Gut Check

DSC_9349_s_jpgGut 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.

Zach

Why?

DSC_9349_s_jpgWhether you are discovered as an ultrarunner by reminding everyone how awesome you are with your “Garmin Connect” Facebook statuses or by declining an invitation to a stripper-laden bachelor party for your best friend because of a scheduled long run the next day, one of the questions you will inevitably and absolutely always be asked is “Why?”  This is a question I have asked myself many times since deciding to sign up and begin training for my first marathon.  Since that time I have made many observations and come to a few conclusions and think I am ready to form them into a somewhat coherent, semi-logical pile of word vomit.

I think I will start by pointing out that while these conclusions are mostly introspective observations, a number of conversations with other ultrarunners during  the heat of battle have lead me to believe that most of us share similar motivations and personality traits.  Yes, I am that guy; “Chatty Charlie”.  I am the guy that won’t shut up when he’s running next to you, always asking questions and cracking jokes. I can’t help it, I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  As a result, I have observed some recurring motivating factors among the amazing people I have run and chatted with –  in some cases 40 miles or more… and if you are ever unfortunate enough for me to fall in beside you, I apologize in advance for my fondness of zombies and casual and excessive use of  the “F” word.

First, runner motivations change over time. When I first started I was very motivated by setting some personal new longest distance or beating some PR.  Pushing harder and going farther than I actually believed in my own heart that I could, and then actually proving that I could was an instantly addictive feeling for me.  I found myself thinking thoughts like, “That was pretty freaking hardcore, but if I worked really hard I could do something really epic.”  Observation:  Most ultrarunners have addictive tendencies.  Many that I have talked to have taken up running as an alternative to some other less healthy obsession.

After proving to myself that I could accomplish any goal as long as I wanted it bad enough and was willing to make the necessary sacrifices, the atmosphere of the race became my motivation.  I love the whole “race day” feeling.  The energy, excitement, anxiety, and anticipation on race day all give the air an electric feeling.  Cheering aid station volunteers and the race director handing you a buckle after crossing the finish line creates a feeling that is hard to describe unless you have experienced it first hand.  Simply being around other ultrarunners who share a passion for the “ultra culture” is refreshing.  This “Ultra Attitude”  is so alien to most of the people I interact with in my regular day to day life.  Humans strive to be around those they can relate to, and let’s be honest; most people think that anyone who chooses to run for 7 hours straight is a bit off their rocker.

Another motivation for me is the control, structure, order, and peace that the commitment of training for an ultra brings to my life.  Life is often times chaotic and so many things are outside of our personal control.  The process of training for an ultra gives me full control over the final result.  I am ultimately the only one responsible for the success or failure of this mission.  A benefit of ultra training to my life outside of running is that all the hours spent running alone is a great time to sort through the mental clutter that I would otherwise ignore.  Running is also a metaphoric “emergency over-pressurization release valve” allowing a safe and controlled release of the stress and anxiety of everyday life.  Everyone already knows the physical benefits of running, but I could go on for hours on the positive effects on one’s mental health that running can provide. That’s a whole other blog for another day.

Finally, I will say what most other ultrarunners think privately but would NEVER say out loud.  I love the attention!  To see someone in total disbelief when hearing about the insanity in which I have willingly participated is one of my favorite things.  The incredulous look on someone’s face when they ask things like “Do you actually RUN the entire 50 miles?” is like fuel to my fire.  Explaining my motivations and talking about my love for training and racing is something I love.  Call me an attention whore if you like, I don’t mind.  I am.  I love it!  The difference between me and a lot of other ultrarunners is that I am willing to admit it.

500 meters or 50 kilometers, whatever your distance of choice, I would love to hear about what motivates you to just keep running.  Are you trying to complete your first 5K or making an attempt at a sub 20 hour finish at the Western States 1oo?  All positive, uplifting, inspirational, informational messages and comments are invited and welcome!  Let’s continue to build the Epic Ultras culture together.  I would love to hear from you all.

Until next time, I implore you…Be Epic!

Zach Adams