It’s happening again. I’m leading the race, feeling strong and confident. Suddenly the course takes an unexpected turn, into a building. This seems odd but I continue on, following the course markings up and down staircases, through narrow halls and dimly lit corridors. It’s a challenge to maintain my pace through the twists and turns but I continue to press onward, gradually realizing that not only have the course markings vanished, but that my competitors seem to have disappeared as well.

I begin to panic, certain that I have taken a wrong turn and blown my lead. With relief, I spot some people up ahead – surely they can reassure me that I am still on course and will point me in the right direction. When I approach them, however, they seem to know nothing about the route – or even that a race is taking place. My urgent questions are met with blank stares so I continue to make my way through this building that is becoming more mazelike by the minute. My dream of a big victory has vanished along with the course itself and I find myself alone and lost.

Eventually my heavy breathing wakes me and I realize this has all been a nightmare – a familiar one at that. Yes, it’s that time again. A big race is approaching and my unconscious fears are making themselves known. Talking with other runners, I realize that these dreams are not uncommon. Turns out many of us dream about getting lost, running into buildings, being in the port-a-john when the starting gun fires. How about the classic looking down and realizing that you are running barefoot – or worse yet, naked? Not generally a good thing unless you’re competing in a clothing-optional event.

My guess is that these fears are related to classic performance anxiety. We all tend to question our preparedness before a big race, and in our dreams we are likely to blow things way out of proportion. Maybe in a way they help us to prepare for worst-case scenarios on race day. After all, whatever happens in this upcoming competition, I know it can’t be worse than my nightmares – and it’s not likely to involve any insane indoor running.

Still, nightmares of any sort are no fun, so I try to figure out how to rid myself of these pre-race jitters. Positive imagery, self-affirmations, visualizing myself running strong and fast. All of that helps, but in the end, I think what I might need to do is practice some indoor running – up the stairs, through mysterious winding corridors, searching for hidden course markings and passing uncooperative spectators. That way, when this upcoming race takes an unexpected turn, I’ll be ready.