Anatomy of Psyching Myself Out

I had a long run that did NOT go as planned on Sunday. I think there were a number of factors at play. But at the heart of the matter, I ultimately psyched myself out. I debated on whether or not to even write this post. I don’t want it to come across as me looking for sympathy or seeking attention. But ultimately, I decided it would be good to share. If nothing else, it might be helpful for me to come back and read it someday.

I’m trying not to dwell on what happened. At the end of the day it was a long run that’s very early in my training cycle. It wasn’t a race I had put in months of work for, nor was it a peak training run for a big race. But yet I’m still dwelling on it a little bit.

So this run. It was a point to point run on the Appalachian Trail from route 311 to route 220. It’s approximately 20 miles with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It was going to be a big run for me – definitely one of the toughest I’ve ever tackled. I knew it would be a big challenge. And it’s good to be realistic about that type of run. But for some reason I got really worked up leading up to it. I dwelled on the run in the days leading up to it, and even had a nightmare about the run two nights before hand. I was more nervous about this run than I have been about most of the races I’ve ever done. The night before the run I didn’t fall asleep until well after 2 AM. A short three hours later, my alarm was going off.

I wasn’t feeling great when I got up. I think a big part of it was nerves, but there were also some other factors at play that morning that just had me feeling not myself. I ate a little bit of food before we left, and attempted to eat some more as Barry and I made the drive up to Roanoke. However, I didn’t manage more than one Belvita biscuit.

We arrived in Roanoke about 5 minutes before the rest of the group. Once they arrived, we got a quick picture in the parking lot and then it was go time. We had a big group of at least 15 runners. It was kind of exciting, but I also felt really intimidated. I think I was feeling a bit of ‘imposter syndrome’ like I did not belong and was not good enough to run with these people. Definitely not the way to start out a challenging run.

Photo from our shared group album.

The run started with a 3.5 to 4 mile, ~1200 foot climb up to McAfee Knob. I think the group broke up into about four sub-groups, and I was hanging with the second to last group. We alternated hiking and running and I was still so nervous, but feeling okay. However, about halfway up my energy started plummeting. I fell behind the group I was with and was soon passed by the last group as well. It wasn’t long before they were completely out of sight and it was just Barry and me.

My pace continued to slow as the terrain got steeper towards the top and I tried to eat some Honey Stinger chews and sip on water to try and help my energy levels. But as the climb became more challenging, my heart seemed to race faster and faster and I started feeling dizzy and nauseous. That, combined with not keeping up with the group, was demoralizing. Despite being encouraged days before by several of my running friends that I could do this run, I was doubting myself.

I’m not sure how much of the way I was feeling physically was manifested by how I was feeling mentally. But Sunday was definitely a lesson in the power of your mind, and how it can take over in a very negative way if you let it. Barry and I joined the group at the top (Being greeted by someone saying “oh, I forgot there were two more.” Yea, that’s how far behind I was. Blah). It was really foggy up top, so there wasn’t any view. We still got a group picture.

Fake smiling.

At this point, I knew my day was over. How could I continue with this group when I couldn’t even hang on the easier climb of the day? It wouldn’t have been fair for me to expect someone to wait an hour (or more) on me to finish at the other end (since this was a point to point run, I’d need a ride back to my car). Barry was already planning on doing an out-and-back run, so I decided to join him. I let my friend Kim know that I was bailing on the run. It was chaotic on top of McAfee, as it was windy and cold and the group was scrambling to get back on the move. It felt like everyone was everywhere, but I think she got the message that I was done.

Barry and I continued down the trail, with loose plans of going out another 4 miles and then turning around, which would give us about 16 miles total for the day. However, less than a mile past McAfee it was obvious that I was just so done. I felt awful, I was still dizzy, and I had no energy and no power. The most frustrating part is my legs actually felt good. It was just the rest of me, my head included, that had given up. So we ended up turning around at 5 miles, to make 10 miles total for the day.

As we went back across McAfee Knob, it was still foggy. It was also windy and snowing. We were expecting high winds (40-50 mph) later that day, and it seemed like they were already moving in at the higher elevation. On the way back, some of the fog lifted and we did at least get a few nice views along the trail as we made our way down the mountain.

We ended the day with just under 10 miles and ~2300 feet of elevation gain. Still a tough run, but not what I had planned on doing. I’m disappointed in myself, and I guess I feel kind of self-conscious about the whole thing. My confidence took a big hit. I will try again someday, but it is going to take awhile for me to work up the courage to go out with that group again. Which stinks, because they were an awesome group.

There’s a lot to learn from Sunday. I was reminded that when you take big risks and push the limits, you’re bound to fail sometimes. It’s all part of the process. But ultimately, on this day, I think my mind failed me. Mental toughness is a big part of running ultramarathons, and clearly I need some work in that department.

On the way home, Barry and I stopped at Panda Express so I could drown my sorrows in orange chicken. Ironically, my fortune cookie read “You will display great bravery when faced with adversity.” Hah! Not on that day. But I’m working on it.

6 thoughts on “Anatomy of Psyching Myself Out”

    1. I will have to try running with them again sometime – probably on a different route to begin with. They are a tough bunch of runners, but awesome folks to hang out with!

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