During September’s High Peaks 40-mile ultra marathon I had the amazing fortune to run alongside an inspirational lady called Kelly T (I’ll keep the surname back just in case). Kelly left me in total awe as I watched her battle valiantly with shin splints for most of the race while she simultaneously regaled me with her training plan stories in readiness for the Himalayan 100 mile stage race (http://www.himalayan.com/) a mere six weeks later. It only took about ten miles, though, to realise that here was a lady who had a headspace much akin to my own; in other words nothing short of a broken leg would permit the letters D, N and F (in that order) to creep into our running alphabet, mind or body. Yes, we were both slow, back of the pack, just about the furthest from ‘elite’ (or even ‘good’ – haha) that it’s possible to get, but we were on a journey and that was all that mattered.
Perhaps I’ll run into Kelly again sometime in the future? Perhaps not. As is normal in these ‘one-off’ meetings, we’ve had no contact since. That said, the running bond is still in place and yesterday morning I felt I just had to text her and wish her well on her incredible Himalayan multi-day challenge (in case you don’t click on the link I’ll just add here that the Everest Marathon is on Day 3!!). The text was simple: Amanda here from HP40. Thinking of you embarking on an amazing journey. Wanted to wish you success.Take care, stay safe, run well. Don’t stop when you’re tired; stop when you’re done!
The text I got back? OMG thank you so much for remembering and thank you for being the only person who understands! Everybody’s advice has been the other way round, but I’m going to smash it!
I wonder is it an ultrarunner’s nemesis to be surrounded by what I think is not so much a ‘lack’ of support but rather unintentionally misdirected support? Non-runners don’t care too much whether you’re running 5k or 50k, but whereas your 10k running buddy will tell you to go for it and push to the limit at the next race, this all changes as soon as the distance increases. Marathons? Yup, you’re already pushing boundaries running a marathon but marathons are so common nowadays – and more and more people are starting to realise that if you can walk then you can actually run a marathon if you want to, so supportive comments tend to be along the lines of ‘Yeah, go for it, Nutter’ or ‘Don’t forget to pace yourself’ – but nothing more than that.
Utter the word ‘ultra’, though – or talk in terms of anything over 26 miles – and suddenly, to the non-runner you’re a weirdo and they don’t want anything more to do with you, or they simply don’t know how to respond. ‘Standard-distance’ runners (as I’m going to call them) are suddenly at a bit of a loss, too – and the end result seems to be a bit of an impasse where everyone just gets on with what they’re doing and no-one really speaks about it at all. It’s funny. The subject of ultrarunning becomes the elephant in the room and there doesn’t seem to be any way of explaining that that step from marathon to ultra (in my super-limited and exceedingly subjective experience) becomes so much less about the running and so much more about the journey, about discovery, about learning.
This leads me back to Kelly’s reply to my text and the obvious misguided support for her incredible adventure, because it’s ultimately incomprehensible to the majority that endurance events aren’t about the run, the injuries (variable lol) or the pain (inevitable). They are all about learning – and the last thing an ultrarunner wants to hear before hitting that start line is the voice of concern (difficult as that may be for close family). ‘Be careful’, ‘Don’t push too hard’, ‘It’s not worth the suffering’, ‘When it gets too hard, don’t be afraid to stop’ or ‘I’m worried about you, why are you doing this?’ … Grrrrr – all voices of concern and of course they have their time and place, but leading up to an endurance event isn’t either the time OR the place! Hmmmmm. The more I write the more I’m realising just how crazy that sounds. However, during the 40m High Peaks Kelly slowed down massively for several miles and moaned about her stomach, how ill she was feeling, how everything was going tits up. Cruelly (or not?), I refused to express any kind of concern. The last thing you want when you hit the wall and are ready to sniffle and curl up and die – is for your running buddy to curl up and die with you. I offered water and confirmation that it was only X km to the next checkpoint. An hour later I was in the same position. Kelly’s words of comfort were ‘I know how that feels. Just keep going. It’ll pass.’ Perfect.
So, you get the idea? Crazy as it is, ultrarunners need the same ‘support’ as you’d give to someone going out for their first 5k! I’m incredibly and unbelievably lucky. I seem to be surrounded by people who just ‘get’ this – but most people, including Kelly it appears, are not.
So Kelly? GO SMASH IT – just as you’ve planned!! I read an article the other day which said that ‘having fun isn’t always fun’. They were talking about ultras, of course, and I think it’s the perfect description of ultrarunning – fun without fun LOL With that in mind, Kelly Thorne, I hope you have a LOT of fun on Everest.
But what do I know? I know nothing! I’m building on my philosophy here and loving the new outlook on life that even ‘training’ for an ultra has given me. It’s very special. It’s new, it’s exciting, I aspire simply to just not come last … and I think I love it most of all because it’s so far out of my comfort zone and there is SO much to learn. Now … I wonder if I can afford a bus to the Himalayas …
Amanda – you write very well. I understand exactly what you are talking about. I know a couple of people who “get it” but not many. Generally people are more impressed if you are doing a 10k. I’ve stopped telling people what I do now, if they ask I will answer enthusiastically until I see their eyes glaze over. My journey since L2B has been life affirming. I’m fitter, faster and stronger now than I ever was. I not only expect pain after a good session, I welcome it, it feels good. A friend of mine is doing his first 10k in Dec and I said i’d recce the course with him. I’m going to run to the start (not drive), recce the course at his race pace and then run home. He thinks I’m crazy, I don’t see anything wrong in that!
I don’t know who said this but it’s true “There is a magic in misery. Just ask any ultra runner.”