Fact: While I have now completed an ultramarathon, this does not make me an ultramarathoner. The former suggests I survived. The latter suggests I liked it and suddenly signed up for more and will gradually morph into one of those humans who has mostly a wardrobe of race T-shirts, running shoes and dorky watches.
I’m more of a flip-flop and bathrobe girl.
As I embarked months ago upon this journey to train for and complete an ultra, it was a symbolic if not aggressive approach to approaching 40. If aging is coming for me, why not just run straight into it? Also, I was right: Running for hours on end does simulate the aging process, particularly the grumpy, arthritic aspect.
I spent the last several months mostly arguing with my coach (sorry, Mike) about why I never wanted to run as far as he suggested, forwarding articles about a glass of wine being the equivalent of an hour in the gym, and saying things like, “Yeah, it was only 4 miles, but they were steep.” If Mike knows anything, it’s running. Clearly, he doesn’t know obstinate Norwegians.
It would be like me, for example, to pick one of the hardest races of the Northwest for my first ultra: 50 kilometers (which is something around 31 miles) of technical single-track trail with 10,000 feet of gain. Because if you’re going to run for a long time on sharp rocks, why not make it sporty? I signed up for the Yakima Skyline, one of Rainshadow Running’s famously gorgeous races, then made excuses to not train until the panic of failing outweighed my disdain of waking up early.
One would have considered me questionably trained. On more than one occasion, Mike suggested I consider maybe dropping out. Obviously, he’s crazy. So I showed up on race day, and my longest run was a 13-mile training run/hike (but it was steep). I am in no way advocating anyone follow Ammi’s Procrastinator Plan for Surviving Arguably Ill-Advised Adventures. And while maybe I didn’t run very much, I play hard when I can.
I decided, over the eight-plus hours I was trudging over mountains that day, that life and ultramarathons have a lot in common. I spent a lot of time focused on the immediate and forgetting to look at the view. I got distracted from my ultimate goal (finish) by rallying down the fun descents and taking risks. I had moments of suffering, but they passed. I had moments of joy. They also passed.
The most profound observations I had on this race were that a) sports bras are a lot more comfortable than they were; and b) if I treated myself as compassionately in life as I was on this race, I might just finish life with a smile, too.
When I got tired, I slowed down. If I got hungry, I ate. When I was struggling, I paired up with another runner to commiserate the climb. When I was skipping (or just not tripping) down a mountain, I soaked up every playful drop of fun and gratitude for that moment. I had slept enough. I was comfortable enough. And I ate a bunch of “electrolyte chews” that are basically sports-justified candy.
I finished. I even finished in under my expected time (which isn’t hard if you just lower your expectations to something like, “How long would a blind, peg-legged pirate with a seeing-eye-parrot take?”). I had no regrets. My loved ones had cheered for me. I had paced myself carefully. I had listened to my body. It had responded with strength and gratitude.
Most important, I finished feeling happy. If life is an ultramarathon, I want it to go just like that. With pizza and beer at the finish, and not even a blister.
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