“Why?” That’s the usual response when I mention that I am training to run an ultramarathon or, more specifically, a 50-mile race by age 50. The question usually comes with a pause, a narrowing of the eyes, a furrowing of the brow, and is often followed by “What’re ya, crazy?” When not said, I’m sure it’s implied.
It really is a fair question, one that I often ask myself before I set out on a training run. See it’s not that I love running. My 14-year-old son Matthew, a freshman on the Ramona High School cross country team, surmised that “No one loves running. They love finishing.” While there’s probably a lot of truth in that, I imagine there are many who actually LOVE running. I fall somewhere in-between.
I definitely don’t like getting started. It seems to take about two miles to get warmed up, for the breathing to calm, and to fall into a smooth stride. At this point, running is “not bad.” A little further and I actually start to enjoy the run. What surprises me is that about 30 minutes after the run, especially longer runs, I can’t wait to get to the next run. Maybe my son is right. Maybe it’s that it felt so darned good to finish that I can’t wait to experience it again.
That still doesn’t answer the question, “Why run an ultra? Why 50 miles?” The answer I believe lies in a common desire of many people to discover the outer limits of their potential. In “A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning” (edited by Don Allison, 1994), Bernd Heinrich writes, “The person on the street, without trying, has no real concept of how hard it is to prepare for and run an ultramarathon…neither do they have a concept of what is possible.” Don Allison adds, “The fact that ultramarathons are so difficult is exactly the draw. The possibility that an individual will not be able to complete the event—or will have to reach down the very depths of their physical, emotional, and spiritual reserves to do so—is just the element of challenge and competition that many athletes are seeking as we begin the new millennium.”
Fact is, I don’t know how difficult it is. But Allison’s right, that is the draw. But I agree that it is well within the potential of anyone willing to put in the training, and put up with the discomfort that will most certainly come with running such distances.
Speaking of training, this past weekend my three boys and I ran the 6.5-mile Iron Mountain trail for the first time. The trail is extremely popular with local hikers, many with kids and dogs. It is quite steep and rocky, requiring walking in many places, especially to maneuver around groups of hikers, but if you like running trails, this makes a great, challenging run. Just keep the speed under control coming back down from the peak as there are many places where it would be easy to trip and take a very painful fall.
Now get out and run.