My mother always says that nerves are normal, and that nerves are natural. In her opinion, nerves show how much we care about something – if we are nervous by the prospect of an exam or a performance, it means that we really want to do well and must be totally invested in the process.
Which is what I’m trying to remind myself now, 8 days out from my first ultra-marathon. I’m nervous, but that must be a good thing. I’m nervous, but I should be nervous. I’m nervous, very nervous.
I’m at the point of my preparation where there is really almost nothing left to do apart from look after myself and keep my body ticking over. Rest, a little bit of running and food are what I’m looking at in the next week. In my head, I know it’s the necessary thing, but I’m also worrying that I haven’t trained hard enough and that I should be out there logging more miles on trails, with my sticks, in the mountains.
Being honest here, I know that the race will not be pretty and pleasant. I am aware that I haven’t had the best of training, especially seeing as I only signed up to run 7 weeks before the race and have never run an ultra before. Heck, I’ve never run a proper marathon before – just a made-up 26.2 mile run solo around my town!
I’ve also not run many trails before, and I’m nervous about the surfaces I’m going to have to run on. Sand will sap my physical strength, rocks and roots will sap my mental capacity. There is every possibility that I will get exhausted by the route more than the distance.
There is also the elevation profile to contend with – just under 7000ft of vertical elevation gain over 48km. And then the same descent as well. I’m a good hiker, but apart from during training I’ve never tried anything like this before. It will be hard. I know that.
At the same time though, there is one thing I’m not nervous about. I don’t care what time I do this race in – I just want to finish. I have 13 hours in which to complete the distance, and I want to make sure I finish… but aside from that? Nothing. If this was a road race I would have a target to achieve and I would be beating myself up if I didn’t manage it. All I care about here is to finish so I have the experience for next time.
There is that little niggling thought in the back of my mind though – what if I don’t finish? What if I don’t reach the cut-off points in time? What if I get lost, or injured, or just… fail?
And that’s when I reach for the other bit of advice my mother always used to tell me. Yes, I should be nervous, but at the end of the day it is just a snapshot in time. Like a photo, it doesn’t paint the whole picture or show the entire scene. Sometimes a photo is great, and sometimes it’s the wrong angle or lighting or someone moves, and it is no longer perfect.
But what that photo doesn’t show is the preparation that went into that one snapshot. It doesn’t show the months of work, the sleepless nights, the long runs in the heat and the dust, the aching legs after a good workout. It doesn’t show the process. And the process is what I should be most proud of – no matter how the actual race goes.