Life lessons learned from my husband's ultramarathon.
A few years ago, almost as a fluke, a couple of soccer dads decided to train for and run in an "ultramarathon". My husband was one of those dads. I learned that an ultramarathon, or "ultra", includes running any amount over a traditional 26.2 mile marathon. I thought it was a mid-life crisis kind of thing and that he would get it out of his system—hopefully without getting too injured—and that it would be a "one and done" event. I was way wrong. His passion for running ultras has grown and there is no indication of it waning.
Last month my son and I went to Maryland to cheer him on and support him during his 2nd annual 100 mile ultra. I learned a few life lessons while observing him and his ultra-peers that I thought you might enjoy and maybe also benefit from. Here they are.
Just because YOU believe your thoughts doesn't mean they're true. When I see my husband going out the door for one of his 20 mile practice runs on a Sunday morning, then returning only to run another 10 miles later in the day, I often have thoughts like "he's out of his mind" and "he's definitely going to hurt himself" and "it's just a matter of time." When these kinds of thoughts arise in my mind I wholeheartedly believe them. But that doesn't mean they're true. And, it doesn't mean that anyone else shares my thoughts. My husband certainly doesn't. And most people at last weekend's ultra didn't share my thoughts. Many folks I met believed that running ultras are fun and exciting, strategic and adventurous. And while I was at the race, I warmed up to that point of view too. It WAS exciting! It WAS fun watching the runners and cheering them on. I could see what my husband loved about it. And, I could also more easily see what happens when I'm believing my negative predictions. I become anxious. I ruminate. I worry. I get annoyed with him and lash out. Every little ache and soreness he expresses I see as evidence for my beliefs, and I call him out: ["See? Ultra's are going to kill you!!"] I get crazy. When I believe these kinds of thoughts, I start to imagine him suffering on the trail, or injuring himself PERMANENTLY. I imagine him a few years from now with a chronic injury, maybe unable to walk. If he's out for a long run, I imagine him collapsing from overdoing it. It's truly extraordinary how my imagination runs wild and that I believe all that hype! And then, he'll walk through the door, all sprightly and spry, and I wake up from my beliefs. Reality check.
Lesson: check your thoughts, because they may not be true.
It helps to have a pacer. By the time my hub arrived at mile 60 around 9pm on Saturday evening, he had been running for about twelve hours, taking only occasional breaks to eat, change socks and stretch. His friend Amy was waiting with us at mile 60 to join Pete at that point and run with him through the night. She volunteered to be his pacer. As his pacer, she was his support, her sole purpose to help him keep going. She helped him keep a steady consistent pace, keep his mind alert by engaging him in conversation and redirect him if his mood started to wane or his mind started to run amok (lots of weird stuff happens to an ultra runner's mind in the nighttime hours, from what I have learned). She kept him ON POINT. It was obvious how much Pete benefited from Amy's mere presence overnight.
Lesson: everyone needs a pacer—at least every once in a while—to keep them on track.
Stop at the aid stations along the way. Every so many miles along the route there were aid stations well-stocked with just about anything an ultra runner could possibly need at any given time: a variety of hot and cold food, electrolyte drinks, blister repair, chairs, specialists, moral support, and more. The volunteers at the aid stations were magnificent. They would cater to whatever the runners wanted or needed. They might treat their blisters, cover them with blankets, take their shoes and socks off for them and rub their feet. The aid station folks were there to serve.
Lesson: look for the aid stations in your life, and unabashedly take aid when you need it.
Training and experience goes a long way, but anything can happen that can't be predicted. A great strategy for running an ultra is to have the long view in mind. It's not helpful to dash out at the start at top speed: you will likely burnout and not finish. It's also not helpful to take too many stops: you might lose momentum or be disqualified if you don't hit the critical time marks. It's all about pacing yourself, knowing how to engage with the just-right quality of energy, when and how to fuel-up, with the right types of food and drink that support your body, when and how to rest along the way. The training that the runners put in before the race go a long way in assuring race completion. My hub learned from the race last year. He knew what kind of training he needed and what kind of food and rest was the best support for him. He didn't overdo it, and he didn't underdo it. And that's how he approached the run. However, training isn't everything. I met an experienced ultra runner the following morning as I waited for hub at the finish line. She had trained for this run. She had a wealth of experience in many runs. And yet, she shared that this was the first run she DNF'd (Did Not Finish). She explained, "There are so many variables in an ultra that can't be predicted. You have to discern what's best for you overall".
Lesson: your past informs your present, and your present prepares you for your potential future. And yet, anything can happen. Check-in, find the just-right action and take it, moment-by-moment.
How do these lessons resonate with you? What are you believing that may not be true? Who or what helps you to pace and stay on track? How does your past inform your present? What is your just-right, next step?
Learning lessons with you along the way with you,