The following is an excerpt from a paper on ultrarunning that I wrote for an English class in the Fall 2007. I merely extracted paragraphs from throughout the paper, so if it doesn’t seem very coherent, that’s why. I include it in this blog because it gives some background on the mentality with which I now approach running, and it shows come where I came from. After I had my two kids and was done childbearing, I pretty much had to start over. I was a new runner. As I look back on this post three years later, I am amazed at my progress, amazed at some comments that almost seem prophetic.
I’m a runner. At least that’s how I perceive myself in athletic terms. Since my sophomore year in high school, I have nurtured a love-hate relationship with running. When I’m running, I hate it. When I’m not, I love it. Lately, I have become obsessed with this conundrum. I truly aspire to be a runner, not just someone who thinks about it a lot.
Having two babies in the last five years has been a roadblock to my running success.
I’m a slug, yet I still have the desire to be a serious runner, and I am slowly getting back into it. But to some extent, running is my fantasy – I do a lot of running in my dreams. Still, I had to begin somewhere. In order to not shock my system with too much exercise right off the bat, I started with the mild step of reading about running. In doing so, I discovered ultramarathoning.
In his autobiography, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, Dean Karnazes relates the story of how he ran a 199-mile relay race from Calistoga, California to Santa Cruz, California as a team of one. “…A bout of despair set in. Suddenly, nothing seemed to be going right… The sun was now sinking below the distant horizon, and I was running into a gathering gloom. I was alone… The pain wasn’t just confined to my legs any longer but had spread throughout my entire body. I plodded along in grief, barely able to lift my head. Twenty-eight hours of running can do that to you” (234-5). I’ve read numerous statements from ultrarunners that would completely deter most people from contemplating participation in this extreme sport.
I, however, wasn’t deterred. I was compelled. I realized there is a whole sub-category of runners out there who are influenced by the power of the ultra. I wondered why anyone would willingly engage in such a painful activity. Why would someone run such long distances? What’s involved? Would I be capable of doing this? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but I had to find out. Thus began my journey of personal discovery.
I can testify that runners’ strength comes from the mind rather than the body. Most of the time, I’m pretty weak-minded. Sitting on my couch, rear end comfortably ensconced in the broken-in cushion, I find myself completely engrossed in Blake Wood’s fascinating account of his experience at the 2000 Barkley Marathons. Wow, this is some good reading. Here’s a guy who came 12 miles from completing a 100-mile race, only to be stymied by a river flooded by torrential rain. Instead of feeling defeated, Blake Wood feels victorious. I’m extremely inspired by his story.
If the mind controls the body and compels it to action, why does my mind fail to lace up my running shoes and propel me out the door so I can pursue the same victorious feeling? Am I mentally tough enough to run an ultra? How does one’s mind adapt and talk itself out of defeat? What is the thought process behind it.
I turn my attention to The Extra Mile, Pam Reed’s account of her running and life. This woman is the race director of the Tucson Marathon, an internationally successful professional ultrarunner, a two-time overall winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon, a mother of three, and a wife. Pam might tell me that my perception of running needs to change. Pam states that for her, running is a necessity. After all, she runs up to three times a day, 100 miles a week. But somehow, it just doesn’t seem simple to move running up my priority ladder. I get tired simply reading the prologue.
The allure of the ultra has captured Dwight Schuh because, in his own words, he might be “absolutely crazy.” Speaking of crazy… my life is nuts, but not because I am obsessed with training. Being a mother comes with special challenges, more than a childless person would think. Go for a run or read to my son? This is my current dilemma. The juggling of husband, kids, church, school, and social obligations leaves me little time to do anything for myself. Running is a luxury, in my mind.
I am torn between love of things I used to do freely, such as running, and the necessity to complete the tasks that make life go on. Maybe some mothers find it easy to dart out the door, smiling baby in tow, for a productive one-on-one with the blacktop. I do not. Making each of the baby’s waking (and often fussy) moments productive is much more difficult than it sounds.
The ultramarathon culture is fascinating. My research has given me graphic insight into the elements necessary to train for and run ultramarathons. Here I sit, in front of the television, thinking that I want to be, that I should be out running. So why, when I can hardly muster the gusto to shuffle three miles, do I dream about running 30-plus miles? The short answer: I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I have to start somewhere.
I start slowly. I escape the house without my kids and run three miles, winning a small victory when I can do it without walking. And it’s a treat to run alone. The extra exertion required to push a jogging stroller is amazing. Recently, I ran a 5k (3.1 mile) “race” in Boise with my son and daughter.
From this experience, I determined that pushing 60 pounds of stroller and kid three miles is a really good workout, and I have a long way to go before I will be able to run 10 miles, let alone an ultramarathon.
For me, though, running an ultramarathon isn’t the goal. My mind conjures much less grandiose requirements for my body and my time. Run today, just today. Don’t think about tomorrow. Don’t even think about the next mile. Put one foot in front of the other and simply run.