This morning's long run in the hills (elevation 6,100-6,700 feet) was a disaster. I just wasn't feeling it and ultimately bonked. I haven't bonked in a while--a long while. I think the bonk was due to the fact that I didn't have enough calories before the run (just a 150-calorie English muffin) and didn't carry any calories with me on the run--just some water. I also think it was an off day--I'm still not 100% after last Saturday's Cheyenne Mountain 50K, which was actually 32 miles. I guess I simply ran out of gas. Ugh! More info in weekly recap coming soon.
Yesterday I got my Runner's World and Ultrarunning Magazine. If you pay close attention to Runner's World, it's easy to see that ultrarunning is really gaining traction in mainstream circles.
These days, it seems everyone is drawn to and fascinated by the ultramarathon. How else to explain the remarkable success of books by Dean Karnazes, Christopher McDougall and others? But few actually take the plunge into ultrarunning because of the sudden reality of what you're about to get yourself into. And still many others who do register for their first ultra get cold feet or injured, or maybe that once-blazing fire for going beyond 26.2 miles has died, and they never make it to the starting line. Those who make it to the finish of their first ultra often come back for more, for they are among the few who have witnessed the transformative power of going really long.
An ultramarathon is, by definition, any race beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Common ultramarathon distances are 50 kilometers (31 miles), 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), and 100 miles--run on dirt trails, roads and mountains, as well in the desert. There are timed races, such as 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour races. Ultras can go on for several days, such as the Sri Chimnoy races in New York City. These are called multi-day events. Every year, ultrarunners run across the US, or maybe their state. When you get down to it, because it's so damned hard, ultramarathoning is really a state of mind and a lifestyle requiring an all-in commitment. Anything less and you're not going to make it. It's just that simple.
Ultrarunning has been around a long time, tracing its roots to the "pedestrians" of the 1800s. Early examples include the six-day races held in New York City's Madison Square Garden in the late 1800s and the transcontinental races during the 1920s (an excellent account of one such race is CC Pyle's Amazing Foot Race). Many of the Greek messengers, such as Pheidippides, were ultrarunners. Today, we equate ultrarunning with trail races held all over the country, such as the Western States 100-Mile Run in California, but the truth of the matter is that ultrarunning evolved into a mostly trail sport from an endeavor mostly of the track and road. Perhaps the greatest ultrarunner to ever live is the "Great Greek," Yiannis Kouros, holder of many major records, such as those for 24 hours, 48 hours and the most Spartathlon victories.
Ultrarunning requires extraordinary strength of character, a well-trained mind and body, and plenty of determination. It's an up-before-dawn, day-in-and-day-out, blood-sweat-and-tears, rain-sleet-and-snow endeavor. When I'm training for a 100-miler, it's not leisurely runs on sunny, mild days that get me in condition. It's the 10-mile runs before dawn, the grueling two-a-days, the lonely 30-milers, the 100-mile weeks, the hill repeats and, of course, the back-to-back 20-milers that get me ready. Training for an ultra is hardly glamorous. In fact, it's so hard that if you're doing it for any other reason than you truly desire to go the distance and embrace the sacrifices it requires, then you're probably not going to make it. You can't run 100 miles to impress someone else; it has to be an act of self-transcendence and a spiritual journey.
Marathoners and ultramarathons are often very different. I do both sports, but many ultramarathoners wouldn't step foot on a marathon course unless it's for a training run. Let me illustrates one of the differences between the two. Your average marathoner finishes a race, collects their medal and then basks in the attention they get from family, friends and co-workers. An ultramarathoner finishes a 50- or 100-mile race, gets their medal (a buckle if it's a 100) which will probably wind up in their basement or garage, and tells no one about it except those who were already in the know. While the marathoner is still celebrating their 26.2 finish, the ultrarunner has already registered for their next race...which is tomorrow. This is the way of the ultrarunner, and, truthfully, there are elements of the marathoner and ultrarunner in me. I do love a 26.2-mile road race, but nothing compares to racing 100-milers.
Whereas the marathon is wildly popular, not everyone is cut out to be an ultrarunner--and that's OK. You must believe in yourself when all the chips are down, and you must maintain a serious commitment to your training on a daily basis, or else you will never make it. There is simply no way to fake your way through a 50-miler or 100-miler. You have to pay your dues, and it isn't easy. Let me put it another way. In a marathon, if perhaps you didn't train like you should and hit the wall at mile 18, you just have to jog and maybe power-walk the last 8 miles to get that medal and call yourself a finisher. What's an hour or so of suffering, right? Well, in a 100-miler, if you didn't train physically and mentally like you should and crash at mile 60, you still have 40 miles in front of you. You can finish if you dig deep, but 40 miles may take 10-12+ hours. Are you willing to suffer that long, even if if means you're going to learn more about yourself than probably ever before in your life?