Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Running through the mind of an Ultrarunner

I was chatting with a neighbour discussing the troubles we’ve both had with Telstra, our phone company, and that I had managed to last 14 hours on the phone to them before I lost my calm (the issue has now almost been resolved after 20 hours).  He said that it’s because of my running that I kept my cool for as long as I did. He used to run himself and since he hung up his trainers he’s noticed his patience and tolerance had really dropped off.

I hadn’t really noticed any major change in my personality since I started running ultramarathons, but as with most gradual things you don’t really notice the changes while you’re living through them. His comments were running through my head as I was running through the bush the other day and I reflected on the changes in my life since I started running long.  It was then that I realised that my family and I have been, and to some degree are still, going through a really stressful patch. I shan’t bore you with the details, but if you look at a list of the top 10 most stressful things to do, we’ve ticked a lot of boxes!

Personally my approach to these has been very much one of acceptance, and moving on, rather than too much dwelling on the past and regrets. I believe that going out running for 2-3 hours has given me a perspective on things without an emotional fog to get in the way. Don’t get me wrong I’m no saint and not everything rolls off my back, but the small stuff is just that and the big stuff is there to be dealt with.  Without the regular endorphin hit and the mental release of my training I could easily see myself suffering with a dose of depression. It’s well known that exercise is a prescribed treatment for depression and something you can get for free and it’s legal! The beauty is that it is as effective, if not more so, than prescribed drugs as a treatment.

I then thought about all the well known ultra runners, and interviews I have seen of them to see if there were any common personality traits. There isn’t a single one I could think of that you would describe as depressive or at the other end of the scale being hyperactive – simply put from an emotional perspective they are all (and excuse the pun) middle of the road with a positive outlook. I’m not saying they weren’t like this before they started running, but there certainly seems to be a pattern.
Middle of the road!

Maybe it is this balanced viewpoint that makes an ultrarunner understand that we are not running against each other, but instead against ourselves. We are trying to find our own boundaries so that we can then to stretch them a little further.  And because ultras are such a personal challenge with no fixed performance rules from one person to the next, that as ultrarunners we are almost unique in the competitive sporting world that we gladly share all our knowledge, experience and tips. In fact we are usually eager to tell anyone who’ll listen anything that we find helps improve our performance so that we can stretch those boundaries a little further. The thing is these ideas may not work for everyone, but that doesn’t matter because we are all on the same team trying to beat our (often self imposed) limits. 

At the end of the day we are all winners in our own ways, even if you DNF, just toeing the start line to an ultra is one heck of an achievement.

Congratulations to all of you who have!

Run Happy (endorphins included!)

***Please support my 33 Marathons Challenge***

“You only ever grow as a human being if you are outside your comfort zone” – Percy Cerutty


  1. Brilliant post and completely concur, ultra runners have far more resilience and patience than non runners I find. Maybe I am wrong but in my experience it's true. As for phone companies and their ilk...... don't get me started mate :)

  2. Great post, and I love the photos too! I also find more and more that an added mental benefit of very long-distance running is unplugging for extended periods of time; otherwise, I'm multitasking and online in a way that can diminish rather than enhance thoughtful contemplation. Thanks for writing.

  3. Thanks Mally, was thinking about you a bit whilst writing this as I know you have had similar challenges to us. If only we could get the customer service "people" to get out and run a bit, what a difference it could make :)
    Sarah, I think you have hit the nail on the head, as running offers escapism from the crazy nature of modern living, and I for one just love to stop the World and step off every once in a while. The only downside is you do have to get back on from time to time!

  4. Great post again mate.
    We are all looking for something and with Ultra running if you are lucky you find a place that you fit into perfectly with no questions asked.
    And then we all help each other get better.

    This is why I love the trail/Ultra community gives back more than it takes.

  5. Cheers Brick,
    You so right about the running community and that for me is why the races are so enjoyable. We're all united in the struggle against our perceived limits and it seem that those of us who try to push them really appreciate what our fellow competitors are going through.

    Great to see you again at the weekend, and congratulations on yet another fantastic performance.