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De-mystifying ultra marathons?

Posted on 03 April 2011

Is an ultra marathon so special? Is it really difficult to do? Are the people involved with ultras some magical creatures in the shape of man, performing uncomprehendable feats?

Well that is not how I see it. Every time I have been to an ultra marathon I have met a truly great crowd of people. But at none of these occasions I have ever doubt if they were human or not (ok , with a few exceptions of the likes of Drew and maybe Irish Tom)… These are simply quite ordinary people doing something extraordinary. It still doesn’t make them foreign or space travellers visiting the Earth…

Yet we so often read about the “Toughest race on earth” and how impossible it was to run so far in such short time through such dangerous place. Take now when Marathon Des Sables – MdS – one of the more famous ultra marathons take off and many people write about this as if they are going to the Moon, but without the use of a space ship… If ultras were so difficult, why is it then that people that have trained for less than a year make it to the finish line? People that have ordinary day-to-day jobs manage to complete what is the “toughest race in the world”.

I think it is time to stand up and de-mystify the ultra marathons. Stand up and say that it is not so different to what many other people do. Of course it requires dedication, mental and physical preparations, and most of all the will to finish. But it is hardly something that is beyond most people to complete, if they only wanted to do it badly enough.

Having said that, of course there are other risks with ultras then with playing tennis one hour with a friend on the course in Hampstead Heath. When you go into an ultra you have to know your body and be prepared to listen to the signals your body sends and be in control to know when you should ignore them, and when you should truly listen.

But it has not stopped many of the people I have seen on the start AND finish lines of these events. Single-mothers, people running their own business, people that were told that they would never walk again, people that are overweight and the list goes on and on. Of course these people didnt walk on to the start-line by chance or without training. But when you stand there on the start line the most important asset is your ambition – your will to finish the race. This will power is what will keep you going, not the fact that either of the participants have super-human powers or strengths.

To me ultras is not about doing something that is risking my life or incredibly dangerous. To me it is about pushing my body to what I thought was the limit, only then to discover I can go further. It is about feeling alive, and taking strength from the experiences.
But it is not about doing something that would be impossible for any of my friends. In fact it is quite the opposite. Any of my friends could do an ultra marathon if they wanted it bad enough.

(having said this, I guess I am a little bit happy that all of my friends are not into running ultras. Just so that I from time to time can still ride on the mystical wave of ultra running – enjoy it whilst it last *smile*)

One Response to “De-mystifying ultra marathons?”

  1. Jamile Siddiqui says:

    To nick the description of Mark Gillett, the Marathon Des Sables is ‘the best running holiday you’ll ever have’. But that doesn’t raise as much sponsorship as running ‘The toughest race on earth’ 😉 Ultras always amaze me because of the diversity of the runners. Two years ago I didn’t run and now I run Ultras, I hadn’t even run a Marathon before I decided to run the Namibia Ultra. You are completely correct Joakim, anyone can do this, you just have to want to do it.