I recently had the opportunity to give a short speech on ultra-marathon running. Here’s the speech I wrote.
Saturday, September 17th, 2016, just before 4:00 PM is a moment I will never forget. I was in the middle of the Missouri woods, no cell reception. I heard a loud buzzing, not unlike a bomber jet, and BAM! suddenly a sharp pain shot through my leg, dropping me to my knees. I wondered if I had been shot, but really it was some sort of massive hornet or wasp sting, in my knee pit. I had been running for 10 hours, and was 43.5 miles in a 50 mile race. What followed was one of the most grueling 2.5 hours of my life that tested my physical strength and emotional and mental resolve. The kicker? I had signed up for this.
What was I thinking?
In 2014 over half a million people ran in and finished marathon distance race. Less than 1/10 that many ran distances longer than that. Less than half of those ran 50 miles or more. While Colorado has the highest number of ultra runners in the country, there is a good chance, statistically speaking, that I’m the only one you know.
What would posses a person to drive hours to the middle of nowhere, camp out with no electricity in the pouring rain, just to run through brambles, creeks, hills, and wasps for hours on end?
Most people, if asked, would say they ran their first Ultra to see if they could. If you dig deeper it’s probably more to prove that they could. Most have already tackled a marathon or a few. They want to see what they’re made of. They want to push their skills and resolve to the edge.
Some of the most driven ultra marathoners have overcome incredible obstacles, from depression and anxiety to addiction and criminal records. Ultra running is both a tool and a result ofthe kind of obsessive, domineering spirit it takes to overcome.
One ultra runner, who goes by the moniker Laz Lazarus said, “You haven’t tested your limit until you’ve tried something you can’t do.” Ultra running tests your limits. To endure you have to exercise mind over matter to an extreme degree and you often find yourself battling your demons. The sort of people who willingly subject themselves to this are uncommon and they develop a view of humanity and life that is much bigger than themselves.
The ultrarunning community is just that, a community. Even though an ultra-runner will spend inordinate amounts of time alone, at an ultra camp there is a sense of shared struggle. Everyone helps each other and roots for one another. Often that care and understanding spill over to the rest of life. These are cool people and I wanted to become one of them.
When pressed I will say that I ran 2 ultra marathons last year to prove that I could. I had recently recovered from a full ACL reconstruction and had a couple of marathons under my belt. I did my first ultra, 35 miles, with good friends. We trained together and ran together. After that I wanted to do something singular. It wasn’t unsupported, I had a coach who helped me plan and met me at a couple points along the race to make sure I was eating and drinking and peeing enough. But this was my effort. It was me versus the wild.
Ultimately I didn’t run the 50 miler to discover another part of myself. I ran the 50 miler to understand what it is to struggle and what it is to overcome.