In exactly four months, I will be embarking on a new adventure–my first ultra marathon or 100 miler to be exact. After running a 160 km stage race this past summer, I decided that I wanted to seek out an even greater challenge while still doing something I really enjoy, which is running. Something that I have been doing for over 20 years.
This weekend I had my first ‘real’ training session with two certified elite ultra marathon runners. A husband and wife team that train and travel together, ‘crewing’ each other at various 100 mile and 100 km races around the globe. One of them even competes on a national level for Team Canada. So, you can imagine my excitement when I was given the opportunity to tag along on one of their runs with them.
During this run, they imparted a lot of their wisdom and advice about many of their experiences and patiently answered all of my questions. One of which had to do with why ultra runners were so completely crazy.
Ultra’s are an almost-impossible test of the human body and spirit, yet the number of ultra marathons has increased 1,000% over the last decade. So what’s behind this inflation? Why are more and more people taking on races than can last days rather than hours? And is it any good for us?
Many of the world’s most oversubscribed races, such as the the Western States 100 in the US, have had to implement lottery systems to cope with the numbers wanting to take part.
So why are ever more people putting themselves through challenges that for most of us are barely imaginable? While adventure has always appealed to the human spirit, the human spirit will always crave more. It will always crave that feeling of pushing itself to the edge, and then continuing on in spite of the pain.
I’ve listened to ultrarunners talking about pain and finding their limits or about that incredible moment when a person finds the strength to carry on, when they thought all was lost. It’s also about the ever-growing contrast between our normal, sedate lives and the feeling you get in an ultra of being fully alive and on the edge, why the sport has grown in appeal. As the world becomes ever more sanitized and automated, where even cars drive themselves, a deep stirring grows to get out of our comfort zone, to feel something of our wilder selves. As our regular, mundane lives become ever more sedentary, we have a need for something more. And for many of us, including myself, it’s ultrarunning.