After running my first 200, I was absolutely flabbergasted to discover thousands of people had watched my live tracker. Amongst these excited viewers were people from all walks of life. Beginning runners, athletes from other sports, heck folks that don’t even like running were fixated by little GPS dots traveling painfully slow across a vast desert course. Every single person I talked to expressed excitement and genuine inspiration. I know the long trail has many lessons to teach…those lessons are the reason why I continue to lace of my shoes and head out. But what is the draw of the 200 miler to the rest of the world? What does this small group of fringe ultra athletes represent?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about the Fundamentals. Nowhere else will you find pure endurance fundamentals like the really, really long trail.
-Just getting here was a journey-
I can vouch for the fact that reaching the start line of a race is often the hardest part of the entire event. The training required to complete an extreme running event well is a long and a necessarily voluminous process. Athletes need a mature and patient approach to their programming over many years which requires understanding and deploying the fundamentals of conditioning for their own body and life. Believe it or not, this is extraordinary feat in an era of quick fixes and instantaneous gratification.
-Efficiency of process is on center stage-
Drop bag contents, the precise location of gear in a running pack, calories per hour, self care procedures, perceived effort on the course…these athletes have fine tuned the process of their endurance experience. Every item and technique is vetted. Long trail athletes are some of the most efficient process athletes in the world.
-Endurance is strength over many steps-
Just like life itself, endurance is about persistence vs raw power. Nowhere is this more evident than in a 200 mile foot race where a slight amount of unnecessary tension per step can add up hours of lost time because of fatigue. The power of maturity in pacing is a win here. This isn’t a sport for the macho. Ego is either checked at the door or the trail will teach you there is no place for it out here.
The mind of an ultra runner is an interesting thing and likely the largest curiosity point for those outside of our fringe. Veteran ultra runners know darkness always comes. The highs and lows in a 200 are many and sometimes extreme. Athletes must run their own race to run their best race. We travel alone much of the time. It is true-ultra athletes are eager students of mind training. We know fear is something that we can not stop. It is a waste of energy to fight the fear. And attempting to bottle fear up only allows it to grow into a monster. The most successful ultra runner allows fear to flow through. In this, long trail athletes are some of the most self aware athletes, knowing where they stand inside as well as their place in the environment surround them. The veteran ultra runner concentrates on the now and the power of each step forward vs the entire problem. The run becomes a meditation.
-We are the Driven-
There is no money is this sport. We do this for personal reasons. We run for the love of the journey. At the end of the day, everyone watching and the athletes themselves can see Drive is what got us here and Drive is what carries us to the finish line. In a world full of commercialized sports, the long trail remains purely available to those who are Driven. Drive is a universal concept and fundamental to a successful life.
Anyone who knows me knows I recommend lacing up your shoes and experiencing the trail first hand. If you can’t do that, volunteering or participating in our community in another way is brilliant. Whether you are an aspiring athlete, a veteran coach, a fellow human in need of a little bit of inspiration or like me, an ultra runner, the long trail will continue to offer fundamental lessons for all willing to accept them.
-The Phoenix Running