Why You Should Run an Ultramarathon or other Long-Distance Races: Part I
Updated: Mar 29, 2022
I still remember vowing that I would NEVER run another half-marathon or longer distance race in my life in 2005! I had just finished a local half in South-central Idaho and won and felt destroyed. I could barely walk and all I could think was "Why on earth did I just pay good money to do that to myself?!"
Fast forward to today and here I am signing up for 2-4 100 mile races and other ultra distance events every year, paying over $300 for some races. I still ask myself the question on why I thought it was a good idea to beat myself up for hours at a time, and pay to do it at that, but I have found my answer. I also only ask that question at around mile 60 of a race, but it gets asked every time :).
So why do I, and why should you, run long distances, or maybe even really, really, RRRREEEEAAAALLLLLLYYYYYYY long distances (it becomes so relative once you hit ultras)? Everyone has their own reasons and I will happily share mine and give a few reasons on why you may want to as well.
Where it all began: I blame Matt. And also Matt.
My craze with long-distance running began in 2017. I was preparing for my first marathon (remember how I swore off long distances, famous last words as they say) that I got roped into by one of my best friends Matt Huff. He was training for his first marathon, the Flying Pig in Cincinnati, OH, and roped me into his "training partner", meaning I'd be running it as well. My wife partially guilted me into it because he didn't have anyone else to run with and, as anyone who has run a marathon knows, it takes a lot of long runs and dedication to get ready for a race like that.
After I started training and was a few weeks out from my race I had a co-worker, let's call him Matt (as that also happens to be his real name, but a different Matt than my training partner), send an innocent email that changed my life forever. I actually have it saved because it impacted my future running course forever. Here it is, in graphic detail below:
Hey, I think you all are capable of doing this. If you need a training partner let me know, I'd be happy to help you prepare for it!
Below the text was a link. I should have realized that a vague email with a link should never be trusted, just like a fart on an upset stomach, but Matt is a good guy and I trusted him and clicked the link anyway. I'll post it here because it may change your life too! (It's a documentary by an REI columnist where he documents training for a 100 mile race with a friend)
After watching that YouTube documentary my mind was blown! I had no idea people were actually crazy enough to race each other, through mountains and deserts no less, over 100 miles. I thought there's now way (famous last words again) that I would ever do that! I haven't even done a marathon yet and I've heard that people almost died doing those!
However, once I limped across the finish line of the flying pig I remember to this day thinking, "Is that it?" Don't get me wrong, a marathon is no joke, but I definitely didn't feel like dying after finishing. I walked like a saddle-sore cowboy for 2-3 days afterwards, but was right back to training for my next marathon. I was hooked! As soon as I began to wonder if there was more, I remembered that email from Matt #2 and thought, "I'll bet I can do that!", and that began my obsession with running long distances.
The Masochist in us All: No Pain, No Gain
Deep down I believe that there is a part of us that seeks pain. I don't mean the bad kind of pain, I men the kind you get after a long run or a hard cardio or weight-lifting session. The kind where your lungs are burning and muscles ache, but you know in 3 months that pain will turn into a fitter, faster, leaner version of you. The kind of pain that leads to growth, for there cannot be true growth without pain and discomfort.
The pain may be mental as you study hard for a test and leave the library in a foggy haze (I've had many, many of those on my path to becoming an Emergency Physician). It may be emotional as you grow in a relationship and have those hard conversations that need to be had, but ultimately bring you and your significant other closer together after a good, long crying session (I've had those too).
Resistance and difficulty, to an extent, are what drive us and lead us to grow on all levels. It's that drive that has led to huge leaps in technology, athletics, art, and every other aspect of human society. I felt that pull the moment I finished my first marathon and it has led me to finish multiple ultramarathons in different states.
That, probably more than anything, is why I run ultramarathons, and let me tell you the sense of accomplishment and growth is amazing! It is absolutely terrifying, to this day, to toe the line at a 100 mile race. I still have a hard time comprehending that big of a distance and may wet myself a little when the race starts. It is the only distance that I wonder if I can finish. There's no question if I'll finish a 10K or marathon, it's only a question of how fast I can do it, but the hundred miler has knocked me down and force-fed me a humble-sandwich more times than I'd like to admit. However, that's part of the draw to the race distance. Every time I finish there is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and I break down and cry.
You are capable of so much more than you can currently comprehend and if you are willing to suffer for a time, you will start to glimpse what you can become. Running ultras does that for me and it will change your life to, I guarantee it! You can't cross that finish line without forever changing who you are along the journey.
To be Continued
In general I hate writing, but as I put into words my passion I find I can't stop! This post could turn into a book chapter at the rate I'm going, so I'll continue the thought in another post or two, so stay tuned!