At races, you end up talking to a bunch of different people over the course of the day. Two recent conversations stand out. While they were very different in specifics, both had the same underlying theme.
The first was at Eastern States where another runner was planning to drop at Hyner Run. He’d finished some other 100s including ES100 and just wasn’t feeling it. He had even debated not starting the race. Turns out he loves to train with typical weekly mileage upwards of 100 miles, but racing 100 miles just wasn’t his thing anymore.
The second chat happened at Labor Pain. I had volunteered with this guy at another race and he was there to cheer on the runners and do some pacing later on in the day. He mentioned that he doesn’t race as much as he used to, but still does a lot of running and recently set a FKT on an Appalachian Trail section.
In both cases, these very accomplished runners decided that racing, either a specific distance or in general, wasn’t for them. They loved to run, just not that way. And so they don’t. Life really is too short to spend it doing things you don’t like to do.
If you want to be successful with ultras, at a bare minimum you need to enjoy running. You don’t necessarily have to be good at it, but you better enjoy lacing up your shoes and hitting some pavement or trails (You Do You). But while you need to run a decent amount, there’s a wide spectrum of training that’s possible and still be a decent ultrarunner. Long runs, speed workouts, hill repeats, fartleks, core strengthening, stretching, etc., etc. There’s a borderline infinite number of ways that you can train to run ultras. Too often we get overly worked up about being perfect in whatever plan we’ve come up with when the reality is that you can get 90% of the way there by just running. So figure out how you like to train and do as much of that as you want to. In 8 years of running ultras, I’ve only done three speed workouts. Why? Because I don’t like running fast. So I don’t.
And you get to define what success is. Maybe it’s running fast times and finishing at the front of the pack. Most ultrarunners that I’ve come across though gravitate to the community because it’s not about pace or finishing place. Just finishing these races is accomplishment enough. Even if it’s DFL, which itself can be a pretty good place considering that only 50-75% of the starters finish some races.
Also keep in mind that your definition of You will change over time. Probably dramatically so. And that’s totally fine. Don’t forget that your definition of You at some point was non-runner. So feel free to experiment with all things running (yes, even 5Ks). Who knows when you’ll stumble across a better mousetrap. The only thing worse than realizing you’ve been doing something wrong all these years, is to never discover your perfect thing.