Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ultra Amazing

What drives someone to travel 100 miles on foot?

What has to be inside a person to start running, knowing that for the next 24 hours or so he'll probably still be running? And how must this person's brain be wired to convince his body to keep doing what it probably isn't made to do?

I wanted to know, and so Dave and I volunteered to help at an aid station along the Burning River 100 Trail Race, which started yesterday at Squire's Castle in North Chagrin, and ended somewhere in Cuyahoga Falls this morning. Our shift was 2:00 AM until the cut-off at 6:22 AM.

Our aid station was situated at Everett covered bridge, at miles 80.8 and 85.5 (the trail here was a 4.7 mile loop, so we checked bib numbers as runners started the loop, and recorded their time when they came back out.)

It was a strange, subcultural kind of event. Family members and supporters in lawn chairs lined the bridge, waiting for the tiny little dot of a headlamp (or two, since many runners had 'pacers' with them) emerge out of the middle-of-the-night blackness. Some appeared strong and fresh, as if they maybe had been running for an hour or so. Many others seemed a bit worse for wear, but persisted at whatever pace they could sustain.

Some dropped out at that point, unable to face the final 15 miles and the prospect of another 3 or 4 hours of this brutality.

I give them ALL credit. They are amazing, incredible, and I would imagine a bit insane.

I for one, could/would never do anything like this, but I can maybe see why someone would. Or can I?

I have other friends who participate in ultrasport events:
- Tim Marks, who will be doing the AdventureCorps Furnace Creek 508 (508 miles of cycling through Death Valley and environs, with a 48 hour time limit) in October.
Tim's wife, Jill, and I rode a century together last February, in Death Valley, which looks like an average club ride in comparison...
- Susan Reed, an addiction counselor and recumbent bike rider who regularly logs 10,000 miles a year.
- Our friends Kari and Larry Newman, and their son Nathan who are riding across America (actually, I DO want to do this at some point in my life)...
- A bunch of Grunt Girls just recently ran the BT50K. I know lots of these gals embrace the ultrasport mentality.

So, what DOES it take to be able to do something like this?
  • What's your motivation? Why do you want to do ultrasport?
  • What keeps you moving when your body wants to stop?
Please submit your comments through this blogsite, if you don't mind.


  1. Pam,

    I'll be the first to post a comment.

    I like your perspective. The BR100 is for a small- subculture of people. Pushing one's body to the limit is not a common goal, unless one is in a situation where it is a matter of life or death.

    Here is my take on ultrarunners:

    These are the people who are successful in life, as they do not need monetary means to motivate them to accomplish a goal. Their drive and ambition is hard-wired in their heads.

    I say this, as I have completed two mini ultras - 50Ks (31.64 miles).
    While I am not ready for, or at this time want to run 100 miles, I'd entertain 50 miles.

    What motivates me?
    The challenge. Each time I push myself to accomplish a new race goal I am empowered to take life to the next level.

    This may seem odd, but with each successful event comes the confidence to tackle life head on.

    There isn't much in life that could happen to me, that would break me. I have developed a high tolerance for pain, a deep desire to succeed at anything I put my mind too, and the ability to work through any obstacle.

    Yes, it seems odd that running could do this, but, I have used the long runs to my advantage. I may not be winning races, but I am succeeding at life, one step at a time.

    Those who run the ultra-amazing runs live life at a different level.

  2. Stacy,

    Thanks for your comments.

    There is an obvious ripple effect that seems to radiate from the satisfaction of completing an endurance event (whether it's 5 miles or 100). Maybe confidence is a characteristic that, like strength, speed, and flexibility, improves with training and repeated use.

  3. And then there are the runners who sign for a 100 mile race the night before—without a lick of training-on a dare. I met one the night of the BR100. That kind of motivation makes my head spin.

  4. I agree with prpacesetter that tolerance for pain determines who does this type of sport. God bless them. I can endure discomfort for shorter time periods. That's why my 45 minute morning workout, then 30 minute walk in the evening with various bursts of activity during the day are enough for me. I like to spread out the torture.