I stumbled upon this video about running 100 miles and thought it did a great job of capturing the physical and emotional toll of running the distance. It’s about two guys who have been doing ultras for a couple years and decide to step up to the 100 mile distance. The first third is about their training and then the last 20 minutes documents the run itself. Just as the race is about to begin, they mention that they feel like the least qualified people to be at the starting line. This really resonated with me as this is how I felt for the first several years of my ultra career. Not just the first couple ultras or the first time I would step up to a new distance. It wasn’t until my fifth 100 at Cloudsplitter (after three finishes!) that I finally started to feel like I belonged. Talk about an inferiority complex.
And it’s all based on a completely false narrative: that ultra runners have always been ultra runners or are moving up in distance because they’re bored knocking out sub-3 hour marathons. Ultras are the ultimate hardcore and in order to be in the club you have to be hardcore as well. This is what the magazine and podcasts sell us on a daily basis. Sure “normal” people run ultras, but those “normal” people get up at 4am to get their 15 miles done before cooking breakfast for their family. And that’s not me. And my guess is that’s not you as well.
But that’s OK, because the truth is that the average ultra career only lasts 3-5 years. Sure there are people at the starting line who have a hundred finishes over twenty years, but you’re ten times as likely to be standing next to someone who’s only been running ultras for less than a year. This is a wonderfully open and welcoming community and the more I look at the longevity of others, the more I realize this is absolutely critical because without new faces continually showing up the sport would soon wither and die. So if you’re new to ultras, don’t be intimidated by the people standing next to you at your next race. More likely than not, they’re just as inexperienced as you are. And for those that have been around for a while, they’ll end up suffering just as much as you will so you’ll have that bond with them soon enough. Everyone at these races is there to challenge themselves no matter the distance or the fitness level. Heck, the less fitness and experience you have just means you’re getting a bigger challenge.
In a nutshell, we’re all qualified to be here.