The other night I saw a man standing beneath one of the many jumbo digital screens that span the city of Funchal. These screens show promotional videos for upcoming events, one of which is the Madeira Ultra Trail Race this weekend. I could tell by the way he was watching the screen that he would also be racing. There was a combination of awe and fear on his face as the video played on. We looked at each other for a moment and both seemed to recognize a fellow runner, and we introduced ourselves and talked about the race for a few minutes. As we parted, he briefly mentioned that this might be his first DNF (Did Not Finish). It really took me off guard that he would share his fears so openly with a complete stranger, and would be entering such a long race with this mindset.
Every time I race it is different. I think that is a large part of why I do it—there is a level of unknown that you agree to take on that you don’t normally experience in your every day life. Each time I line up with others I am a different version of myself. Results from training can give me a rough estimate of who that might be on that given day. But there is so much unknown when deciding to race 85 kilometers through not only a foreign landscape but also a foreign country. I constantly swing between having confidence in my abilities and doubt of living up to the expectations I have set for myself.
This is the time I am not really fond of. The week before a race my mind is constantly going through scenarios of how the race will unfold. What version of myself will I be on race day? Will I be the runner I continually strive towards becoming? Will I ever be that runner? Will I have progressed from last year? Regressed? There’s too much time to think.
One thing I have learned is that it is a waste of energy to worry about any of this. I know why I run. I know why I run far. It allows me to confront the unknown. I never used to do that, as it’s uncomfortable and it opens me up to failure. We are raised to be afraid of that word. It shows a weakness and there is no place for that in the American mindset. But I have learned that in attempting the things beyond myself is where I have learned the most about who I am.
I hope that the runner I met in front of the screen that day surprises himself. Whether he finishes the race or not, I hope he confronts the unknown and comes through the other side as a stronger and more confident person and runner.
This is the race promotional video: