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Dr. Mark’s New How-To Barefoot Video, Why We Run Ultras

Posted by on Mar 7, 2012 | 13 Comments

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a friend and director of the Natural Running Center (among his 100 other titles), produced an excellent video that describes and explains how and why natural running should be developed.  I would HIGHLY recommend any new or experienced barefoot or minimalist shoe runners check it out:

Running Ultras

When people find out you run ultras, they ask two questions:

1. Why do you run that far? and

2. What do you think about all that time?

I’ve always struggled with both because the exact answers are difficult to nail down.  I usually give a basic answer to placate the inquirer… something along the lines of “It’s a challenge.” or “I enjoy the solitude.”

Tony Krupicka wrote about the second question in his latest blog post over at Running Times.

The answer, for me, is paradoxical. I think of nothing and everything. Usually at the same time. Which is just another way of saying that I’m not really thinking. Rather, I’m listening. To myself, in an as unintentional manner as possible.

This inherently self-centered act of listening–letting anything and everything and nothing bop in and out of my mind without intent–is, after 17 years of running, usually the first thing I miss when I can’t run. Running is that space each day for me to just be, with as few unnatural distractions as possible.

As Wallace points out, listening to oneself with full attention is something that, as a species, in modern society, it seems we’ve become almost phobically averse to.  I’m not willing to place a value-judgement on that–I’m not convinced that there’s anything inherently good or better about being comfortably alone–but I do know, that for me, it’s an important and unique part of my daily routine.  And it does seem to be something, that, as a culture, we’re rapidly moving away from.

This may be the single best answer I’ve found as it perfectly describes my experiences. The experience is so hard to quantify because the very act of listening can take so many forms.  Sometimes I’m assessing my physical state.  Other times I’ve reveling in the beauty of my surroundings.  I occasionally relive past events or try to work out problems.  Most of the time is spent in apparent thoughtlessness as I become one with the trail… simply being.

For those of you that run ultras, what are your thoughts?  What do you think of when running your races?


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  1. Principles of Natural Running with Dr. Mark Cucuzzella | Jogger Tunes
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    […] Barefoot Running University .nrelate .nr_sponsored{ left:0px !important; } […]

  2. Steve
    March 8, 2012

    That video rocks! No literature could be that eloquent. I’m watching it bit-by-bit, so I can take it all in. All those form tips make so much more sense when seen working in concert and captured on video. Thank-you for posting it.

  3. Rob Y
    March 8, 2012

    In an ultra race (in the few I register for) I’m competing to the max so I’m thinking about my pace, this next hill, what I’m going to grab at the next aid station to get me in and out quickly, etc… Race strategy. On longer ultras I’ll look around and take in the views but I’m always self evaluating to decide on if I’m fueling and hydrating adequately and if I’m pacing myself correctly at this point in the race. For me it’s all about trying to maximize my potential. I don’t know how many of these long ultras I have left in me so I try to make the most of the opportunities I have. now in training? Yeah if I’m running solo my mind just sort of goes very Zen-like, very introspective and meditative…

  4. Matt M
    March 7, 2012

    A beautifully written statement of accuracy. I can’t express how important it is for me to get out and run, or climb, or exercise in general outside on a regular basis, and to a great extent I must do it alone. Having the time to let things roll in and out of my head, suffuse me all at once or leave just the sound of the wind in the trees is healing, rejuvenating, and freeing. I would go mental without it.

    There’s so much variety as to what’s in my head during a long run: decompressing the day’s events at work, thinking about a problem, planning anything and everything, enjoying the scenery, focusing on my form through various body parts (hips, glutes, trunk twist, etc), the “brain iPod” and its ever-shuffling playlist, or simple problem solving (math problems, counting steps/estimating how many steps it might take to get to a landmark ahead), etc. I think this is perhaps why runners are often such well-mooded people. We have that quality alone time to get our heads straight and work out the kinks. Regardless, the “why?” is something that is uniquely individual for us all, but also unifying for runners in our common purpose.

  5. Principles of Natural Running: A new how-to barefoot running video
    March 7, 2012

    […] (h/t to Barefoot Running University) […]

  6. steph
    March 7, 2012

    On trail races I enjoy meeting new people and occasionally talking with them for a while but I’m really a solo runner. I like to be by myself and let my mind wander for long periods of time.

  7. Brad
    March 7, 2012

    Everything and nothing all at the same time. I love it. This is pretty much the zone for me. I don’t always get there but when I do, it is wonderful. I’m not actively religious but I am 100% convinced that I’m communing with God out there sometimes.

    I’ll be reblogging this so my friends and family might have some idea of the “WHY.”

    also, sometimes I noodle on made up math problems. Don’t ask me why but it makes me happy. I don’t go there on purpose but some times I end up there.

  8. Brian G
    March 7, 2012

    If you collapse all of what Anton wrote into one word it would be what we normally call meditation, in the true Eastern sense: let whatever thought come forward, register it, then let it pass, “thinking” about everything but focusing on nothing.

    That’s what I get out of long trail runs, plus stopping quite a bit to take in the fantastic scenery and to say hi to the deer I often come across.

  9. Shane D.
    March 7, 2012

    I couldn’t pinpoint what I think about, there are so many different thoughts that cross my mind in a 20 hour period of running-I could probably fill a book. But wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to record our thoughts and go back and see what we were actually thinking?

    • Brad
      March 7, 2012

      I personally would be a bit frightened to review what goes on in my head sometimes. 🙂

  10. Vanessa
    March 7, 2012

    It would be really interesting to compare what guys think while running far, and what girls think. While I do sometimes think of nothing, I’m more likely to think of EVERYTHING. Here are some of my common running thoughts:

    – What will I eat after this?
    – I wonder where Shacky is?
    – I better run faster to catch up with Shacky.
    – How is my body feeling?
    – How is my breathing?
    – What was that noise?
    – I hope I don’t see a mountain lion today.
    – Actually, I hope I see a mountain lion but I don’t want it to eat me.
    – I wonder what I should do if I get bitten by a snake.
    – This is pretty fun.
    – I wonder what I can eat at the next aid station.
    – I wonder what my friends are running today.
    – “Going up the stairs and going down the stairs and going up the stairs and going down the stairs and going up the sideway stairs..”

  11. Adam Gentile
    March 7, 2012

    I always have a difficult response when someone asks why I run as well. I just have a really boring answer which is I just really enjoy running. Tony really nailed with his response, it’s exactly how I feel.

    I have ran some marathons, and currently training for my first 50k, but on long runs I don’t even listen to music, and music is extremely important to me. I know you are not a religious person, but when I am out there running it’s a great time for me to pray to God and reflect.

    And honestly, at times I really don’t think about anything, I just try to empty the mind and be in the moment and my surroundings.

  12. John
    March 7, 2012

    I wish this was the first thing i ever saw before i started barefoot running.