The Night Before


This article originally appeared in the April 1986 issue of UltraRunning Magazine

What am I doing here? And why did I decide that this was the race to “go for it?” Now I just wish I were at home between my own sheets with hyperactive bladder and bowels and cold sweaty feet and hands. Most of all, I wish that tomorrow held something other than an early rise and a day of exceedingly painful effort. Ah, well. close the eyes, breath deeply, and please, please, go to sleep.

It seemed like such a good idea those short months ago. To enter this cursed race, train hard and long, and show up ready to amaze my friends with an astoundingly high finish. And my confidence never faltered during training. When I felt good it was a sure sign that I was ready to run a great race. When I ran poorly, it certainly meant I was paying the price of being prepared.

Another look at the clock. Damn. Well, if nothing else, I can cancel my plans for a good night’s sleep. It could be worse, I suppose. I’m going to suffer from sleep deprivation before it’s over anyway.

The sound of a toilet flushing in another room comes faintly through the walls. I guess I’m not the only runner who isn’t sleeping very well. Small consolation. The discomfort of my companions doesn’t do anything to reduce my own. Ah. well, close the eyes, breathe deeply, and please, please, go to sleep.

The first shadow of doubt came on the drive down. That twinge in my knee. Did I wear it out by training too hard? Wasn’t I kind of stiff when I stopped for gas? Maybe I didn’t taper enough. What about all the days I worked late? What if my mileage was insufficient?

If my physical preparation was a little short, what about my mental toughness? How am I going to keep going when it starts to hurt? Oh, God, I hate pain. What have I been thinking about all this time? I just don’t know if I’m tough enough to run this thing. The other entrants are so fast and so good. I can’t remember seeing them ready to give up. I’m ready to give up and I haven’t even logged a single mile yet.

Check that damn clock again. Will I ever go to sleep? Does it even matter? What is an undertrained, plodding wimp like me doing here anyway? Might as well get up and hit the toilet again. Wonder if anyone has ever dehydrated before the race started. At least that would keep me from having to torture myself tomorrow. or rather, later today.

Wonder how many other runners heard my flush like I’ve been hearing theirs. This motel will probably have their biggest water bill in history. Ah, well, close the eyes, breathe deeply, and please. please, go to sleep.

Don’t know why I’m bothering. No doubt I’ll still be awake when it comes time to get up. Just thinking, and thinking, and thinking….

“Ring, ring ring, ring.” What the hell? Oh, the phone. “Hello.“ “This is your wake-up call. It’s 5:00 AM.” “Oh, thanks.”

Well, I’ll be. Must have slept. Matter of fact, I feel pretty good. Ought to, this is the day I’ve been waiting for. Best condition I’ve ever been in, this is going to be the race of my life. Boy am I glad I’m here.


About Author

Gary Cantrell writes the “View From the Open Road” column. Gary has written for UltraRunning more or less continuously since his column “From the South” first appeared in Volume 1, Number 1 back in May of 1981. He is perhaps most well-known as the founder of the Barkley, a trail race in eastern Tennessee. (Although some would comment that it isn’t really a race, and others would add that those aren’t really trails.) He is also the founder of the Strolling Jim 40 Mile and periodically organizes a 314-mile run across Tennessee, the Vol State Road Race. He is currently the race director of the Backyard Ultra. In the real world he works as an accountant.

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