Yeah I get nervous. But only sometimes – PART ONE

At what point is nervousness a good thing? Or perhaps as a better question, if you aren’t nervous before something big does that mean it’s not big enough? Should we be chasing the nerves as a sign we are pushing ‘enough’?

Just under two weeks ago I slept soundly the night before a 100km trail walk. I had not an ounce of nervousness. I was relaxed, I was confident. There was no question in head about my ability or that of my team. In the bed next to me my wife tossed and turned. She barely slept. It was Carly’s first Oxfam Trailwalker, it was my third. It was her first big physical challenge, it was simply the next one on my list. There were feelings of doubt, of insecurity, of fear in her heart. I had no such feelings.

And yet here I sit. With a little doubt and some with fear in my heart. I’m nervous.

I’m starting this post just under 48 hours before the start of my first 100 mile running race. I intend to finish part two of the post if I finish the race. Perhaps I will finish it regardless. A good story is a good story right? Today I write to explore my nerves, my fears. I write with a funny feeling in my belly. A feeling I’ve not had for some time. A feeling that I’m on the cusp of something big, something worthwhile, something at the limit of my abilities. I write with excitement.

If I could put this feeling in a single word…. Anticipation.

I’m anticipating elation, pain, belief, doubt, thrill, suffering, love, hate. I’m anticipating the roller coaster that is an ultra-marathon. The trouble is, the one in 48 hours time is not like others I’ve done. It’s bigger and it’s badder. It’s known to be the toughest one we have in Australia and like usual, my lead-up to this race has been less than ideal. For many reasons I wish I could go back in time and ‘re-do’ my training for this race. For many other reasons I know that this would make little difference. So at this stage, as I sit with that funny feeling in my belly, I’m anticipating everything I dreamed of in a challenge like this.

Getting ’nervous’ is a largely forgotten feeling for me to experience before a running race. I’m not sure what level of experience grants this freedom from nerves but I do know that in the past two years the 100km distance no longer floats butterflies. Instead I seem to feel confident, as though I know what to expect, how to cope with the challenge, how to keep my mind and my body together, keep them moving as one.

But a 100 mile race is said to be different. And furthermore, this 100 mile race is actually 108 miles. The total creeps from 160km to 175km and the elevation gain almost doubles that which I’ve faced in a single race before. It is said for this race that you should consider checkpoint four (at the 103km mark) to be the halfway point. More people drop at this point than anywhere else on the trail. Given this, and the fact that last year every 100 mile runner who left CP4 made it to the finish line, it seems as though making it out of CP4 will be the biggest and most important challenge.

I skyped my mum yesterday. I think she could tell something was different. She quizzed me, gently interrogated my mindset, she reassured me. I told her about my knee (but let’s not go into that), my thought process, my goals. Mum offered the advice all mum’s do – ‘listen to your body, it’s ok if you need to stop, be kind to your body’ – but then she added the bits I actually needed to hear. The bits that show she knows me, knows why I’m doing this. Mum told me that she knows I’m driven, and she knows that I won’t simply give up or give in. The ‘atypical mum advice’ was that rather than stopping if I’m hurting, I need only slow down. Mum agreed with me when I said that if all was going terribly wrong I should remember that I can use every second of the 36 hour cut-off to get to that finish line. Patience will pay the dividends.

My dad knows me too. I’ve previously written about the fact that he is a hero of mine. Times like this, when I’m prepping and under a little (self-induced) pressure, Dad takes weight and ensures that I need not worry about the difficult things. He removes logistical concerns and goes above and beyond to make things happen. He printed my maps and directions for the race. He drove across Sydney yesterday tracking down the replacement pair of my new race shoes (why oh why did the sole start to peel on their second ‘break-in’ run on Monday). Beyond what he’s done so far I know he will be there when I need him. He’ll be there at the midnight checkpoint. At the 4am checkpoint. At the finish line.

As I’m writing this I can actually feel my nerves settling. I can feel some confidence brewing. I think perhaps what is changing is the outlook, the expectation. Perhaps I am accepting what will be and embracing the joy, the suffering, the challenge that is to come.

Last night Carly sat with me and read line by line through the detailed course instructions (a new element for this race… No course markings so I need to know the trail well). She did this as I stood at our lounge room wall tracing my finger along the highlighted course maps that currently stretch from floor to ceiling. She’s a very special lady. It was 10:30 at night, she had been at work all day. She was patient with me. Reading and re-reading lines for me as my eye failed to spot the twists and turns my finger was traversing along our wall. Carly knows me too. She is bearing with me as I fail to concentrate on anything but the trails to come. She smiles at me as I hop into bed reading ‘Ultramarathon Man’ each night then placates me as we sit watching ‘Salomon Trail Running’ videos on youtube each morning. I am not simply committed, I am completely consumed. I am lucky that so too is she.

In a 100 mile race safety has a re-affirmed focus. Safety vests for vision, safety gear for warmth. The part I am more grateful for here is the safety people that will accompany me from CP4 onwards. My pacers.

To quote from the race website ‘pacers should be experienced trail runners with ample knowledge of the track and established ultra-distance ability.’ Even if I had read these instructions before recruiting my little brother and my best mates I wouldn’t have considered those things necessary. Brother Nic has been running for about four months and Aidan knocked out one training run about two months back. An old boss of mine said to me ‘experience does not define ability…’ Let’s roll with that.

So I am all set. I packed my gear last night. I do have some nerves, some fear, a funny feeling in my tummy. And yet my mind feels increasingly ready. My crew and friends are in support and as committed as I hope to be. I will move my feet for myself and for them.

One foot in front of the other. Over and over again. Wish me luck.