Monday, June 13, 2011

A once and only ultramarathoner

The March/April issue of Marathon and Beyond has an article by Ben Tesdahl which I found provocative and thought I would share. His story is that of his quest to run an ultramarathon of 100 miles. Much of the first part of the story is similar to other such stories, his backstory, his early marathoning career, disavowing that career and then returning to running later in life only to find his stamina and performance have fallen off. He is reborn through Hood to Coast, but finds the experience not altogether challenging. He hears of Dean Karnazes and the ultramarathoning community and resolves to complete a 100 mile race. He tries the Umstead 100 and fails at his first attempt. He provides a lengthy discussion of his mind and the games it played with him during the second, successful, attempt at the race.

Where I really got interested though, was his description of the finish. He wondered to himself, what would his emotional state be? How would he feel after accomplishing this epic challenge? After all, this was in the middle of the woods in the Carolinas. This was not Boylston street with thousands and thousands cheering him to the finish. He did not even have any family there with him. So how would it feel?

"It was the kind of relief that you feel when walking out of the dentist's office after a root canal."

He was relieved to have a "monkey off his back" but upset with himself for having put the monkey there in the first place. This has often been a concern of mine whenever I briefly entertain the idea of training for an ultra. I do not run to impress others. I run to clear my mind, to stay fit, and while I am proud of my accomplishments, I do the races for myself. So what then, is the advantage of the next step? Is it worth the time, commitment, and risk of injury to train for ultras?

Ben would say no, and goes even further in his lessons learned. He goes on to say that he feels like most goals in life are not worth the sacrifice. He describes achievements including college, law school, and Ranger school as painful journeys with little sense of accomplishment at their end. Second, he observes that despite his best efforts at the 100-miler, his results pale in comparison to those of the race winner, who bested him by several hours.

Now while this sounds quite dour, he does take this negativity and turn it into a positive by concluding: "If I could turn back the hands of time and take all of the hundreds of hours of ultradistance training to date and trade them for the same number of hours of high-quality time with my wife and family, I would make that trade in a heartbeat."

Certainly sounds like a sentiment that is worthwhile to keep in mind when choosing a challenge for yourself. I greatly enjoy my running but would certainly admit that it comes at some cost. Thankfully, my wife is supportive, and at present, my running is in balance with our life together. Right, Erin? Erin! Where are you going?!

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