There is a first and most likely question that ultra-athletes get asked, when sharing their ultra-experiences with friends and family. Yep, you guessed it: “Why would you even want to do an ultra?”
So, in this, my first blog post, I’d like to talk about this basic question. I am likely to get nods from those who already have answers. And to those who don’t, I hope to give some insight. I want to unpack the nuts (excuse the pun) and bolts that drive the mind of an ultra-athlete.
I am fairly new to ultra-racing and I am still figuring out what a complete answer to this question would be. I also believe that everyone has their own reasons for doing what most people do not understand.
Why? Why would a person want to be in major discomfort for hours, often for a number of consecutive days on end? Sometimes continuing into the night, all the way through, until it is daytime again. Whilst most of the time, with no fans cheering you on, but a lone roaming race organizer and one or two volunteers at the finish line. Why? My imagination was always drawn to the idea of being fit enough to keep going at running, cycling or the like, for hours on end. When I just think about it and visualize myself doing it, a feel good factor kicks in. It feels right. Healthy. Agile. Efficient. Heavenly. A contentment and sense of being at peace with the world and myself, follows. Once what I imagine sets into action, the feel good factor mushrooms into euphoria!
Ironically, at times the reality of ultra-racing is not quite as dreamlike. This is what one of ultra-racing’s greatest quotes is all about: “If you are feeling good don’t worry, it’ll pass”. The discomforts one might face include cramps, nausea, vomiting, blisters, aching joints, dehydration, freezing cold, extreme heat, dizziness, kit problems and getting lost. The list can grow ultra-long. Some of the challenges I have yet to encounter. Then enters ultra-racing’s most fascinating and challenging aspect: how does one manage yourself to prevent these discomforts as best possible? More importantly, how does one manage yourself when things do not go your way anymore? That’s when the journey starts. For everybody, regardless of where in the field you are. That is when one builds character. One can’t just stop, throw a tantrum and pack up. You usually find yourself in the middle of nowhere and eventually you figure out that the only choice you have, is to keep moving. It doesn’t matter how slow you go; keep moving becomes the mission of the moment. It doesn’t matter what your fastest marathon time is or how good your stride looks…by that stage you’re very happy to be without cheering spectators, witnessing the shape you’re in!
These ultra-challenges do not discriminate; ultras tar everybody with the same brush. I believe that is why the ultra-racing community is the kindest group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Each participant, from the racing snakes in front all the way through to the back walkers, has had to overcome similar challenges. Ultra-racing truly is ubuntu in action.
Its time to stop writing and go running, getting one step closer to the answer.