Gut check. These are the two simple words I sometimes repeat over and over to myself when I am struggling during a run. When I am tired, sore, miserable, and would rather quit than continue, I set my eyes to the next landmark…hill, pole, post, bridge, mile marker, or whatever else I can see (or hallucinate and I tell myself that’s all I need to worry about. Gut check. Gut Check. GUT CHECK! GUT CHECK!! If I take a walk break and start to think that I can’t run anymore, I internally hiss the words. Gut check. Then I take a few faster steps and start to jog again. It is my own special way to kick my ass back into gear or just keep on chugging.
Call it whatever you want. Call it perseverance, persistence, mental toughness, intestinal fortitude, inner badassery, epicness, or just plain stubbornness. The will to keep going when most people would just lay down and die. Ultrarunners have a higher level of this attribute than most normal people, whether it is a natural personality trait or an acquired skill. This state of mind does ebb and flow however; sometimes an ultrarunner will need to employ some techniques to help them remember their inner tough girl or guy. Here are a few techniques I have used to help get me across the finish.
1. Recite Your Mantra – The recitation of a mantra can really help get you though some tough times. Like I said, I like to repeat, “Gut Check” over and over – sometimes out loud – when I am struggling. I have also been known to repeat “The only distance that matters is the distance I cover in the next step.” My military memories usually bring out, “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, KILL”. A mantra gives you a cadence and can almost put you in a trance, taking you away from the immediate pain and discomfort. Before you know it, the food or gel has kicked in and you start feeling better.
2. Always Talk to Strangers – Yes, I know your mama told you not to. I am telling you to throw that shit out the window. For me one of the best ways to pass time on a long ultra is to take the time to talk to other ultrarunners. Most do so more than willingly – even if they may be too shy to initiate the conversation. We all know how shy ultrarunners can be…yes that’s sarcasm. The truth is, most of them are just WAITING to tell you about other runs they have done, PRs, or their entire life story. If someone does not feel like talking, chances are they will either tell you, not respond, or speed away. I have made some awesome friendships that started just by chatting on the trail. Miles will melt behind you.
3. Visualize – If there is no one around to talk to, your mantra has gone stale, you can’t stand to listen to one more Pantera jam, and you are struggling with some pain I have the answer. I know this sounds weird, but it works for me more often than not. I visualize my body as some sort of biological factory and dispatch commandos, medics, and engineers to take care of the pain and repair the injury that which is inflicting it. Yes this is pretend…it is a scenario in my imagination. I once ‘saw’ the pain as black ooze dripping off the tattered machinery which was working my knee joint as it was being dismantled by slug-looking creatures. The elite commandos I deployed killed the baddies while the engineers cleaned and repaired the machines. By the time I thought the scenario through in my mind, my knee felt better. Don’t call me nuts until you try it. What else do you have to do during your umpteenth consecutive hour of running?
All ultras require some serious gut-checking. Looking at the weather forecast for Praire Spirit 100 it is clear that this “beginner level” trail may require even a little more perseverance than you had in mind. Gut check time.
What techniques do you do to occupy your mind and keep your body moving during an ultra? I would love to hear them.
See you all at Prairie Spirit! As always, BE EPIC.