"What does a runner feel like the day before the day of a race?" asks Virginia.
It's not a race, I tell others and I tell myself. As usual, it depends on what you mean by "race." By the first definition in my 1981 version of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary -- "the act of running" -- it is a race, although most of us will be doing a lot of walking, especially on the uphills, which are many, with an estimated total elevation change of over 13,500 feet. As for the verb form -- "to compete in a race," "to go or move at top speed or out of control" -- for me, it's not a race. I'm sure some of the fellows far ahead of me will be competing. I won't be, and I hope not to be "out of control."
At this point, "being out of control" is my biggest concern. I like to be comfortable when I run, not too warm and not too cool, cruising along, enjoying the scenery and sometimes the company of other runners. The biggest challenge on Saturday will be finding that comfort zone, despite the possibility of snow, ice and cold. And darkness at the midnight start! I have never run a marathon at night. Even if I cover the first third of this course as slowly as I hope, I'll nearly finish the 26.2-mile marathon distance by sunrise. In light of the snowfall that probably remains on the highlands, "slowly" will be a key to not falling "out of control."
More directly on point regarding Virginia's question, today is my 7th consecutive day not running, except for a 3/4-mile test last night of my headlamp and flashlight. I haven't gone this long without running in years. It's all because of my former running buddy and 60-plus ultra veteran, John Zerger, who suggested I rest the last week. Anticipating the objections of a compulsive recordkeeper, he said, "Don't worry. You'll be able to log 66 miles on Saturday, very good total miles for a week." On one hand, I understand the psychology of the racehorse waiting for the starting gate to rise and the physiology of resting after months of hard training. On the other, a certain insecurity arises from not having used my legs for a week. "Will they still work?"
It's been many years since I've slept as fitfully as I have this week, which probably results from muscles that aren't used to resting so much and nervousness about the physical challenge of running farther than I have ever run in one day. Last night I dreamed I missed the starting gun, began running an hour or more late then realized I'd forgotten about packet pickup (i.e., getting my bib number and other paraphernalia), suddenly remembered I'd have to run like crazy to make the first cut-off which I then missed by far, got lost on a trail leading to Roanoke, where some crazy old coot in a big Cadillac almost hit me, stopped his car in the middle of the road, and chased after me. A nice young couple came to my rescue and drove me part way home.
Speaking of sleep, remember that the race starts at 12:01 a.m. I'm usually in bed before then. I imagine anticipation and adrenaline will keep me alert at the beginning. Will I be running with my eyes closed by 6 a.m? I hope to head that off by catching some shut-eye tomorrow afternoon and evening. I'm sure you can imagine how restful those cat naps may be. Meow!
This morning when I retrieved my usual 3 armloads of firewood, I smiled at 25 degrees, a clear blue sky, and bright sunshine. At 12:01 a.m., Saturday morning, I intend to smile at the black night, near-freezing temperatures, and the sounds of 120 people running together into the night.
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