Over the years, most of my running friends have made the jump from shorter distances to ultramarathons. My group of friends (mostly Facebook-based) has even developed a bit of a reputation of ignoring conventional wisdom and jumping into ultras head-first. As soon as one finishes their first, they immediately join me in coaxing the rest of our friends to make the same jump.
The discussions that ensue are fascinating. All of the people that have made the jump encourage others to join the fray. A handful of people offer counter-points. Invariably, almost everyone chooses to take the plunge.
Most of the runners attempting their first ultra aren’t serious runners that have trained at a high level for years and years. Conventional wisdom says we have no business dabbling in the world of exceedingly long distance running. They tell us we should start with a reasonable distance and slowly work our way up as we master each and every distance along the way. Yet we ignore that conventional wisdom and just go for it.
Facing the prospect of running your first ultra is scary as Hell; self-doubt alone can be paralyzing. It’s easy to create a million reasons why we can’t do it. We can convince ourselves we’re not fast enough, we don’t have the time to train, or we don’t have the mental fortitude to get us through the race. Yet we overcome the self-doubt and just go for it.
So why do some people take the plunge while others do not?
I’m convinced there are two types of people in this world. The willingness to attempt an ultra can be used to divide these two types of people. So what are they?
- Those that do not try: This group does what society tells them to do. They conform. Their self-worth is tied to external validation. They generally avoid all forms of risk, especially if the risk is tied to social validation. This group is often uses logic and reason as an excuse to avoid risky situations.
- Those that do try: This group generally rejects societal expectations. Their self-worth is tied to their internal drives. They welcome risk even if it may lead to them looking foolish. This group acknowledges ideas may be stupid and make no sense whatsoever, but they do it anyway.
Interestingly, the vast majority of the people that follow this blog seem to fit in the latter category. It’s not surprising that so many of my friends have made the plunge into the world of ultras. It’s also not surprising so many have made plans to run their first ultra this year. Or run a longer ultra. Or a more difficult ultra.
They’re intentionally seeking out seemingly impossible challenges. They’re ignoring the voices, both external and internal, that tells them they can’t do it. They’re intentionally seeking out awesome experiences. Group #2 definitely has a lot more fun.
So how do you get from group 1 to group 2?
Over the last few years, both Shelly and I have done stuff that was scary as Hell. Not only have we tackled a fair number of ultras, we’ve quit our jobs, hit the road full-time, and started homeschooling our children. How did we do it?
I wish I had some secret formula, but I don’t. I use a deceptively simple process- I commit. Then I do it.
When those voices of doubt arise, either from others or in my own head, I ignore them. If I can’t ignore them, I distract myself. Sometimes the anxiety can be crushing, but I persevere. I know the anxiety isn’t the kind that indicates a life and death danger. It’s the kind that assures I’d lead a safe, predictable, boring life. It’s the kind of anxiety that prevents awesome experiences.
Many of my friends have repeatedly proven it’s possible to run an ultra against all odds. They’ve moved from group 1 to group 2. In the process, they’ve become advocates of biting off more than they can supposedly chew. They all tell the same story: “If I can do it, anyone can.”
What about you? I know many of you have taken on challenges that were seemingly impossible. Some are related to ultras. Others are related to other critical life decisions. Tell the rest of us about them in the comments section. Also talk about how you overcame the doubt, both your own and doubt expressed by others.