Why Run Ultras

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Spirit Unleashed
Lynn Williams
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Why Run Ultras

Postby Spirit Unleashed » Thu Aug 14, 2014 11:28 am

http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Why_Run_Ultras

The several reasons which mention spirituality certainly speak to me.

I copied the whole list, but the formatting didn't come, so go look at the link to see a more beautiful version.

People run ultras for many different reasons, and we are rarely aware of our own motivation. The answers below reflect some of the possible rationales behind this grueling sport. The runners I know are driven by various combinations of these forces, and the specific mix is unique to each individual.

Health. You might expect people to run ultras for their health, but most ultrarunners do far more than is required for optimum health. While it's common for ultrarunners to have started running for their health, and for health to be a strong motivation to keep running, it's not the reason why we move to running the extreme distances of ultramarathons. In fact, for many of us, running is the motivation to keep healthy rather than the other way around.
Fitness. Ultrarunning takes fitness far beyond what is required for anything other than running ultras. Also, while Ultrarunning requires remarkable levels of endurance and stamina, it's not a well-rounded fitness, and many ultrarunners lack other components of fitness such as upper body strength.
The Runner's High. The runner's high is real, but it's a rarity and normally associated more with short, fast runs than the Long Slow Distance that most Ultrarunning involves. In fact, most Ultramarathon races involve depression and fantasies of self-harm. ("If only my leg would break, I could stop…" type of thoughts.)
The Difficulty. When JFK announced the mission to the moon, he said "we choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." One of the things that drive many high performing individuals is the need to overcome and achieve things that are difficult, and Ultrarunning clearly fulfills that need. This also reflects the desire to find progressively tougher races and longer distances.
The Monastery. The training required for Ultrarunning can provide a monastic like structure to life. Everything becomes ordered around training, with food and drink becoming more a part of the training regime than for pleasure or sustenance. This regimen removes the burden of daily decisions and creates a harmonious routine.
The Voices. There are well documented mental health benefits to running, and there are anecdotal comments that suggest many people use Ultrarunning to "keep the voices quiet." It's unclear if there are real problems with schizophrenia, or just the desire for mental peace that drives many to run vast distances.
Antidepressant. Because of the mental health benefits of running, it can be used to help treat depression. It's been suggested that ultrarunning is especially appealing to those with depression that manifests itself in self-destructive forms.
The Affliction. While running can help with a number of mental health problems, it can sometimes be a manifestation of the illness. This is especially true for eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia. The line between ultrarunning as treatment or affliction is sometimes unclear, and I would highly recommend leading Pam Reed's book The Extra Mile.
Movement. There is a simple pleasure in movement, and some people find it difficult to be stationary for protracted periods of time. Sometimes it seems like we have to be moving to be still, an idea encapsulated in the Zen principle of Stillness in Motion.
Nietzsche. The famous quote "what does not kill us makes us stronger" is particularly appropriate for Ultrarunning. However, I'd argue that it's not the physical strength that Ultrarunning increases, but the mental and spiritual strength. When you reach the point of such physical exhaustion and pain that you weep out loud and start to wish for death but somehow carry on, it profoundly changes who you are. I've seen the physically strong give up when they had resources left, having simply lost the will to keep moving. They measured themselves against the distance and came up wanting. But I've seen others who had been torn apart both physically and mentally by the distance who simply refused to quit, and they were victorious. The acts of determination and courage I've seen in ultramarathons are both humbling and inspiring.
