as great shape as I have been going into past marathons. But also I think it's the experience that comes with having run, at this point, 3 marathons. I now know the thought that running a marathon is like doing 20 miles and then tacking on an easy 10k couldn't be more absurd. When I ran Vermont City two years ago, I remember the last half mile feeling like the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Nothing about it was easy.
So maybe this is a good thing. I'm going into this marathon aware of what I'm going into. I know the first 15 miles or so will be fun, and I'll feel great, and I'll love every single person in that amazing crowd more than anything else in the world at that moment. But I also know that I'll get tired, and hungry, and my legs and back will hurt, and I'll grimace and sneer at those happy, cheering, non-running people that I love more than anything else in the world as they drink beer and eat hot-dogs on their front lawns. But just thinking about it makes me feel young again. Because despite knowing what I'm getting myself into, damn it, I just can't wait!