How Ultra Marathons Make You Face The Reality of The Voice In Your Head

How Ultra Marathons Make You Face The Reality of The Voice In Your Head
Photo by Jenny Hill / Unsplash

On October 1st, 2022 I attempted to run a 100-mile ultra marathon. I’m not going to write about what I learned from it in this post, since I have already written about that. You can read it here if you'd like to read it.

Where did this goal come from? Why do I want to run a 100-mile ultra?

Running ultra marathons is more than putting your body through agony. It’s a spiritual journey. Every part of your mind is telling you to quit. There aren’t many situations in life where that voice is this loud and in your face.

That’s the beauty of it, it is loud and in your face.

Occasionally, that voice in your head that’s asking you to quit is quiet. It’s a subtle whisper that is the puppet master of your mind. Many of the times, you aren’t even aware that that voice is there.

It’s that voice that tells you to sleep in.

It’s that voice that tells you’ll never make it.

It’s that voice that says, “what’s the point?”

We all have that voice in our head. When you run an ultra marathon, that voice gets scared. It screams louder and louder to quit. You begin to learn what that voice sounds like and learn to distinguish the real you vs the other you.

We all have two people. We have the easy voice that’s that voice we all love. That’s the very comfortable voice we all love. That’s that mommy. It’s holding you always telling you that you’re going to be okay. It loves you no matter how messed up you are in life. That’s that one voice. This other voice we walk far away from that says ‘hey you aren’t doing s%it.’ - David Goggins
Photo by Jason Rosewell / Unsplash

We All Have That Voice

I can’t speak for others, but I am a firm believer that we all have an easy voice and a voice that knows what we are supposed to do in our heads.

Anxiety builds up the longer we follow that easy voice. It builds up because we are stagnant in our pursuit in something that we want.

When you run an ultra marathon, you learn to tame that voice. I don’t think you can eliminate the voice entirely. Even David Goggins says that he struggles with that voice every day.

In the quote above from David Goggins, he talks about how in that hard voice we experience suffering, failure, self-doubt, and darkness. It’s hard to say yes to that.

That voice can go to some strange places in an ultra marathon. I have had the easy voice try to convince me to fake an injury in an event just to save my ego. I’ve also had the easy voice tell me that I was much colder than I actually was, and I was at risk of getting hypothermia, even though a medical expert told me I was medically fine.

Both times, I said no to the easy voice and kept pushing forward and finished the event. Pushing against that was some of the proudest moments of my life.

The Difficulty Isn’t Choosing That Option Once

The most enduring challenge in an ultra marathon is when that voice is creeping into your head to quit, when you know you shouldn’t, is that you experience it dozens of times during an event.

It only takes saying ‘yes’ once to cause you to quit. It takes saying ‘no’ an indefinite number of times to finish.

That voice is insidious though in all parts of life. People often go on a fitness journey and work hard for the first month. In that first month, they see results and get excited about it. All of a sudden, the weights get easier, the runs get easier, and then they’re coasting through the same workouts daily. The results begin to plateau. They wonder why they aren’t progressing anymore, and then that easy voice comes in and says, “you don’t need to work out, it’s not doing you any good anymore.”

Then often people will fall out of shape again. It’s no wonder most New Year's Resolutions don’t make it to February.

Choosing the hard voice once will not do you any good. There is no finish line to where you will get to the point where it will be ‘easy.’

When you notice yourself coasting through the day and workouts, reflect on yourself and think about what you need to be intentional about to make sure you are choosing that hard voice.

The Voice Brings You To Reality

Maybe some of us are delusional about what we can and can’t do. I thought I could run a 100-mile ultra marathon in about 24 hours about 4 months ago, and I was wrong.

When you push against the easy voice as much as you can and still don’t make it. It brings you to reality. This isn’t a bad thing. We frequently need to have a baseline to work from. I know right now that I can run 63 miles. That’s my reality. There is no part of me wondering if I could have done more. That delusional part of me thinking that I could finish a 100-mile ultra in 24 hours. The reality is that I was going to finish it in about 28/29-hours if I kept going.

There are reasons why I didn’t keep going. The main reasons were that I was facing reality. I wasn’t going to make the cut-off and I had no food or water to support me for the remaining 37 miles. I had to make the call when I could because I wasn’t doing it to prove a point. I was doing it to put myself into that mental lab and know that I gave it everything that I had.


This voice in our head has been named many things. Steven Pressfield dubbed it “resistance.” It’s a part of us that will never die, but can only be tamed. If you learn how to tame it. You must make sure that it’s tamed each day. If you do not, you will find out that that easy voice isn’t so easy after all.