I typically ask myself this question at least once every ultra I run. And I don’t ask this in a joking, “gosh, what have I gotten myself into” way either. When I start questioning my reason for being hours into a run with hours left to go, it’s 100% serious. Sometimes it’s just a fleeting thought that passes through my head, but sometimes this question will be front and center for hours on end.
You wouldn’t think that self doubt would come up, while I’m doing something I enjoy so much. Or you wouldn’t think that I’d consistently question something I love. Maybe I just have a love/hate relationship with ultras. OK. That’s not true. There’s never any hate. But there are definitely times where I wish I had never heard of races beyond 26.2 miles.
This feeling always seems to catch me off guard, too. I’ve run enough ultras at this point that nothing should surprise me, but this always seems to sneak up on me. I’ll be cruising along doing great and the next thing I know, thoughts of dropping start dancing through my head. It’s not usually brought on by acute physical pain. My legs and body may ache a bit, but this is definitely more of a mental issue than a physical one. It’s like I can feel my body start to break down and I just extrapolate what my body is going to be like after another 20 to 40 miles (i.e. in a fetal position by the side of the trail). I’ve never gotten to that point physically, but my mind doesn’t seem to know that. It just assumes things will continue to progress southward until I hit rock bottom.
One of the best known ultra sayings is that “It doesn’t always get worse.” And while I may question for a brief time why I would want to subject my body and mind to the stress of an ultra, this will usually pass because it doesn’t always get worse. I have found that in all but the most rare cares, it does get better. Much, much better. I wouldn’t call these cleansing or cathartic episodes. It’s just life. Maybe at some point I’ll be able to do these races without questioning my participation. Hopefully, it’ll be my next race in Maryland. If not, I’ll just keep plugging away until the race turns around for me.
Do you ever question your hobbies?