Doing Big And Scary1


In 1960, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote

Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face. It is the great crippler.2

I am, at this very moment, crapping myself – metaphorically speaking – and I blame the late Mrs Roosevelt for this situation. You see, a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to decide which of two ultras I should enter. Both races take place on the same weekend in August; one I have run and completed before and the challenge would be to complete it faster. The other, a race I haven’t done and is only in its second year of running, seemed like it could be more of a challenge.

By challenge, I mean the very thought of it scares the absolute shit out of me.

Inevitably, that’s the race I chose to enter. Why do I blame the former First Lady for this? Because she went on to write

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Now my name is on the confirmed sign-up list for the 2nd Challenge Running Chiltern Way Ultra. But why does the race scare me so much?

–Because the full course is 133 miles (214km) long.
–Because there’s a 42 hour time limit.
–Because last year a mere 6 people started the race and only one solitary runner finished.
–Because there’s a very real chance I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this race.

I think that’s the appeal. The other race I was deliberating over was the 86 mile Ridgeway Challenge – my first ultra. I want to do it again after DNSing a few years ago because I want to run it quicker. I completed it the first time despite being nowhere near as fit or as experienced as I am now. I completed it even though up until two weeks before the race, I was scared I wasn’t even going to make it to the half-way point. The Chiltern Way is giving me that same fear, that same doubt. It frightens me. It is a thing I think I cannot do – and all the words Eleanor Roosevelt wrote seem relevant:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.2

Standing up and facing that fear is why I’ve entered the race.3

Map of the Chiltern Way from the Chiltern Society

Map of the Chiltern Way from the Chiltern Society

1With apologies to Andy Mouncey for borrowing the title of this blog
2All quotes from chapter 2 of “You Learn By Living” by Eleanor Roosevelt (1960)
3I won’t lie though – it does help that the start and finish of the race is fairly local too!