Sunday, January 7, 2018

Why get into trail? Why Ultra?

WARNING:  All the following thoughts are my personal reasons for doing what I do, they are not intended as an insult to anyone.  They are just my personal feelings for ME and who I want to be and what I want to do.

Finishing Grandma's
So, now that that's over, Why do I "run marathons through the woods," as my wife puts it?  My journey started a little under 2 years ago, when I got into running because I needed a way to get in shape for my Little Man.  In 2016 I ran a 5k, a 10k and two half marathons.  Both of the half marathons were hard, but still wanted more, to push harder and farther, so I signed up for the 2017 Grandma's Marathon. Training from January through June gave a focus to my running, and I enjoyed it, pushing harder, running longer and even setting a time goal for the race.

In the mean time, I also signed up for a trail race, the Wild Duluth 50k.  I figured that a 31 mile race with a 16 hour time limit, coming 4 months after my marathon would be fine.

Anyway, back to Grandma's.  I ran the race on June 17, 2017, which was also my 10th wedding anniversary.  The race was fun, and I felt like I had given it my all, despite bonking and missing my time goal by 24 minutes.

With a clear calendar through September (I had talked my mom and brother into running the Ely marathon with me) I looked forward to some rest.  Yeah... Not so much.  About 2 weeks before Grandma's my "friend" Andy had told me, "as long as you are in shape, you should run Curnow"  The Eugene Curnow trail marathon is a nasty little gem of a race, running from Duluth to Carlton, MN.  Being me, I said I wasn't sure, then promptly signed up for the race

Now, I had just run my first road marathon, and Curnow is trail.  Trail running is, in many ways, like road, it's all one foot in front of the other, keep moving and get your miles in.  That's where the similarity ends for me.  After my first trail run, four days after Grandma's, I was sure, I had run slower than on road, and I was hooked.

For me, running trail is about getting out in the woods and enjoying nature.  Sure, at races, I'm still going to push my limits and see how far/fast I can go, but in the woods it's different.  I reconnect with the part of my childhood where I spent summers on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  It's about de-stressing and recentering myself.  Sounds all zen and New Age, right?  It isn't.  Running through the woods brings out the best in me.  I can just switch off for a while and enjoy natures beauty..... Then I ran Curnow.

As Scott Jurek put it “Nature's arena has a way of humbling and energizing us.” Curnow was quite possibly the worst seven HOURS and 23 minutes in my life.  It was hot, I bonked, I got severe calf cramps, got delirious for a little because I was dehydrated and hot.

Not long after Finishing Curnow, I switched my entry at Wild Duluth, from the 50k to the 100k.  Why, after suffering so bad at Curnow, would I want to run a distance that is more than 2 marathons back to back? Runners, especially long distance runners love to embrace the suck, and I embraced it hard that day.  I also knew that I wanted more.  I wanted to push beyond the normal comfort zone we all live in and go to the "what the heck are you doing?" place, where the impossible becomes the possible and you learn about what you can really do.

When you get past 26.2 miles, the distance that puts the "ultra" in ultramarathon, you are pushing yourself to, and sometimes beyond, your physical limits.  You are testing yourself and answering the question "can I do it?"  That is, for me, the essence of ultra running.  It's about surpassing what you "think you can do" and finding out for sure what you can do.  And, for that matter, "winning" in an ultra, isn't always just being the first person to cross the Finish line.  Kilian Jornet, an amazing runner and multiple time winner of the Hardrock 100 put it this way:

“Winning isn't about finishing in first place. It isn't about beating the others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.” 
To me this is the essence of ultramarathon running.  Win, lose, first across the finish line, or last, it's about testing yourself, finding your limits and saying that you won't let them stop you.

As for why I do it?  Theodore Roosevelt answered that question in 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

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