When someone finds out you’ve run ultramarathons, the first question is usually, “HOW?” and then “BUT WHY?!”
The funny thing is, even after I’ve run a handful of them ranging from 50k to 50miles, I still ask myself, “How on earth did I do that?” and also, “Why did I do that?”
I’ve come up with a fairly stock answer. “Being slightly delusional is required.” Most chuckle when they hear my response. But there is much truth to this. You cannot achieve anything out of the ordinary if you cannot believe it’s even possible. We’ve been conditioned to believe that believing in absurdity is pretty much, delusional. So we back off and live in the “real world”, being “realistic”…and you know what, being bored and boring and questioning if there’s more to life than safety and routine.
Look, I’m pretty much an average 48 year old mom. I’m no professional athlete. Yes, I’m a professional trainer who gets results for my clients, BUT…I’m a middle of the packer, not extraordinarily fast, and to be totally honest, I never even liked running that much, even (and especially) while I was in the Marine Corps!
So how did I do it? After the high of completing my very first marathon (because Oprah), I thought, “What’s another 6 miles? I can do a 50k. I can be an ultra marathoner!” Slightly delusional. I signed up for my very first one just months after I completed my first marathon in a very average non-stellar way. Back then, I didn’t have any experience in training for an ultra marathon, so I kinda just ran a lot. And then, I partially tore my calf 2 months before I was supposed to toe the line at my first ultra, the North Face 50k. This is where delusion, or perhaps “positive thinking” (for the less catastrophic muppets out there), came into play. I sincerely believed I would heal in time to toe the line and finish. And you know what, I did! Then the next logical jump was to complete a 50 miler. Why? I started feeling like a 50k just wasn’t quite enough to feel like a “real” ultra marathoner. I mean, it’s only 6 miles more than a marathon. It didn’t quite feel “ultra” to me. I made the jump, again, with the help of a little delusional thought, “It’s just an out and back marathon, really.” Ha! It worked. It truly is how I got through my first 50 miler!
But why push at all? Why be ultra? I mean we all end up living for a bit and then die so why put out so much effort? I don’t think I have yet answered this for myself completely. But, I think it’s human to want to see how far you can push…can you go a little faster, farther? Isn’t that how our society keeps advancing? I mean we once were hunters and gatherers…now look at us…we are hunters and gatherers of memes. Hahaha. But you know what I mean.
I’ve learned over the years that doing the things I didn’t enjoy doing and that I didn’t excel at, helped me grow in leaps and bounds. Being an awkward middle-aged person trying something new isn’t all that superficially rewarding, but it’s deeply satisfying to know that you’re truly strengthening your weakest links…instead of living in real delusion…you know, the kind that warps your priorities and keeps you hiding behind superficial facades and filters. That’s my personal why. I want to truly live an ultra life. Whatever I choose to do, I want to keep pushing those boundaries even if that means “failing”, “crashing”, “DNFing”.
Ironically, what I’ve learned from my DNFs and big crashes, is that the boring and safe routine I judged harshly before, that really is the bulk of training and life. You can’t just be an inspired superstar with grandiose delusions to truly succeed. You’ve GOT to have the daily discipline to stay committed and drill the basics over and over, which can become quite boring.
Moral of the story: Balance the delusional with the realistic and you’re golden.