Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Fine Line

When I was a kid my dad always gave me a little talk pep before big games. After a bit of semi-helpful strategy and typical fatherly advice he would inevitably ask me The Question,

"Are you scared or nervous?"

I always paused, knowing the correct answer but asking myself for the right answer,

"Why does it matter? Aren't they the same thing?" I'd always say.

"No, Andy, they're not. If you're scared you want to get out of here and if you're nervous it means you're ready to play. It means you want the ball and you want it now"

Today, years away from interscholastic sports, I like to think I have wisdom and experience on my side in my own athletic pursuits and don't need silly pep talks for motivation. Nonetheless, my dad's words continue to resonate with me. I ask myself, on the verge of this year's Western States, "am I scared or am I nervous?" Do I want the ball or not?

In 10 days I'll scurry away from the starting line at Squaw Valley at the beginning of my 22nd 100 mile race since 2000 and my 6th Western States. At the time I will be thinking and feeling many things but most of all I will ask myself, "Am I scared or am I nervous?"

Each of the past five times in the race I have been nervous. I have been cautiously confident in my abilities to finish the race and with each passing year I have proven to myself that I can perform well in the midst of the high pressure environment of the Western States 100. Don't get me wrong, it's not the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series or the 18th hole at Augusta but for those of us who toe the line at Squaw this is our Super Bowl and you better be ready to put up or shut up. In other words, you better be nervous, not scared. In addition, even in this little bubble of pressure you better be ready to perform. Preparation is one thing, execution quite another.

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows that of all the people in ultrarunning the man I admire and respect the most is Tom Nielsen. Tommy taught me how to run these things back in the mid-late 90's and his lessons are still with me today. In fact, I look forward to Tommy's return to Western States in the not-too-distant future as I think he is a pretty good bet to take down Doug Latimer's 50-59 year old age-group record (18:43) and to have fun in the process. And, if I'm not mistaken, I think I am second behind Tommy in the guys-who-finished-2nd-behind-Jurek standings as I lost to Scott by 24 minutes and Tommy by less than 20 minutes. Nonetheless, the guy's a legend and he taught me everything I know.

And, of all the advice Tommy ever gave me the best was this:

"Look AJ, in the last 30 miles of a 100 miler everybody's hurting. Everybody is way beyond physical fatigue and mental, emotional, and psychological fatigue is setting in, Big Time. If you want to succeed in these things you need to know that, dig deep, and fight it. In the end, you need to race every step like there's someone three minutes ahead of you and someone three minutes behind you."

This year, no matter where you are, that is likely to be true!

That is why, in my opinion with 10 days to go, it's better to be nervous than scared.

Here's wishing everyone lots of nerves and no fear! And, if you want the ball, go get it.

This is the 5th and final installment of the 2009 Western States Synchroblog Project. This is an open topic so we’ve got a wide range of topics this time.


Derrick said...

Great post. Very inspiring. Wish I was running a 100miler next week instead of in a few months.

Good luck

Gary Robbins said...

Well said Andy! I'm so nervous I might not sleep next week, but I'm not too scared to close my eyes. I really can not wait for this thing already, it is just gonna be an epic experience and a ton of fun to be a part of:)

Michael Alfred said...

AJW, I have to admit to being a bit nervously scared for you. See you in Squaw Valley in a week and a half.

azspeedgoat said...

AJW- I think I am ready for the double WS/HR with you. Western makes me nervous, HR scares me. I have done both and they are 2 completely different experiences, both awesome in their own way. Very good write up, thanks for sharing, see you in Squaw next week.

saschasdad said...

I'll be looking for your headlamp going up Robie...only 3 minutes ahead...or is that behind?

Great post, AJW.

Brad Mitchell said...

A great read - Everyone here in the Wood River Valley will be with you all the way - make em' scared!

rustyboy said...

Brilliant stuff, AJW, from a long-time reader, first time commenter.

Jasper Halekas said...


Funny how you get 60 comments on who's going to be in the top ten, then you post something really profound and only get 7!

Doesn't matter if you're nervous, scared, happy, sad, angry, or constipated. This is the time to think back over your training, remember how hard you've worked for this and how well prepared you are, and get ready to focus the last six months of training into one day of running like you've never run before. Strong legs will take you part of the way, but only a strong mind will get you to the finish.


AJW said...

Jasper, thanks for checking in and you're right, seems like every time I write something I think is meaningful I only get a few comments but if I throw out some smack about a poll people go crazy. I like what you said about running with the mind. I have often felt that it is a critical and often overlooked part of running 100 mile races and something that truly separates them from shorter distances. And, I do recall your focus at Brighton during the 2007 WF. I could tell you were going to rip the last 25 and you did.

Paul Charteris said...

This is great Andy. Knowing that the top runners have such huge respect for this race and really want to perform well adds extra prestige to the event for the rest of us.

I think I am as ready as I can be. Having said that, I have doubts all the time (about 50 times per day), can I do this thing? will I blow up on the rocks in the high country, will I collapse after Green Gate. The unknown is exciting - sure, make me nervous, you bet. Scared, no.

Thanks for sharing

Cheers, Paul

Anonymous said...

I give all the credit to you guys who push the last 30 miles...

Just like the last 10k of a marathon, It seems l like the last 30 miles of a 100 is where a great race is made.

EVERYONE is on sub-XX pace before the 70 mile mark... then they finish 2 hours after their goal.

Great post Andy, and I'll be cheering you on from my computer screen...
Actually.. I'm only 4 hours from the Auburn..maybe I'll cheer you on at the Forest Hill and the finish

Good luck


Brian Wyatt said...

Great post. Thanks for the inspiration. Look forward to seeing you at Squaw and seeing you throw down another solid performance.

kelly said...

Thanks for the well written post. Show em what you are made of, Andy. Good luck next weekend. I will be voting for you. :)

Hank Dart said...

Hey, Andy. Really, really nice. No one tougher in those closing miles. Go get 'em. --Hank