As I headed out to the 4 Corners Monument today to begin marathon #2 in Utah, it became clear to me that there plenty of people interested in seeing what happens next in my series of endurance adventures and the common thread among most is their bemused inquiry "...but, but Why???" This post won't go deep into my epistemological, existential, and spiritual musings on the larger topic of "Why do I do endurance sports?" but we will look narrowly at the "Why?" of today's race and ultra-running in general because that "Why" was very much alive today in Utah.
I think a lot of people can understand the love of travel- seeing new places and experiencing new things. Therefore, it isn't much of a stretch to get why I would like to travel to the 50 States and 7 Continents if I simply must do a bunch of endurance races. What most people don't immediately grasp is why would you want to run 26.2 miles 4 days in a row, in the cold windy desert, with the 2nd day being a 1 mile out and back loop. A friend of mine likened it to a hamster wheel last night for good reason. However, having done 1 mile loops (once for 112 loops and again for 104 loops) before, I knew I'd be in for a treat. Here's why:
An Ultra-Marathon (or "Ultra") is any footrace longer than 26.2 miles. The difference between the cultures at various types of endurance events is stark. Marathons and 1/2s have one vibe- many nervous people, lots of first-timers, trying just to finish something they've been training for and worrying about for 6 mos or longer and some fast veterans trying to get Personal Records (PRs) or win the thing. Ironmans, have a different ambiance, they are chock full of first timers too but a lot more veterans with game faces on- serious, no nonsense real-deal stuff is about to go down on those race days, the people are generally pleasant but not typically engaging. Both of these are great for the competitor in you because they get you amped up and ready to perform as well as your extensive training will allow... but then there are ultras.
Ultras are the most laid back, communal event since Woodstock and most of the coolest people at them could and may have been at both. At any ultra I have been around, everyone is sharing best practices, solving common problems, exchanging information, and genuinely interested in getting to know each other. That tendency is only magnified by the one mile loop. Truly, anyone from the fastest to the slowest can interact and get to know each other while knocking out those miles. The fact that this group is overstuffed with many of the Marathon Maniac and 50 State Marathon Club legends means that one day simply isn't enough time to pick the brains of all these trail blazers. For example, today I spent time with Larry, the Guinness Record holder for most marathons in a year (252 if you're wondering) and he asked great questions about my life with plenty of "Wow!"s and "That's Amazing!"s to me. This guy also has over 1800 lifetime marathons and didn't start running until he was 50- to prove a point. Nothing I do or will likely ever do compares to what he is still doing at over 70 years old. I know of no other sport where you can have an hour long conversation with the guy who owns all the records and have him brag on you. Also spent some time with HAR. He has over 1200 lifetime marathons and was almost certainly a participant in any inaugural marathon anyone reading has participated in in the past 25 years. He looks a lot like the pictures I've seen of Ernest Hemingway in his later years and has a lot of wisdom. He also got overheated in all his winter clothes toward the end of the race and decided to become the 2nd shirtless guy out there on this sub 40 degree day.
None of these people have anything to prove and they all know each other. So, if you have a question or mention something that one of them knows is a specialty of another- the introduction is made and a new conversation starts. We had Clint, the owner of Mainly Marathons, a company that puts on marathons in geographical blocks so people can hit all of them easily. For instance, he has a series with marathons and 1/2s in all of the New England States plus New York in 7 consecutive days. I intend to do a few of his events this year to get my 10 Maniac Stars and most of my remaining States.
A woman there was the most experienced triathlete I've ever met. She has done everything from Ironman Tahoe and Boulder to Anvil Triple Iron, to Ultraman. She introduced me to another woman named Ila because Ila was one of the first group, 2 years ago, to attempt the Triple 7 Quest. That group ended up being stuck in Punta Arenas for 4 days before finally getting to do Antarctica for the current record of just over 11 days to complete 7 official public marathons on the 7 Continents. She was also pleased to tell me that she became a 10 Star Marathon Maniac, finished the 50 States, the 7 Continents, and ran 100 total marathons before she turned 70. More recently, she became the first known person to complete 52 full marathons and 52 half marathons in the same year! She taught me how to counteract foot swelling, prepare for sleep depravation, and approach the Antarctic stop in the Triple 7 Quest. How wild is it to have these kind of resources there- just waiting to teach and pass the torch?
So, I clearly didn't complete my fastest marathon today. In fact, I ran faster at the Disney World Marathon with a very active and debilitating case of food poisoning. Heck, I think this is the slowest I've ever completed a marathon. Does that break my heart? Absolutely not! My knee was hurting, all my muscles were rebelling, I was cold, tired, and otherwise far from ready to run anything today. My first half took nearly 4 hours! 4 Hours!! (My last 1/2 marathon was about 1:55) Part of that was the physical pain and the bigger part was the social and mental pleasure I derived from spending quality time talking with these folks. There were others too, the 60 year old, Cliff, from Cincinnati who was there with his wife- he's doing the fulls and his wife running halfs each day. He has started 9 Iron Distance triathlons and finished 5, qualified for Boston most years through his 40's and into his 50s, and used to work for Marathon Adventures taking marathon tours to places like the Great Wall of China and Berlin among many others. A Marine Corps veteran named Andy who ran across his home State of Oklahoma to raise money for the installation of a Veterans Memorial and 100' flag pole in his hometown. The list of these Everyday Extraordinary people goes on and on. They are the reason I woke up looking forward to the 1 mile course today and continue to believe that such races are a treat to be savored.
Not to belabor the point, but anyone can enter an ultra- even you... yes, you. Multi-day events are the best starting point. Case in point, my mom went with me once to a 48 hour footrace and had never even run a 5k. She did a whopping 94 miles while talking, singing, praying, and continuing to put one foot in front of the other for 48 hours. You say, "I can't stay awake that long, let alone run for that time." Ok- walk and eat, sleep, sit down, whatever- whenever you want. Your pace and mileage is up to you- in those races everyone starts and stops at the same time but what you do in between is up to you. The Ultra community is built on everyone helping each other achieve what they want and reach ever higher, its pretty darn refreshing in this divisive and stifling world.
I need to get more sleep tonight than I did last night for sure and pray that some of my various boo-boos are better tomorrow early for Day 3- Colorado. If you are enjoying this blog, make sure you subscribe to the website for alerts at the bottom of the Eternal Endurance homepage and Like Eternal Endurance on Facebook. If you really like what you've been reading and think you know someone else who would too- please Share with them... or all your friends just in case! Have a great weekend and come back for more tomorrow evening.