Why You Should Try an Ultra

“Running has taken me in, and continues to comfort,

heal and challenge me in all kinds of magical ways.

I am not a ‘good runner’ because I am me.

I am a good ‘me’ because I am a runner.”

– Kristin Armstrong

Some trail humor... not my photo, so I can't take credit. (unsure of source)

Some trail humor… not my photo, so I can’t take credit. (unsure of source)

Today I started my second day out from the Chatfield Hollow 50K with some yoga… or at least I attempted to. I realized very quickly that flexibility and balance postures are a pretty much a joke for me post ultra (shocker, right?) Plus, my dogs kept interrupting to “help”. The good news is that, despite my recovery time getting cut short due to the fur balls, I still felt some immediate relief in my post race soreness and stiffness.

dogyoga“But you’re on the floor… What do you mean you don’t want to play?”

The rest of my day I spent doing some work on the boat with the hubs, catching up with my mom, and, of course, looking up information on other ultras… like 50 and 100 milers… Now I know what you are thinking “Jeez woman you just ran an ultra!”, but I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. If I came across that finish line on Sunday completely victorious, that might have been it for me for the season (I know, I know! Who am I kidding). However, instead I got my first ultra running DNF; and there is no way I’m going to end my season with an unfinished race!

It’s not so much that I have something to prove. I am completely happy with my performance, DNF or not. What is different about this race is it opened the door to possibility. That course was HORRENDOUS, and yet I basically begged them to let me do a forth lap. I would have done a fifth too and finished had they let me! That is what made me realize that I totally have a 50 miler in me. What’s more, I’d like to do it sooner rather than later.

I may not have come away from Chatfield with a finish, but I did get something better. It ignited a little fire within to push even harder. I went into that race feeling fried, burnt out, and unmotivated. Yet, I came out 40K later completely invigorated. It was as if I had gone back to my roots and renewed my sense of passion for trail running… for ultra running.

The thing that appeals to me so much about ultra running beyond just my love for the trails and community is that it is so much more about character than pure athleticism. Not to say that a certain level of athletic skill isn’t required, but it’s not what’s going to get you to the finish. The drive and push to keep going when your body fails (because it will fail) and the unending pain sets in comes from the heart. Ultras are run on resiliency, determination, and faith more than physical prowess.

I am better at ultra running than any other sport two reasons 1) I love trail running, and 2) I can enduring suffering. The longer the race, the more heavily mental fortitude is favored over speed and talent… (and the faster I look since I tend to run the same pace no matter the distance). Basically, I can hang in there and keep moving regardless of how much it hurts, I am doubting myself, or want to stop. That is my running super power. Sadly, it doesn’t serve me well in short runs. Yet, set me out for a full day on the trails and I will just keep on truckin’.

If you want to have fun and get fit take up a class. However, If you want to learn the absolute depths of your strength and soul, take up ultra running. It’s more than a sport. It’s a mindset and culture that will change your life and build you into a better person. I can fully understand why some people say trail running is their religion. There is no other place in my life where I feel more clarity or at peace than spending 7 or 8 hours running in the woods. Nothing else even comes close.

If you have ever thought about ultra running you should seriously consider trying it. So many people think it’s too hard or far, but the truth is that if you have ever run far enough to have to push through a “wall”, then you can work up to a half marathon, marathon, or ultra. The only difference from one to the next is how many “walls” you have to run through. As long as you hydrate and get enough electrolytes and calories you will continue to get “another wind”. That is the trick to long distance running. You just need to realize that feeling terrible is going to come in waves, and if you hang in there it will get better. Most people just don’t ever push themselves past the first “wall” to realize there’s a second or third.  However, now you know (if you didn’t already), which means you are already well on your way to long distance running success.

On a more serious note, while ultra running may not be for you (yet…) at least consider that there is some distance that could push you outside your comfort zone. Rather than pick a race you know you can finish, choose the one you’re unsure of. The reward is so much greater when it isn’t guaranteed. Plus, it will help open the door to the next challenge.

Truly, there is no greater feeling than accomplishing something you never thought you’d be capable of. Don’t you owe it to yourself to try?

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One comment

  1. Sorry for writing a book here… but this post I found really inspiring! I love what said…”push through a “wall”, then you can work up to a half marathon, marathon, or ultra. The only difference from one to the next is how many “walls” you have to run through. As long as you hydrate and get enough electrolytes and calories you will continue to get “another wind”.” – So true.

    I was just explaining this to a friend today. She asked me how I felt at mile 23 during a marathon. I told her that for me, most of the time, I am actually feeling good! It is a point in the marathon that I have gotten yet again another wind. I also think that more people are distance runners, but they just don’t know it, because they have not run far enough to know. My sister found out she was a distance runner because she alway feels like shit during the first 5 miles of every run. But after 5 she begins to feel warmed up and finds her groove and it is then that she can keep going and going.

    I am a marathon runner, who is curious about ultra running. Honestly, though I know nothing about it – so I am glad I can learn it from you. Happy Running! 🙂

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