Ultra Lessons Learned

This post is inspired by a presentation given by Dr. David Horton – yes THAT David Horton – the night before the 2014 Epic Ultras Prairie Spirit 100 in Ottawa Kansas.  His presentation was “Lessons Learned from 100,000 Miles of Running”, and it had a great impact on me.  Not only did his words of ultra-wisdom echo in my mind while running that race, the excitement and passion he exuded while sharing his experiences have stuck with me ever since.  While I am nowhere near covering 100,000 cumulative miles on foot yet, I have been competing in ultramarathons since July of 2010, and I have learned a lot and changed a lot in that five years.  Not only have my body and mind been tempered by the challenge of training and running ultras, but so has my attitude and perspective on ultras, and life in general.  It is my sincere hope that maybe a fraction of what I share in this column will stick with you and inspire you like Dr. Horton’s did with me.

There Is No Easy Way

In ultras, the only way to get it done is to study and train.  Study and learn the skills you need to accomplish your goals and then go put them into practice.  Train your body and mind to do what you are asking them to do.  You cannot expect to go run a 100 mile ultra after you finished your first half-marathon.  Yes it has been done before, but what HASN’T?  Life is the same way – if you want something, it is attainable – but in most cases not without a high level of commitment.  Finding and maintaining motivation to meet your goals is the hardest thing in ultras.  I feel this applies strongly to everyday life as well.

Pain Really Is Temporary

Be it mental or physical, pain in an ultra (and life) is temporary.  Yes there are some pains worse than others, and some never truly leave you.  But over the course of life (and ultras), you willexperience pain – the difference between being successful or not lies in your ability to “ride out the storm” and get past the pain.  It will hurt, you will suffer, but if you are persistent and keep moving forward, you WILL get past it.  It is possible to build a tolerance to pain – effectively making you a tougher runner and person.

Failure is an Effective Teacher

Some of the hardest, and best, lessons I have ever learned in my five years of running ultras have not come in PR’s when everything goes right.  Failure has taught me things that success never could.  The sting of failure will help burn into your mind the mistakes you have made, allowing you to draw on those experiences in the future.  If you choose to accept responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them, failure can be a powerful motivator as well as a vehicle for personal improvement – in ultras and everyday life.

Hard Work Pays Off

Hard work is the cornerstone of ultrarunning.  Without hard work you can’t train effectively, eat effectively, or do anything else effectively.  You get what you put in.  Are you really going to be surprised if half-assed efforts do not yield the results you are looking for?  Maybe this is just restating my first point – but yeah – it is THAT important.

 Judge Your Success Based on Your Effort NOT the Achievements of Others

I cannot stress this enough.  In ultras there will ALWAYS be someone faster than you.  There will ALWAYS be someone slower than you.  Nothing frustrates me more than when people say things like, “When will I be a REAL runner?” or “Can I call myself an ultrarunner now?”  Set your goals for YOU!  What do you want to accomplish and when?  Once you reach that point, re-evaluate and set new goals.  Do not compare your times, distances, or achievements to Meb or Krar to determine your success or failure.  Stop comparing apples to tire irons.  It makes no sense and is a waste of energy.  Just like in life, your ultrarunning goals should be a function of what you want to achieve and how much work you are willing to do to get there.  Focus on YOU – that is the variable that IS directly in your control.

These are just a couple of the key things that I have learned in the last five years.  I sincerely hope you are able to learn your own similar lessons from ultrarunning and draw the parallels to your everyday life.  My life has been deeply enriched in a multitude of ways, while I simultaneously improved my mental and physical health – all because I participate in a fringe sport where the competitors are most commonly referred to by the non-ultra crowd as “insane”.  It is somewhat ironic that through pain and suffering are you really able to enjoy the pleasure and sweetness of life.  That’s the big lesson.