The community. Ultrarunning is the most supportive and collaborate individual sport I know of. With the exception of the few who hope to win, everyone is battling the distance, not each other. This makes Ultrarunning a supportive and welcoming group. I don't know how much of this is the way the sport changes the people who take part, and how much is the way the sport attracts these people, but it is quite different from shorter distance running or even Ironman distance Triathletes.
The Zen. If you run far enough, you can reach a point of Stillness in Motion. This does not have to be Ultramarathon distances, but it has to be far enough to relax. This Zen like experience is one of quiet peace, with the world moving around you rather than you moving through the world.
The Spiritual. Someone once said "going for a run clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul", and for many there's a distinct religious aspect to long distance running. Some use their runs as an explicit part of their spiritual life, praying and meditating on the run, while for others it's a less formalized aspect.
The Second Dawn. Running through the dawn gives a sense of renewal as the sun rises and the world goes from darkness to light. If you continue to run through the day, through the night and on until the following dawn, then you experience the "second dawn". Running all day and into the night is tough, but the second dawn is a time of rebirth that cannot adequately be put into words and you will never look at the sunrise the same again.
The Shaman. It's rare, but there are some who run ultras to experience the shamanistic visions and hallucinations that can occur at the extremes of exhaustion. I've only come across a tiny number of runners who have mentioned this type of "vision quest" as a motivation, but it does occur.
The Kudos. Generally ultrarunners do not seek glory and are an introverted bunch, but there is some cachet to running extreme distances. I doubt if this is a significant motivation for the majority of runners, but it may encourage a few to try out a 50K if only to cross it off their bucket list. However, I suspect for most of us this is a nice bonus rather than a motivation per se.
The Freedom. Simply heading out on a run without constraints gives a delightful sense of freedom. This happens in the wilderness and it can happen in urban environments. There is a sense of chains dropping away and the restraints of everyday life dissolving.
The Solitude. Long distance running offers plenty of time to be alone, and many ultrarunners enjoy this solitude. It offers time to mentally relax, meditate and think freely. I am at my most creative when I'm running, and most of my writing is prepared on the run.
The Ephemeral Memory of Pain. The memory of suffering has some strange properties, allowing us to recall the outline of the misery but obfuscating the essence. Somehow we lack the ability to empathize with our prior selves, and so tend to discount the anguish.
The Indulgence. For those that enjoy your running, the opportunity to run all day can be a wonderful intelligence. I don't believe this is a motivation for people to run ultras, as most races involve pushing well beyond the point where running is enjoyable, and in to the territory of torment. However, it may be the reason why some of us do shorter races that are not so challenging. If you're trained to race 100 milers, then running a 50 miler without pushing the pace can be remarkably pleasant.
The Comparison. I think that people tend to judge their current mood based on comparison to the emotional highs and lows they've experienced. Therefore the distress of ultra makes ordinary life seem remarkably good. Even the stress of day to day training can make the remainder of life seem quite blissful. I have had many days where things have gone poorly, but that morning's training run where I experienced exhaustion, pain, extremes of temperature, and pangs of self-doubt, puts all of the days problems into a fresh perspective.
The Alternative is worse. However tough Ultrarunning is, for many of us the alternative is worse. Ultrarunning has saved us from something, and without it we would be far worse off. What the specific alternative is varies from runner to runner, but this is a theme you can often find once you scratch below the surface.
No Answer. The best answer is probably the least satisfactory: "for those who have to ask the question, no answer will suffice." The only way to know why we run ultramarathons is to experience it for yourself.
Athlete....Maniac 973....Marathon Maniac 6645
Live the most amazing life you can live - La
marathon runners are awesomeness personified - Ian
Bucket list: http://www.tassietrailfest.com.au/
http://ultramonk.blogspot.com/

