I understand the appeal of adventuring and a new challenge but I have also come to realize that there is a bit of an unhealthy outlook in the ultra-running world that almost all of us fall victim to at some point. What’s the next big thing? I’ve done a 50k so now I need to do a 50 miler, now a 100k, now a 100 miler and now there’s 200 milers and if I’ve done one distance that must mean I need to go out there and prove I can do the next distance and I’m not a true ultra-runner unless I’m constantly chasing the next big distance (run on sentence for effect). There are a lot of other factors at play when deciding to do a long distance race, with myself included, but I’d be lying if I said that that one voice in the back of my head wasn’t one of them…at least initially. Now that I’ve done a few ultras and I’ve felt how attempting a new distance (and failing) feels, I have readjusted my reasons as to why and that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am right or that anyone else is wrong. I just want people to think a little deeper. If you think you need to prove yourself to anyone, other than yourself, you don’t. If someone feels that you need to prove yourself to them, you don’t. If you ran a 50k and really enjoy that distance and want to run only 50ks for the rest of your racing career, that’s what you should do. If you ran an ultra and decide that you actually really enjoy shorter distances much more, that’s what you should do. Don’t get caught up in the underlying peer pressure of deep seeded competitiveness in a sport that is innately individual.
When I first got into trail running, it was really easy to get wrapped up in that line of thinking because of the people I was surrounding myself with. Those that claimed they were racing for fun but were actually really highly competitive and would use their racing to compare themselves to others and compete with them. I was very confused with this as, here I was a very beginner average trail runner just wanting to go out, have fun, enjoy the beauty of it all and simply finish, but I was experiencing this aura of not feeling that great about my accomplishments. The competitive nature surrounding it was putting a damper on my joy. I started to feel like oh, I guess I do need to be chasing the next big race if I want to be a real ultra-runner; I need to prove myself to my friends that I’m legit. I will tell you right now, if there are people in your life that ever make you feel this way, whether it’s purposeful or not, you should probably leave that situation. You should never feel bad about your accomplishments and think they aren’t good enough…and you definitely shouldn’t let that taint your decisions for doing any future races.
I’m going to be attempting the 100k distance for a second time this year (technically my first attempt was for 72 miles, this one will be a true 100k attempt). I thought long and hard as to why and IF I wanted to go out there and try it again. At first, I did have a little bit of that ego driving me, to prove that I have the ability to do it. However, when it came down to it, I knew that no matter the outcome I just wanted to try again. To challenge myself, to experience the beauty of the course of the new race I chose and see if I can get to that finish line if I am being set up for more success (local race with minimal travel, can train on the terrain that’s more familiar and one I know and love, shorter overall distance, can use trekking poles, access to more crew and pacers and a few other minor but possibly game changing things). I knew that if I made my decision to try again based solely on ego, that it would just be another failure. That’s not enough to drive me. Sure, it can get me to show up for my training runs and push myself but will it get me through a low on the course? Will it pound loud enough in my ears to keep me moving if (ha-ha when) it starts to get painful? Likely not. Maybe that is a good enough reason for some people and who am I to say there is anything wrong with that. No one really has any say on what’s right or wrong when it comes to why someone chooses to run or race. We may think we do, but really we don’t. My challenge to you is to at least ask yourself the question. Maybe that answer won’t actually come until later like it did for me when I tried something and realized it didn’t bring me the joy I thought it would afterward. Maybe you’ll know your answer right away and that’s great! Whatever your reason for running and racing, I hope that it’s bringing you happiness, challenges, changes, beauty, laughter and adventure.