In the five or so years I have been running ultras, I have seen quite a few changes. The first, and most noticeable, is the massive increase in popularity. In 2010, ultras (in the Midwest anyway) were somewhat few and far between. A runner might have to travel 6 hours or more to find a race at all, and there were very few options through the course of the year, even ifyou were willing to travel. In 2014, one must pick and choose based on courses, buckles, distances, course support, and a zillion other factors. It seems as though there are new races popping up all over the place every weekend! The massive rise in popularity has increased both participation and public exposure – in both traditional media and social media. Between my runner friends, runner pages, and groups, my Twitter and Facebook feeds read like an AD/HD version of about 12 issues worth of UltraRunning Magazine.
This increased exposure has increased to the point that now even ‘non-runners’ are at least cognizant with the concept of ultrarunning. Guys like Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, Christopher McDougal, and others have made ultrarunning seem less of a fringe sport for total psychopathic sadomasochists and maybe even somewhat mainstream. Maybe… Along with this newfound recognition, I have noticed a trend among non-runners beginning to group all ultrarunners into one homogenous group tagged “ultrarunner” – a new stereotype of sorts. How awesome is that guys!? We got our own stereotype! By definition, a stereotype is an oversimplification of the group as a whole, and in a lot of cases, the shoe fits. But there are a few traits that I feel like are commonly attributed to ALL ultrarunners that I really feel are more often mostly inaccurate.
1.) All ultrarunners are a bunch of hippies who just bum around and only work the bare minimum to survive. FALSE! There are a certain number of these ultrarunners living a lifestyle recently coined as “dirbag” who are out there truly living the ultra dream, but they are not the majority. Nurses, cops, small business owners, stay at home moms, CEO’s, and teachers are professionals you will find at almost every ultra. Most of the ultrarunners I know have full time jobs, families, and as many or more responsibilities as any non-runner.
2.) All ultrarunners are health freaks who measure and count every free-range, organic thing they eat and drink. Most are vegans who hang out at whole food stores and plan their next barefoot run across America. NOPE! Most of us eat what we like, because we like it, and in whatever quantity we choose. Fast food is NOT the devil and we don’t mind sucking down the occasional triple cheeseburger and washing it down with a giant butterscotch milkshake. Yeah, there are a many health conscious ultrarunners out there because better nutrition does make better runners. However, most of us will never step on a podium and are MORE THAN SATISFIED just to stumble across a finish line – just before cutoffs- to collect our buckle and vanity sticker.
3.) All ultrarunners suck down tons of craft beers the night before and immediately after every ultra. NADA! We will drink just about any kind of beer, wine, liquor and sometimes don’t even wait until we have finished the race. And believe it or not, there are many ultrarunners who don’t drink at all, although I am personally not sure why.
4.) All ultrarunners hate themselves and are just punishing themselves somehow. INCORRECT! The pain of running ultras is a beautiful contrast to the Western hemisphere’s push toward achieving absolute comfort in all things. Feeling the pain lets you know how great you have it in your everyday life. It is not a punishment…it is a reward! We aren’t doing it because we hate ourselves, we are doing it because we LOVE ourselves enough to get out of our comfort zones and live life – in spite of the pain. To push past limits defined by others and sometimes even limits we place on ourselves.
5.) All ultrarunners are obsessed with running and it is all they do. NOT TRUE. Ultrarunners by nature have a very wide range of experiences. Chances are that is what led them to the sport. Driven by the desire to take on new and exciting challenges can lead to many different activities. From my experience, ultrarunners excel in a wide variety of activities that take significant commitment – from writing, music, art, and theatre to auto body repair, hunting, gardening and motorcycle riding. Not stunted by a fear of the unknown, ultrarunners are well prepared to tackle ANY challenge. Hell I am in a group that meets bi-weekly to play old school, roll the 20 sided die roll playing game Dungeons and Dragons. (My character is a pretty badass level 2 Half-Elf Rogue). But yeah, we do run a lot – it is pretty necessary when running distances over 26.2 miles.
After all the time and miles I have spent on the trails with ultrarunners, I would argue that the ONLY thing that we ALL truly have in common as the group labeled “Ultrarunners” is the desire to take on the physical challenge of running an ultra as a way to living a highly fulfilled life. There are similarities among us but just like the case of the “perfect” running shoe, there truly is no one-size-fits-all personality of an ultrarunner.