Starting Line Jitters

I stood shivering at the start of a 50-mile trail race. It was a dark December morning. In the beam of my headlamp, I took in the scene. Grim faces and weather-beaten gear of “real” mountain runners. The huddled mass of runners stood in silence. Collars were turned up against the cold rain, which was now coming down in sheets, blowing sideways. I was suddenly queasy and had a powerful urge to bail and head straight back to the warm bed I had foolishly exited at 4:00 a.m. The miles ahead seemed overwhelming, and I started down the predictable mental track in moments of self-doubt: “What have I gotten myself into? I don’t belong here.”

I similarly questioned my life choices when I eagerly showed up at Fuqua for the Weekend Executive MBA kick off and attended the first Financial Accounting lecture. The financial statements and jargon felt totally foreign. As the professor flew through cases and flipped through financial statements, I glanced around and my cohort seemed so chill. They were “real” MBA students. The term ahead and the barrage of upcoming case studies suddenly looked daunting. The familiar refrain hit me full force: “What have I gotten myself into?”

An open laptop with a big TV screen behind it; Ultrarunning and an MBA
My First weekend in the Financial Accounting course, fall of 2020

Just Keep Moving

I started running in silence, focused on the bobbing light of my headlamp and getting my adrenaline-driven heart rate under control. The faster runners ahead yelled back warnings of fallen trees in the trail. Dawn began to break, spurring a few enthusiastic whoops and howls. We all began to naturally spread out in the woods, each of us settling into our own pace. My hands were numb, shoes caked with mud. But as I started putting the course behind me, one mile at a time, I was done worrying about the course ahead. I was just moving.

After the initial shock of that first weekend in Financial Accounting wore off, I found a rhythm of lectures, team meetings, readings, and case studies. I stopped looking ahead at the sheer volume of work and started knocking out assignments one late night at a time. I didn’t worry anymore about how fast my classmates were solving cases, and I no longer compared myself to my colleagues with accounting and engineering backgrounds. I found my pace, learned from my team, and kept moving forward.

Lean Into Your Team

That brings me to yet another parallel in this ultrarunning/MBA analogy that I have perhaps stretched to the breaking point: lean into your team. On race day, there are always highs and lows. There are moments when dry socks, soup, or pickle juice are critical; moments when objective minds are needed to problem-solve. Doing these journeys with a trusted crew makes all the difference.

Four people standing arm-in-arm, in rainy weather; Ultrarunning and an MBA
My support crew on race day, spring of 2019

Similarly, there is a reason that Team Fuqua is such a big deal. Yes, you have to take the leap. But nobody does it all solo. Even during the pandemic, which required my cohort to initially tackle most of our work virtually, I had an incredible core team to commiserate and problem-solve with. And when I submitted my Financial Accounting final, I was on top of the world.

Enjoy the Views

Five years ago, I didn’t know that ultrarunning was even a thing. I had no idea that people run 50 miles, 100 miles (on my bucket list!), and beyond. If you would have told me I could run across the Grand Canyon and back in a single day, I would have laughed. Thanks to the highly adventurous people in my life, I have a different perspective on my limits.

A woman wearing glasses, a hat and holding walking sticks in a rocky area; Ultrarunning and an MBA
Running in the Grand Canyon, fall of 2019

I have now seen the sun rise over the Colorado River as I ran Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R). I have soaked in breathtaking scenes running through the Black Mountain range of the Blue Ridge. Every ultra experience has provided its unique combination of starting line trepidation, highs and lows, and extreme discomfort. But if I would have rushed back to dry clothes and my warm bed, I would have missed the views, the adventure, and the joy of running (or limping) across the finish line.

A woman running along a path with the sun rising in the distance in a mountainous region

Sunrise over the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, fall of 2019

Maybe it’s not Financial Accounting or ultrarunning that ushers in your moments of uncertainty. But we all experience some version of that queasy feeling at the starting line, whether it be kicking off a new venture, taking a risk, starting an MBA, or chasing down a big goal. Don’t let the starting line jitters get in the way. Keep moving, enjoy the views, and celebrate with your team at the finish.