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My Foray Into Ultrarunning

September 13, 2011

“Pain is your friend; it is your ally. Pain reminds you to finish the job and get the hell home. Pain tells you when you have been seriously wounded. And you know what the best thing about pain is? It tells you you’re not dead yet!”

– Master Chief John Urgayle

How far is far enough?  My running over the last few months has been leading up to my longest race to date, the 56km Yurrebilla Trail Run, which is now only two weeks away on 25th September.

I started running 3-6-mile cross country races as a teenager, progressing to half marathons as a student, and in the last few years have raced up to 17 miles in hill and trail races.  I used to have a fairly limited view of the limits of endurance, and anything over half marathon distance in my mind was entering the realms of the superhuman.  Over the last few years, however, I have met various people who make running up and down mountains look effortless.  The psychological component is important, but what I have realised is that endurance is open-ended.  Beyond a certain distance it seems there is a comfortable pace which can be maintained almost indefinitely.  Someone once said to me that we are always capable of giving more, of going beyond our perceived limits.  I have had some experience of this and always try to remember that, in the absence of injury, what stops us is usually our mental barriers, rather than genuine physical limits.  A few years ago a farmer friend of mine told me about an ex-soldier in his sixties, who stayed in their guest house in northeastern Scotland.  The farm was at the base of a reasonably sized hill and early every morning the man would run up and down the hill.  I found this story inspiring and my aim is to be that fit at the same age, and to be able to break into a run at any time and have the basic fitness to run up a mountain.

So… these thoughts have been my pep talk while I’ve been imagining what it will feel like beyond the 30km mark in a few weeks time.  Great thoughts from someone who has never even run a marathon, and is now taking on an ultradistance race.  But the truth is I really have no idea how it will be, except that at some point I will probably feel so bad that every fibre of my being will want to stop running, and I hope I have the self-will to keep putting one foot in front of the other.   There are aid stations on the way with water and food, and I have a plan for topping up hydration and electrolytes on the way.  I’m prepared.  But with 56k and 1865m of vertical ascent, anything can happen.

Over the last year or two I’ve found running inspiration from several sources, including:

I was inspired by Dean Karnazes’ story of taking up running again after a night out drinking until 3am, after which he put on his shoes and went on a huge run purely on impulse.  The image he presents of being just a regular guy who likes running is disingenuous, and obviously a pose he enjoys, but the book is full of inspiring stories in which his obvious love of running shows through – like running a steep hill and being passed repeatedly by two soldiers with back packs, then reaching the top to find them doing push-ups on the ground.  Then meeting the two again at the Western States 100 mile race, which he completed, even though one of them did not.

So I am running the Yurrebilla race as a test.  I figure if I can run 56km, then with enough training I can run most distances beyond that.  I want to get into running longer distances like 50 miles and in a few years even 100 miles.  Big dreams, but I have to start somewhere, and it’s all about the journey!  (All advice and encouragement gratefully received, so please feel free to comment!)

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