I’ve spent the majority of my running career ultrarunning – defined as any endurance events over a marathon. But isn’t ultra running more than races? It’s a way of life, a community – a tribe for so many of us – the lifestyle, people and morays of our sport.
I’ve done my share of running ultras in the mountains. I prefer a trail with plenty of vert, soaring views and thinner air. But recently I’ve been dabbling with longer and longer mountain runs, many over days, where what is asked of our body, mind and soul is exponential. What I’ve discovered about myself has been transformative.
Mountain running isn’t just concentrating on hitting the steeps over long distances. It too is a way of life and after meeting fellow mountain runners from around the world this summer at Tor des Geants, I realized how narrow my perspective had been. I wrote about it recently after my experience at the 2018 TOR in Italy.
So what gives? After 30+ years of ultrarunning what is it I discovered while training for and partaking in mountain running that is so different? Here’s what I’ve got so far – just a beginning. I look forward to exchanging ideas with you fellow mountain peeps.
The amount of composure, calmness… equilibrium – I experience while mountain running is far beyond anything I’ve ever felt during any athletic – for that matter, any other endeavor. Equanimity.
One of ultrarunning’s finest attributes is it’s community; elites mixed with DFLs and where someone is in need there’s no hesitation to stop, put one’s own priorities on hold and attend to a tribe-mate. I’ve spoken about the culture of ultrarunning on a couple of podcasts (here and here) over at the delightful Trail Runner Nation.
But, when you are subjected to days upon days together, under extreme duress, stress and danger, the depth of the connections made, length of lies…er, stories told and rawness of vulnerable exposed – is accelerated. The outcome are lifelong friendships made in days when in “real life” it may take decades, if not a lifetime.
Some mountain runs have aid, others none. USA 200 milers offer crew and pacers, but elsewhere in the world there are no trail companions and minimal assistance. Self reliance is paramount. How you train and prepare – your plan, fitness, gear, knowledge of the course and terrain, diet, care for your feet, knowing where water is available, etc… – it is up to you. If you fuck up, no one is going to clean up your mess. And those helicopter evacs – if even an option – are pretty darn pricey.
When you are out there in the wild for 4, 5 even 6 days – the bad news is it’s inevitable that something is going to go wrong. Who am I kidding? All sorts of poo is hitting the fan. The good news? You’ve got the time to figure it out and fix it. It takes practice, patience and a little ingenuity, but learning how to diagnose and fix issues in real time is satisfying and critical. We become trail MacGyvers.
All this led to my senses awakening, self confidence ascending and overall disposition greatly improved. Who needs therapy? What I do need is more of this. Enough talk. Time to go for a run.