So, Sophie T at http://runningonfullblog.com asked ‘Shall I run another Ultra.’
‘Yes of course’ was my reply, but why. Any Ultra takes you to a pace where you can test yourself so why do more than one or two. Why do I run Ultras. Two years ago I re-engaged with x-country and did pretty well against a significantly younger field. Last year I ran Avebury 8 (which is annoyingly 9 miles) coming in as first female. So I clearly still have some pace in my old bones so why do I want to spend all the time and effort training for and competing in Ultras and could some of these reasons inspire others to get into this sport?
Gotta be easier than Short and Fast
Firstly I think that Ultras are, in many ways easier than the shorter distances. I get to eat, chat and walk up hills. After the Avebury 8, I was ill for a week, it completely wiped me out. Running through thick mud over tricky and hilly trail with harsh November winds whipping past is hard work on any day. But combining that with a 07.30 min mile pace and steely eyed competition was tough:, although it gave me the fast work out I was looking for, the following illness put me back for weeks. Yes, SDW100 destroyed me but I find the shorter Ultra distances put far less stress on my body than fast 10-20 milers. The thought of doing a proper road marathon doesn’t feel exciting to me now, it just looks like hard work.
The mental battle
Road marathons are all different, I get that. For me, I know that I can run that distance but Ultras have put me in lots of different mental places; can I run 38 miles, can I run 50, can I run 100? And then there is the crazy variety of terrains which trails can throw at me, the up hills of Apocalypse 50, the down hills of SDW100 and next year it will be the flat and fast of TP100. Running on empty, on my own in the dark muttering ‘left foot, right foot, repeat’ pushed me physically but also threw me a mental challenge far tougher than anything the army, biathlon or road running ever put me through.
It’s all about the Trail
I was lucky enough to have a great chat with the sports psychologist Evie Serventi (http://evieserventi.com) a few weeks ago when I found myself explaining how I wasted my University time boozing, doing a few jogs and not getting onto the track as I had intended. Evie examined many of the things which I had told her and recognised that it is being in contact with nature, a love of being out on the trails and feeling free from the daily mundane which actually motivates me. This explains why I have such high anxiety about so many things but why it all disappears when I cross the start line of an ultra. It also explains why the marathon runners who I’ve pursued to run an ultra will say ‘glad I did it but never again’. They may not get the same buzz from nature that I do but get their running happiness from roads or the familiar feeling of competing in a road marathon.
This is the key to it all for me. The ultra community is still pretty small. You are likely to recognise half of the field of an ultra if you have been a member of any of the FB pages dedicated to the sport (why are there so many pages when we are all members of all of them). Shorter races see people toeing the line, barely looking around, plugging themselves into headphones before they charge off to beat their PB. I totally respect this and am vaguely jealous of a PB goal but, as I get even greyer, I enjoy start lines where people chat or ask you about the kit you have on. As the race starts I love that the chat continues, people hold open gates, pick you up when you fall and volunteer to walk with you for a bit if they see you struggling.
James, the RD at Centurion started SDW100 with the words ‘We will look after you at the check points, but you know the score, we rely on you looking after each other in between’. This sums it all up really.
So in summary, if you enjoy eating, admiring a nice view whilst chatting away to fellow running loons, Ultra Running is probably for you. If secretly want to know just what your body can do over new terrain and over new distances where PB’s are largely irrelevant then Ultras are definitely for you. Even if you only do one, you will never regret pressing that Enter Now button.