The Fine Line

AJWs TaproomWhen 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 that I have wisdom and experience on my side in my own athletic pursuits and that I 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 35 days, I’ll scurry away from the starting line at Squaw Valley at the beginning of my 30th 100-mile race since 2000 and my 10th, and final, 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 nine 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 ninth inning of Game Seven 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 my drivel over the last few years 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 1990’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-to-59-year-old age-group record (18:43) and have fun in the process. And, if I’m not mistaken, I think I am second behind Tommy in the guys-who-finished-second-behind-[Scott] 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 AJW, 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 five weeks to go, it’s better to be nervous than scared.

So, with a month left to train for the Big Dance, here’s wishing everyone lots of nerves and no fear! And, if you want the ball, go get it.

Bottoms up!

 AJW’s Beer of the Week

Starr Hill Brewery Gateful Pale Ale sqThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, Virginia. They have an outstanding American Pale Ale called the Grateful Pale Ale that takes the best of typical APAs and adds a slight IPA character without the high ABV. It’s very sessionable and perfect for the heat of the summer!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • First, among those of us who are running Western States, are you feeling nervous or scared, as AJW applies those words to sports? Or are you feeling something totally different?
  • Being scared is a a part of ultrarunning at times. How do you think we should go about channeling that fear into a useful tool, such as nerves?
  • If you are preparing for another big dance, what goal are you preparing for and where are you at mentally? Nervous or scared?

There are 2 comments

  1. klickteig

    Great post AJW! I will have to say that I am full of excitement to be toeing the line at Western States. Just the prestige of this race makes me feel nervous, but knowing that I will not be alone on this journey brings me peace. It is just a fun experience to tackle a 100 mile with so many other passionate people and knowing that we are all going through the same highs/lows. We will all be at some point digging deep and striving towards the finish. I want to wish everyone a great month of training before we meet in Squaw! :)

    1. UltraSlow

      Make sure to text me when you finish since I'll still be out there somewhere!
      Here's to a great weekend for the 402 Nebraska peeps!


  2. UltraSlow

    Now that I've read your post, I think scared changed to nervous. Although I'll just be a "participant", I'm looking forward to the race. My ability may be lacking, but how can you not just go out there and have the time of your life? I'll try to run within myself and use that nervous energy for a successful finish.

    Ron – #334

  3. longrunpix

    One of your best pieces, thoughtful and personal without being egocentric, the very best kind of personal sports writing, without nerves there is no courage, without fear there is no victory ,in life as in long distance miles. .Or so it seems to me. Great work and good luck

    1. ajoneswilkins

      Longrunpix, thanks for your kind words. I appreciate your perspective because I almost pulled it thinking it might be a bit too much about me. Sometimes I struggle with these pieces drawing the line between personal reflective commentary and writing that can be self-congratulatory. I admit that I have occasionally lapsed into the latter and wish I hadn't.

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