Dstew
Bill Crothers
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Re: Why Run Ultras

Postby Dstew » Sat Aug 16, 2014 7:23 pm

Thank you for this post right now I am analyzing where I am with my running and it can just as helpful to figure out what I am not then it is to figure out what I am.

At one time, I thought I might be on the top floor of the crazy tower or at least the last stop of the elevator. But then I would read the blogs and race reports of those who ran ultras and realized I was a mere amateur by suffering from heat stroke by doing intervals too hard and too hot a day or pushing myself so hard at the gym I had to sit with my head between my knees and watched as I just about blacked out or do a 40 K training run with the last 5 K at marathon pace and through a driving thunderstorm. The stairs went well past my floor and I had zero desire to do so. Especially when there was one person who I read complain that their family and friends were concerned because every time they did an ultra they needed up in the hospital. It took all my restraint not to reply that even I can figure out if you do something that puts you in the hospital every time you do it, that has to be bad for your health and you should stop doing it. Call it the central governor or whatever but there was a part of my brain that forbade me from every running one of those races because I would push through the pain and misery and end up in a hospital bed.

In any event, 50 k this year on the Calgary marathon course seemed more fun then the death marches that were typical of the ultras I read about and so it was a challenge but one not too far outside of my comfort zone to be worrisome. Or at least not to me. I could not feel my hands or feet at 45 K but some walking cured that and I felt remarkably well at the end of the race. Normally, the medical aid people and whose who give a massage are asking if I am okay and this time they were amazed I had run 50 K and looked remarkably "normal" and healthy. And yet my brain, my mind, my body, my spirit and my soul all said, that was nice but been there and done that. I do not consider myself an ultramarathoner and definitely do not self identify as one. I will wear the technical shirt that came with registering for this race and will wear it because not only did I earn it, it looks really cool.

The reasons to run an ultra for me are the reasons not to run another one: Health, Fitness, Difficulty, Moment, Zen, antidepressant, Movement, The Zen, the Freedom, the indulgence, the solitude, the spiritual and most importantly the VOICES [the demons] and I would add in stress release and escape can be and have been achieved by me with as little as 10 miles. By 16 miles it starts to become survival and almost an ego thing that I am doing something that very few people could do on a regular basis and this includes other runners. There are kudos in that it makes me "special" and separates me from the herd but generally speaking, the reaction is not wow you ran 50 K but why in god's name would you do something so stupid and/or insane. People get marathons and I suppose that is why the increase participation in Ultras because those are beyond the comprehension of others and thus makes one even more "special". And then one of the final reasons really resonated with me and that is the alternative is worse but in my case, the alternative is actually better. And that alternative is golf and that is good for my spirit and soul. Running tends to be much more practical and functional for me and although there are the quieting of the demons, as noted above, that happens in the 10 - 16 mile range and thus ultras are just not my thing.

The irony is not lost on me that after running an ultra I have the same look and question as why engage in such an activity in much the same way that many look at me when I say I run marathons.

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West Grey Runner
Bill Crothers
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Re: Why Run Ultras

Postby West Grey Runner » Fri Aug 22, 2014 10:14 am

I run Ultras because its fun...that's all. When I first started going long I use to get a big kick out of the "WOW" factor.... your going to run how far...WOW! I know I have progressed from "WOW" to "ZEN" because when someone asks me why I do it my response is "because of how relaxing it is"...that usually ends the conversation. :shock:

Chainsaw Baby
Bruce Kidd
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Re: Why Run Ultras

Postby Chainsaw Baby » Thu Sep 04, 2014 6:38 pm

I run ultras because the per-mile cost is more reasonable...

Ultra runners are a little weird... we are currently packing for the Pine Creek Challenge (Saturday September 6), where Curly (Lee Anne Cohen) will run the 100K. We keep saying things like :you don't need that (extra head lamp, box of gels, boiled potatoes), it's only 100K...

I'm crewing and pacing for about 30K (a civilized distance).
It's a hill. Get over it!

www.runnningchallenged.blogspot.com

Chainsaw Baby
Bruce Kidd
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Re: Why Run Ultras

Postby Chainsaw Baby » Thu Sep 04, 2014 6:38 pm

I run ultras because the per-mile cost is more reasonable...

Ultra runners are a little weird... we are currently packing for the Pine Creek Challenge (Saturday September 6), where Curly (Lee Anne Cohen) will run the 100K. We keep saying things like :you don't need that (extra head lamp, box of gels, boiled potatoes), it's only 100K...

I'm crewing and pacing for about 30K (a civilized distance).
It's a hill. Get over it!

www.runnningchallenged.blogspot.com


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