For years, I never considered myself a runner. From youth sports through my freshman year of college, I only ran out of necessity to condition for playing football. I tried running track, but that only lasted a few years. Running long distances never seemed to appeal to me. My view of myself was that I wasn’t a runner.
After I decided to finish football my freshman year of college, I decided to give running a try. I had a goal someday of running the Chicago Marathon. At that time, 26.2 miles seemed like something that only mutants could run. Running for 3–4 hours straight seemed maddening. I’ve never done a form of physical activity in my entire life that long, or at least didn’t have a nice long break in the middle of it.
I don’t know how I came across it, but I ended up picking Dean Karnazes book Ultra Marathon Man. Reading about someone running all night, eating entire pizzas on the run because they burned so many calories seemed crazy…. and appealing.
I asked myself, “could I do that?”
“How much training would be needed?”
I ended up parking that thought in my mind for a while. I barely had time to scale my running up to 20–30 miles a week, much less than 50–70 miles a week. I was working full time while also being a full-time student.
The thought never left my mind.
Do Something You Never Thought You Could Do
One of the biggest appeals for doing an ultramarathon is the opportunity to do something that you never thought you could do. Do you think you have what it takes to run an ultra marathon? If you can run even a 1/2 marathon today, I bet you do.
What matters to you in life? Do you have crazy goals and dreams? Take the first step to moving towards that goal. If your goal one day is to run a marathon, and you’ve never run before, run a 5K. If you want to write a book someday, start off with writing an article or personal essay. Keep moving the ball moving forward towards that crazy goal. Once you achieve it, you will wonder what else is possible.
The Volume On Life Dials Down
When you’re in a race, the mind has one objective, to finish. All the minor troubles in life seem to melt away, and you start to think about what’s important in your life.
All the anxieties that you feel in an ultra run are physical instead of mental. You’ll feel focused on your body and making sure that you aren’t pushing yourself too hard. All the mental anxieties no longer matter because at that moment they don’t need to be. Maybe it’s the bodies survival mechanism, knowing that you shouldn’t be worried about whether you get that promotion but if you’ll make it through this.
Ultra Running Is A Journey
Every race that I have done becomes a trip to itself. Even though the journey is only 6–24 hours, it almost feels like an entire week when they’re over. There will be ups. There will be downs. You may meet people along the way, and there will be moments where you have to spend what seems like forever alone.
Every race, you go through what feels like a hero’s journey. You have the call to adventure, then you have a setback and you want to resist that call. You end up pushing through and perhaps meet someone who helps you get through that.
All the hero’s journeys that we experience in our life offer some great, valuable lessons that you can take with you. Why wouldn’t you want to have those experiences more often?
Ultra Running Reveals Who You Are
When you’re 30 miles into a 50 mile ultra, and you feel jacked up and want to quit, it reveals who you are. Are you someone who will amplify how you’re feeling? Are you someone who will rationalize the craziest things to find a way out?
I’ve been in endurance events before where the mind goes dark. You start to hope for injury. “Roll your ankle.” The mind starts to tell you. The mind starts to rationalize that spraining your ankles is better for self-preservation than pushing through to finish the race.
You never know what will go through your mind when you’re feeling all jacked up, and you still have 40% of the race to go.
I’ve had events within the first 10% of it, I started to cramp up and thought there was no way that I would make it through. I ended up persevering and found new limits for myself.
We all have this dark part of our minds that wants us to quit. Even David Goggins talks about how he is always fighting that voice. The only way to truly beat that voice is to face it, and we only face it in those extreme moments.
Ultra Running Is A Reminder That All Pain Is Temporary
We have all been through moments in our lives where we think that the pain we are feeling is going to last forever. Ultra running is voluntarily going through that pain. You voluntarily choose to take on the pain, it reminds you that you have a choice.
In an ultra race, the pain feels like it will last forever. You will get to that aid station and sit down for a moment, you have that moment of relief. The last thing you want to do is get up and get back out there. Choosing to do it anyway and setting small goals for yourself makes all the different.
When I’ve run ultras in the past, I didn’t think to myself that I have 50 miles to go. I think to myself, only 4 miles to the next aid station. Chunking out goals in your mind is not only a valuable skill for running ultras, but also a valuable life skill to learn. Any goal that is worth having usually needs to be chunked out by smaller goals.
Ultra running was something that I never thought I would get into 7 years ago. Even thought it had this strange appeal, the idea of moving more than a marathon distance at one seemed insane to me.
Ultra running has taught me that so many of our limits are in our head. I’m not in much better shape now than I was 7 years ago, but my mind is different. I know how to pace myself and I know how my body is going to react when I get to certain points.
We all have fears of the unknown. We can either face that unknown and make it known, or keep it unknown for the rest of our lives. I didn’t want that fear to be unknown any longer, so I took the step to make it known. Do you have any unknowns in your life that you want to make known?