I started running ultra distances a couple of years ago – and it changed my life. I’m hoping that maybe it can change yours, too.
I’ve always been a runner, starting from the time I joined my 6th grade cross country team, through high school, college, and then during the years I spent in the Army. I’ve never been super fast, but I had pretty good endurance and it never really felt like hard work. I could always just go do it. Pretty lucky, right?
I followed the same well-worn path a lot of runners do – a 5k “fun run” turns into a 10k and before you know it you’re training for a marathon. I liked the marathon at first – the distance seemed impressive and the training was enough to burn off whatever I was eating during the week. Plus, I could use the race itself as an excuse to go see a fun new location somewhere. I went to Paris, Honolulu, and Boston and ran through those cities.
But as the finisher medals started piling up, the marathon training started feeling more like drudgery than something I actually enjoyed. On weekends I dreaded the long runs and I always felt burned out during the week. I would miss training days (sometimes purposely) and then try to make up mileage out of guilt. I wanted to be faster – not to get a race PR, mind you. But just to get the training over more quickly. As you probably know, when you’re grinding out miles, you’re not having fun.
I was trying to psych myself up to start training for the Dallas marathon when a co-worker suggested trying a 50-miler. You’d think as burned out as I was that I would’ve laughed it off. Twice the distance? You must be joking. But after reading about the ultra community I realized that this was the type of “soulful” running I was longing for.
Ultra training seemed like getting back to basics – slowing down, paying attention to your body, being more connected with the environment around you. I listed to guys like Anton Krupicka and Scott Jurek talking about the bigger purpose of running – and I found their philosophies filling the void I had in my running life.
After a handful of 50s, I just completed my first 100-miler – the Vermont 100. It was a humbling experience. I finished, but it required nearly everything I had in the tank, physically and mentally. I realize now that I honestly had no idea what I was doing out there. It was a miracle that I got it done. The 100 is such a monster distance, with so many things that can go wrong over the course of 24+ hours, that it demands respect.
As such, after nearly 40 years of amateurish running, two things are happening. First, I’m finally getting serious about running. Second, I love running again.
Now that I’m finally learning what works (and what doesn’t) and why, I’ll try to keep track of it here. I’m rethinking everything: training, eating, hydration, gear, physiology, psychology. And I hope that the stuff that I’m learning can help you on your own ultra-running journey. Enjoy!