Sometimes I wonder what drives ultra runners both elite and mortal. Even as a runner, I struggle to answer that question.
“Its not..normal, ” my sister told me once. She had a point.
The first time I heard of an ultra marathon was through my marathon clinic instructor and mentor Dave who regaled us with his tales of Western States 100 miler. I was in awe but 100 miles seemed so far outside the realm of my possibility. I filed it away in my memory banks and left it at that.
Two years later I was volunteering for a 50 mile ultra marathon in Squamish. I thought those running that far was insane. You wouldn’t catch me doing that.
The next year l signed up for a trail half marathon. At the finish line, a friend and I watched with envy as the 50km runners stumbled and ran across the finish line, their faces etched with the miles they had run. A mini lifetime lived in a day. Next year, we decided, we would run a 50km. And so we did. And in order to prepare for that 50km, we decided to sign up for a 50km in advance of our goal race. Those 2 50kms might have been it.
Except that it wasn’t. Despite not being able to walk properly for a week after my first ultra (due to a whole bunch of rookie mistakes), I was hooked. Never mind road running. The mountains were my love. I discovered that I might not be the fastest or slowest, but I could go forever, under my steam power. That and a cast iron stomach (being able to eat during an ultra is critical)= a good fit.
So the first ultra, which was a bucket list goal, led to a love affair of sorts. I joined a new road running group and discovered that a group went out on Sundays for trail runs. They took me under their wing – and I discovered the wonders of back country. I met some incredible people and made new friends. Deep bonds are formed when you spend hours on the trails, suffering together and pushing each other towards common goals.
And indeed crazy breeds crazy. That is part of it. As I became immersed in the ultra running community, running 50km, 50 miles and 100km + was accepted and encouraged. There is a redefinition of what is normal. As I write this, I think of friends who have raced distances of 100 + miles, and instead of telling them they are crazy, I am in awe. And that distance is on my bucket list – I am building towards it. I threw my name into the hat for Western States this past year. Not surprisingly I didn’t get in (the chances of getting into a race like Western States as a non – elite is about as good as winning the lottery) but at least I tried.
At the end of the day, if I were try to answer the question of what drives me as an ultra runner, other than the fact that I just love to run, it is about chasing my own potential. I want to find my own limits and push the boundaries of those perceived limits. For me, it is about about daring to try, and daring to set a goal big enough that it scares me, and big enough that failure is a possibility. And knowing that it is ok to fail. Just get up and try again. The biggest lessons in running and in life come through failure.
I have a t- shirt from a trail race I ran this year. Emblazoned on the front of the t- shirt are the words: “Be Fearless.” The back of the t- shirt reads: “Redefine your impossible.” That about sums it up for me. The relentless pursuit of more.