Ultrarunning involves running for a really long time. It’s tough. Not everyone has the fortitude to do it. But is it really the grand experience some make it out to be?
Back when I first became interested in ultras, the sheer magnitude of running those incredible distances seemed super-human. Indeed, the first few years were tough. With each new distance, I was faced with extremely difficult hurdles. I eventually overcame those hurdles. It felt good. I’m proud of my accomplishments. Hell, even have an ultra-related tattoo. But was it really worthy of the pomp and circumstance? Was it really THAT special? I’m quite certain anyone reading this could do anything and everything I’ve done.
A year or two ago, a nonrunning blogger vented about being annoyed by marathoners endlessly talking about overcoming adversity to run a marathon. She said something to the effect of “marathoners aren’t curing cancer.”
I have mixed feelings about that sentiment. On one hand, running really long distances is tough. It takes at least some degree of either training or pan tolerance.
On the other hand, pretty much anyone willing to put in the time will eventually reach their goal of finishing. It’s not nearly as heroic as some make it out to be.
I tried to capture this sentiment in Squirrel Wipe; I wanted anyone to understand that running long distances isn’t something limited to the physically gifted or those possessing the equivalent of “iron will.” It’s a sport accessible to everyone.
When I see people continually talking about their running exploits, I cringe a little. I’ve come to realize that behavior implicitly creates an “I can do things you can’t” illusion. Yes, I did it, too. Yes, I regret making it seem like I was doing something special. There are a lot more people out there that face greater obstacles and adversity than ultrarunners, including:
- People that actually have cancer (or any serious illness)
- People serving in the military and seeing actual combat
- Wilderness wildfire fighters
- Police officers that face the potential of armed perps
- Porn fluffers
- The people that pick the produce you eat
This list really could go on and on. The point- running really isn’t a big deal. It’s a hobby. Fitness. A good excuse to get out of the house. Manufactured adversity.
Our tendency to make it seem like a great hero’s journey really doesn’t do much good. If running is the lone way we identify ourselves, we’re probably doing more damage than good. First, it seems sort of a douchey thing to do relative to the real life and death struggles the vast majority of the world’s population faces daily. Second, it’s probably turning more people off from running than inspiring.
Of course, not all ultrarunners do this. Some are incredibly humble. Some never mention their exploits. Hell, some don’t even mention they’re runners. They’re okay with seeing the sport for what it is- recreation.
I’ll be completely honest- I’ve been celebrating Independence Day for many hours before writing this post. Some of the ramblings are fueled by hops and fermented grape juice. But I’m curious.
How should we feel about our ultrarunner accomplishments? How should we celebrate the events? How do other runners feel about this. How do non-runners feel about this? Share your comments!
[Edit- I wrote a follow-up post that gives this post a little more context- check it out here: Black Belts and Silver Buckles: Neither Will Make Your Problems Disappear]