Last weekend was my first nonstop 24-hour run and I found myself being scared of it. I’d never run that long or that far before. I didn’t know what to expect in those last hours. I didn’t know how my body would react. I didn’t know what emotions would pop up and if I’d be strong enough mentally… While I’d been looking forward to the race, all the unknowns made me feel insecure and scared. Being scared doesn’t sound tough, and I wondered what to make of it.
When we were young, we all used to be scared very often. I remember there were nights I didn’t dare to look under my bed. I remember being afraid of the lightning and running away as far from the windows as possible when a thunderstorm hit. I remember being afraid when we were driving north to see family and we got surprised by what has to have been the heaviest rainfall ever on that highway.
In those situations, there was usually someone around who was a lot older or more experienced who could reassure me. My mom sometimes brought a flashlight so together we could declare the area under the bed free from… Well, I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it never showed up. In the car, my dad was there to tell me how he would handle the car if the road got slippery and how we would safely arrive. This reassuring then helped (a little). I was glad there were older people around who knew stuff and who weren’t afraid. This instilled in me the idea that older people aren’t scared. And I told myself that when I would grow up, I would never be afraid again.
And yet here we are. I think I’ve kinda grown up, or at least I’ve made some steps. But I just admitted being scared, so it didn’t work out like the young Harm had it planned. It didn’t, because the insights changed along the way. As a teenager, I thought I would learn how to be tough and never feel fear anymore. I sometimes tried to rationalize whatever situation I was in so as to explain away the fear. At some point I watched a horror movie for the first time with friends (spoiler: we felt really cool, but I didn’t sleep well the next night). The hope of never feeling fear again… it never turned into reality.
More recently I heard the quote that the fear will never go away, but we can grow so that our courage becomes bigger than the fear. I think this is a better way to think about fear. Fear is a core emotion, an integral part of being human. Longing to never feel fear again is to deny a part of yourself. It means not giving space to a healthy part of who you are in your heart of hearts.
When we start to feel a certain level of fear for a hard situation on our path, this does not by definition mean we should backtrack and take a different route. Somehow happiness is connected with overcoming obstacles to reach something that’s valuable to us. And that emotion of fear often signals that we’re onto something that has meaning for us. There’s something at stake, something we care about. And so the right thing might be to acknowledge that fear, and then muster the courage to split that big obstacle into small pieces and calmly take the steps to handle those.
I have wrestled with this emotion and the place it has in my life and in the conversations I am part of. Running has put me eye to eye with fear a number of times. It has helped me reflect on fear in other parts of my life, and helped me focus on cultivating courage to overcome the fear and acknowledge it. Instead of hiding it away or longing for a life without fear, I now aim to embrace fear and give it a healthy place in my life. It’s not a question whether you will ever feel fear again. The question is what place you give it in your life, what relationship with fear you want to have. Healthy is the keyword here.
This is and will always be a work in progress. Having finished that 24h race, I’ve survived the first half of this year’s most scary races. This taught me that it’s possible to harness the mindset of embracing the fear and then calmly continuing to work on the underlying dream. The other big goal of 2023, that 247km Spartathlon, is still on the horizon. I’m insecure about it and I feel scared. And I can now say that I’m totally okay with that.