When Running Causes Nightmares

But are double-digit runs finally becoming less intimidating?

I’m currently training for my 11th marathon. 

I’m also a person with high anxiety. This is both the reason why I run and why running can be so challenging at times. 

But it’s not the act of running itself that creates anxiety. That’s simply placing one foot in front of the other. It’s facing the big numbers attached to those double-digit mile runs during marathon training that scare me. 

I typically train for and run a fall marathon with the support of a very organized team. This definitely takes away a lot of the burden of planning with training. But in previous seasons, no matter how many times I’ve been through this process, nightmares emerged before these significant distances.

My pre-long run dreams usually involve showing up for my run in street clothes and wearing a 50 lb backpack. If I’m lucky, I also get lost on my route. 

Younger running me bought into this nonsense, ramping up my anxiety to new heights. Older running me laughs at myself while I’m in these dreams. Of course, these things wouldn’t happen. I prepare for my long runs like I should, laying out all of my gear the night before!

Preparing “flat me” before my long run is a huge way to manage pre-run anxiety. If I choose my gear while I have light (and so I don’t disturb my husband in the morning), gather my nutrition, pack my hydration vest, charge my Garmin, etc., I can rest easier. 

Last training season, my pre-run nightmares arrived right on schedule. But not this time. I’m surprised to find that I wasn’t nervous before a 16-mile run. I also can’t believe that I’m already at this point in my training season. 

This being marathon #11, I guess it makes sense that my nerves aren’t as big of an issue. It’s always just a matter of doing the work and chipping away at the miles. 

Since I’m not that far removed from the fall marathon training season, perhaps my brain doesn’t anticipate as much strife with these runs!

Running the Chessie Trail Marathon last fall, wearing my favorite Blue Ridge Half Marathon race shirt! Photo courtesy of Becky H.

So what’s different this time? 

Spring marathons have never been a thing for me. Half marathons? Yes. I keep a deep enough base in mileage that jumping into half training isn’t a big deal. But dedicating the time and wear and tear on my body this time of year to marathon training has never been a part of my routine. 

Maybe I’m experiencing a bit of the lobster in the pot of water phenomenon. I never gave myself an “off” season. I just kept running, and now my brain hasn’t fully caught on to the fact that I’m training to run 26.2 miles. Again. The pot is already simmering, though! 

I’m not new to running longer distances unsupported, either. I’ve done a few 12 milers and now two 14 mile runs on my own. And knowing that I’ve run a 50k before certainly helps to reassure me that I’m capable of accomplishing these miles. 

I have been running many of my weekend long runs with a small group, and I’m so grateful for a planned route. That saves me so much mental energy, and I’ve enjoyed exploring new places to run. Even though I may run some of these weekend miles without company, I know there’s someone waiting on me to finish or at least checking on me during my run. It’s comforting. 

But honestly, I have no idea how I got to this mental point in my journey. 

At the top of Mill Mountain and in front of the infamous Roanoke Star on the course of the Blue Ridge Half Marathon and Marathon. Photo by author.

There are 7 weeks until the Blue Ridge Marathon. Dubbed America’s Toughest Road Race, you traverse three mountains. I don’t know what I was thinking. 

The half marathon in this race series climbs two of these mountains. I’ve run the half twice now.

Before running the race the first time, many of my friends warned me that there were parts of the course where you could reach out and touch the road right in front of your face, the elevation was that steep. I didn’t believe them. But when I reached that part of the course, I started laughing! It was absolutely true.

Apparently, the extra mountain we run on the marathon course is even worse!

And have I been hill training? Not exactly. Although where I run most weekends is very hilly, which helps. Where the course is steep, there’s no running anyway; just power hiking.

They say your goals should scare you a little bit. This one definitely does, at least on paper. My inner brain seems inexplicably calm. My outer brain thinks I’m crazy. 

Next weekend I drop back to 12 miles. It will be a welcome chance to recover. 

My next big runs before 26.2 will be 18 and 20 miles. We’ll see if the nightmares return for these significant distances! And I’m certain the bad dreams will show up before the race. They always do!


Have you ever run a big race that made you nervous? Do you have nightmares before longer double-digit runs? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

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