....... and that's normally only referring to the experience of the event.
I would be surprised if there aren't a few more runners out there like me, for whom the head games going on in the run-up to an event often take almost as much managing as those during the race itself.
It works like this. You enter an event, full of enthusiasm, maybe 6 months or sometimes even a year or more before it is due to take place. The training goes along, maybe specifically for this event, maybe just general stuff because you have a few races on the agenda, but everything seems fine, you're going to be ready. Then, as the event gets closer, a doubt starts to creep into your mind that something is going to prevent you getting to the start line in good enough shape to complete the race. What's interesting is that the level of doubt, and the length of time before the race that it starts, are directly proportional to the investment that you have made in the event - in terms of actual cost, preparation time, and emotional need to complete it.
So if it's something like the Belvoir Challenge or the Sandstone Trail Race, say no more than 30 miles or so of gentle ground, no specific training required, twenty quid or thereabouts to enter, just get up in the morning and drive to the start, then no problem. I might feel a bit creaky, or suddenly discover a sore throat the night before, but it's not going to stop me at least going to the start so fairly easy to ignore.
But up the ante a bit, say a 50 miler with some hills, especially if it's one I've done before so have something of a track record to maintain, and things get harder. I can't remember a night before a Highland Fling or Hardmoors 55 when I haven't been treating the bug that I'm sure I caught about a week previously, and taping up all the little niggles that have appeared in the run-up to the race.
Then come the big races, which I've committed myself (and often other people) to spending a lot of time to see through. I've started (separate) West Highland Way Races with plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and knee cartlilege problems that have seen me limping across the car park to check in for the race. I can remember scouring Geneva Airport for flu remedies just before the Tor des Geants, and then going into the race convinced that the inguinal hernia that the surgeon had assured me was almost 100% certain to be OK would suddenly become strangulated on some remote Alpine pass.
Of course, once into the race, everything that I was worried about wasn't a problem, ever.
As if to rub salt into the wound as it were, I started several events over last summer with a confirmed though recovering injury; and in the run up to these races, when I knew for definite that something actually was wrong, I was completely at ease and confident that I would somehow complete the course. I started the West Highland Way substantially undertrained about 10 weeks after some knee surgery, and the Lakes 10 Peaks (probably the toughest single day event I've ever completed) a week later, and thoroughly enjoyed both.
So it's in the head. Problem is, how do you get it out?
Things were going well this year. I had the normal colds before the Hardmoors and Fling (actually the latter one was a cold, but I don't think it affected the performance too much), and then I had what was probably my best run of the year so far at the Keswick Festival Ultra. But I came away from that one with a few aches and pains, convinced that I had overdone things a bit. They settled down but left me with a sore right calf, the one that caused me all the problems last year.
Now I know I haven't pulled anything, I know what that feels like. I just get aches and twinges, but not particularly related to specific exercises. I've had longish days like the 28 mile Lakeland 100 recce and steepish days like 7000 odd feet of Munros and felt fine; but sometimes it aches when I walk to the shops. We're now less than a week away from the start of the Dragon's Back, my biggest commitment for the year. Expensive race, very demanding for me, unlikely to get a second chance at this one. Sunday evening after our son and his family had gone home after a lovely weekend in Keswick, I had a last brief outing before putting my feet up for the week; up to Skiddaw summit and back, nice round trip of 11 miles, just short of 3000ft of ascent. Did it hurt when I got back? Well, not a lot....but just enough.
So I know, really, that it's in the head....................probably.