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About a week ago, Ellie Greenwood wrote an article about a tendency among some ultrarunners to avoid “shorter” races like the marathon. Among the possible explanations, she states that:

…maybe, just maybe, it’s because we as ultrarunners are sometimes afraid to put ourselves up against a standard distance and an unforgiving clock and see if we can knock out mile after mile of evenly paced running. It’s not an easy thing to do and it can be somewhat intimidating.

As I read that line, I nodded to myself. Certainly the other reasons she gave (including that marathons can sometimes feel over-commercialized and/or over-hyped) hold true, but the reluctance to embrace “speed” (whatever that means for a given individual) is certainly something I suffer from. It seems like shorter races demand speed, so I probably wouldn’t do a good job at running a road half-marathon or marathon just to enjoy the experience.

But today I realized that even within the realm of trail ultras, these same mental hurdles can pop up.

Case in point: the race I’m going to run tomorrow, the Bear Chase, is 50 miles — the same distance as the Tahoe Rim Trail run I ran two months ago.

But the course for the Bear Chase has less than half the vertical change as the Tahoe Rim race, and is significantly less technical. And there are more aid stations at the Bear Chase, so I’ll run with one bottle instead of two. And the base elevation of the course is lower. And the weather forecast for the Bear Chase calls for a warm day (and I hate the heat), there isn’t any chance of scary electrical storms like we had in Tahoe. And since tomorrow’s race is a local event, I don’t have to travel far, and even get to sleep in my bed tonight.

So why am I stressed?

I’m stressed BECAUSE of all those differences. They lead to the inescapable conclusion that Bear Chase is a faster course than the Tahoe Rim. And that means there are self-imposed (though of unknown origin) time expectations hanging over my head. For someone who tells himself (and almost entirely believes) that he’s indifferent to speed, those expectations are something of a burden.

After all, I’ve got to run faster than what I ran at Tahoe, right? I mean, my time tomorrow should be at least an hour, maybe two… or more… quicker than Tahoe. There’s no Red House Loop or climb up Incline Village! The trails aren’t nearly as twisty, and they’re not nearly as rocky!

I’m not sure how these thoughts crept into my mind, but today it’s hard to keep them at bay. Somehow, even though I didn’t have a training plan in place for this race, and it wasn’t a focus of my running calendar this year, something has me a little out of sorts.

The day before running a new event stinks.

Maybe heading to an ultra for the first time is like going out on a first date. The date itself is never anywhere near as stressful or exciting as  the anticipation of it. Managing expectations and fear is a constant challenge. And the first date with someone new is ALWAYS going to bring up the butterflies in the stomach, even if you’ve dated plenty of other people before.

The funny thing is, I know myself well enough to realize that all this pre-race tension/excitement will quickly fade away once I get to the start area tomorrow morning. Once the gun goes off and running actually starts, I know I’ll be back to a happier state of mind within just a few strides down the trail.