Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Am I An Ultra?

My most recent read is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. In it, he explores the phenomenon of ultra-long distance runners, running races most renowned track coaches consider "somewhere between competitive eating and recreational S&M".

Cute but fair. I admit I'm one of the many to poke fun at these ultramarathon athletes; not so much disparaging their abilities, but their sanity. I can run 26.2 miles, but who in their right mind would want to go 100? On foot? Over hazardous terrain?

Since I left New Zealand, my running has slowed down in a way I never wanted. I assumed that since I returned to the states, with its ample supply of Whole Foods' stores, 'crazy' runners, and shoes my size, that I'd have everything I need to carry on building my distance a piece at a time.

Instead, I felt as though I were just going through the motions of running... still finding it a welcome release at the end of a workday, but more of an obligation rather than fun. Yes, fun! Running is supposed to be fun. I wrote a blog on my Matador account a while back after spending some time in a water park in Kiwi country and getting chased by a few kids some days later. The point being, running was fun as a kid. The thrill was in the chase, not the need for speed workouts, distance building, or always staying on the straight path. Running over rocks, jumping on benches, randomly changing direction, and speeding up and down as you see fit, not part of a grand workout scheme.

McDougall understands this all too well when he unearths the secrets of some of the greatest ultramarathoners on the planet; these people aren't concerned about stress fractures, making good time, going for fame and glory (how many ultras do you know by name?) - it's all in the love of the run. Those who experience the race just like a child sprinting to the top of a jungle gym are inevitably the best suited for the long, long distances.

That's how I feel. Running marathons has been challenging, don't get me wrong, but I feel more comfortable with going a nice and easy pace over an insane distance. Back in college, 26.2 miles was just insane for me, but now I'm not so sure. I want to appreciate the run like the Tarahumara: training without concern for pace or distance, running not for release or necessity, for for pure enjoyment. Imagine that, if you will... some of you probably believe you do run just for the enjoyment. That's entirely possible - but is it always true? Do you ever feel like you just want to get outside and go an easy ten? Then reward yourself with another?

I think I do. So I tried an experiment. Night runs have always been fun for me when I'm in a big city - I dart in and around both lanes of a major road, causing motorists to honk and those sitting on their porches for a late night drink to stare in awe at the crazy runner. This time, however, I cut loose. I didn't go as fast as I possibly could have, but I kept the pace that was comfortable to me and let my inner child take the reins.

When I came across benches, I jumped up and ran right across them.

When I felt like it, I yelped and hollered to the heavens.

When my arms needed to move, I raised one up, lowered the other, and moved like I was one of the kids in the 1920's who saw the first airplanes.

I didn't limit myself to the road, or even sidewalks alongside them. Where there was an interesting path, I took it. When I wanted to explore an area, I zoomed right in.

The result? It actually was a fun little run. Now just to hang onto this feeling, and let it flow through me for the next series of long runs...

1 comment:

sakurazero said...

I've got to hand it to long-distance runners. I personally think it's a self-discipline thing to them. I abhor running. I did it in the military because I had to. I do it now for exercise only and when I hit 2 miles I'm done. I've always wondered if it has to do with a person's build or if that type of stamina is something anyone can develop.

I have always been really good for short distances (I used to do 100m and 4x100 in junior high and high school). I did martial arts for 14 years and was in the tournament circuit for 8 and always did fine doing the 2 minute matches... but put me on a track or road and tell me to go 6 miles (which was a regular occurrence in the Army) and I died. LOL