Why do I run ultras? I have been asked this a number of times recently when people discover that I frequently do running events that are beyond the typical 26.2 mile marathon distance.
I usually ask myself this during an event when it starts to get hard & uncomfortable. Why am I out here? Why should I even keep going? This is hard. It’s hot. I’m tired. I’m not having fun right now. This dialog continues for a while until I get distracted, my mood improves or I make it to the finish line. I soak up the finish line experience; go about my day and sooner or later sign up for another one. So, why do I do it?
I don’t know that I have a singular answer. So in a round about way, this is what I have come up with…
Fear of complacency. My life is not “that” hard – I live where I have easy access to healthy food, safe places, and a comfortable living situation. I enjoy my work. It is so easy to fall into a routine, sit on the couch, watch TV, not step outside of the comfort zone, and let the days and weeks run together. It is so easy to get complacent. It is easy to NOT do the hard things.
Being in nature. I love being outside. I love being on the trails and moving through the natural world. The birds, the critters, the changes in seasons; it all has value and adds to the experience. I am not a fan of crowds, loud noises or a lot of chaos. Finding peace and quite in nature is incredibly important to me.
I’m competitive. Yes, I said it; I am a slightly competitive. But mostly, I am competitive with myself. Especially in running, you can’t control the weather, the other competitors or even the trail conditions, but you can push yourself on that day, and be competitive with yourself. And that can take on a variety of forms that are beyond finishing faster than the last time at that distance or on that course – it could be figuring out your nutrition so you don’t hit a wall 2/3 of the way through the race, it could be starting out at an easier pace than you think you need so you can finish strong and not “death march” to the finish line or it could simply be the goal of being willing to adjust when things are not going exactly as planned.
The community. I love the trail running community. The volunteers, the other runners, the groups that organize events, are all part of a great community of individuals all out to accomplish similar goals. Meeting new friends and reconnecting with old friends are all part of the experience.
The training. Training for these events is no small under taking. It requires patience, consistency, and putting the work in. It allows me to stay in control of my health and in touch with my body. I think this circles back to the point of being complacent – where you go about your day, and not realize that you are tensing your neck, eating poor quality foods or skimping on your rest. Running allows me a chance to check in, see how I feel and where I need to make adjustments. Do I need a rest day? Should I be eating more vegetables, protein, carbs? Is my body sending me signals that I haven’t taken the time to listen to? This is all part of it. Training also lets me connect with friends over a long run. In this time of hectic schedules, combining running and friends make for a fun use of time and training.
Travel. Doing these particular events allows me to explore beautiful areas in places that I’ve never been before. It gives my husband, Matt, and I a reason to go camping and explore trails that we may not otherwise tried. I’ve traveled a number of places to do events and found some spectacular areas that are just far enough off the beaten path you may not have found them on your own.
This is the tip of the proverbial ultra running iceberg. Not everyone needs to run endurance events. But these are a few of the reasons why I do it. I hope that you are inspired to do something that challenges you, gets you outside of your comfort zone and gets you moving in new directions, because you just never know what awesome experience is just around the next bend.
Until next time, happy trails!