A new challenge: Ultramarathon
I picked up Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run more for its sport science content than my interest in running.
It examined the history the athletic shoe industry and cited over-built shoes--engineered more for marketing than performance--as the source of a worldwide epidemic of running injuries. A deep and well-researched book, it has been widely credited with igniting the minimalist running revolution and breathing new life into the sport.
But more than just an tell-all on the evils of Nike and Reebok, it also cast a light onto a fringe group of athletes known as ultrarunners--people who would routinely cover distances of 50, 100, or even 200 miles at a time.
Like many who read Born to Run, I previously thought that the marathon was the pinnacle of human physical endurance. But the runners in MacDougall's book revealed to me a whole new level of possibility for the human body.
However these distances were so extreme and foreign, that although impressive, I couldn't truly grasp the magnitude of their size.
Of course it's easy to compare them mathematically--the difference between a 50-mile and 100-mile race is of course 50 miles. But what was the difference in effort, in difficulty, in the amount of preparation one needs?
Were the people who ran such distances just genetic freaks, gifted with athletic qualities that made their accomplishments untouchable by ordinary folks? Had they just grown up as distance runners, spending decades preparing their bodies for such feats?
Or could it be argued that these ultrarunners just ran ultra slow, and that maybe a 100-mile race wasn't actually as physically challenging as it seemed? After all these "elite" athletes were finishing races in around 24-hours. That's a pace of just under 15-minutes per mile, a speed that could easily be achieved with a brisk walk.
I just had no way of appreciating whatever it is they were doing. And since the farthest I had ever run was a measly 5k, all I could do was just shake my head and accept that they were just very, very long races and the runners must have been quite tired at the end.
So I enjoyed the book for what it was and went about my life.
After completing my first triathlon in August of 2016, it's safe to say I was bit by the endurance and racing bug. My competitive fire was lit and it made me feel like an athlete again.
Although the triathlon was a huge personal achievement, the bigger personal triumph was conquering my fear of running. I finally buried years of excuses and proved to myself that I wasn't disabled after all--I was just a really bad runner.
The Keep It 137 challenge--my 4-month experiment with daily running--changed my relationship with the activity I had once dreaded. As I adapted to running, I found a rhythm and sense of calm in the movement that I had been searching for.
Running became an opportunity for meditation and solitude, for breathing and disconnecting. When I ran, life was simple. Nothing else mattered except for the task of putting one foot in front of the other.
But running was not fun.
Jet skis are fun. Running was still work for me. It took discipline, focus, effort, and sometimes required tolerating discomfort and boredom. But running brought me something deeper than fun: fulfillment.
However as the challenge came to an end, I found myself wanting more. My daily running practice had grown dull and uninspiring. I was going through the motions, just jogging through my workout with no higher purpose or goal to strive for. The element of challenge had been lost.
Since my triathlon training began back in May of 2016, the ultrarunners of Born to Run had been sitting in the back of my mind.
I dug deeper into the sport and learned about famous races such as Western States, Badwater, Hard Rock, Leadville, and The Barkley Marathons, and was totally seduced by the sport.
I loved not just the physical, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual struggle that ultrarunning seemed to require. I admired the attitude and spirit of the ultrarunning community. Runners were both intensely competitive with themselves but very supportive and encouraging of each one another. And like many outdoor enthusiasts, they showed their love and appreciation for nature by trying to overcome the challenges of its landscape.
Across the board I read how enlightening and fulfilling ultramarathons were to the people that ran them. How the pain and suffering seemed to strip them down to the essence of their being, revealing something that can only be experienced by enduring such grueling events.
I want that.
I want the chance to push myself to, and beyond, my perceived limitations--to explore the boundaries of my body and my mind, and discover what awaits on the other side.
I want to do something that will inspire others, and show what is possible with the right plan and approach.
I want something that I can be proud of.
I want to be an athlete again--to live the lifestyle I spend my days preaching to others but have lost touch with somewhere long ago.
And I want to give a final 'fuck you' to my running demon.
The Haliburton Forest 50 miler. September 9th, 2017.
I'm signed up and committed.
There are less than 6-months until the gun goes off, and there is much work to be done.
I'm not ready yet...not even close. A long run for me is 10 miles--a fifth of the distance I've signed up to cover in 12 hours.
So why the giant step up in distance?
The traditional advice for working one's way up to an ultra event is to take progressive steps rather than giant leaps. Everything I've read suggests doing a 10k, then half marathon, full marathon, 50k and then go for the big distances.
With my level of experience, I'm in no place to disagree.
But that kind of plan just doesn't call to me. No disrespect to anyone else, I'm just not inspired by half-marathons. It doesn't fill me with awe and wonder. It doesn't scare me.
I know myself. And I do best when I'm reaching for something just beyond my grasp. To go for something where there's a real possibility of failure is the only way I can find what I'm looking for.
There can be no glory without risk.
So here I go. What's the worst that could happen?