Why Run an Ultra?

Ben Jones unpacks the motives behind the madness of ultra running

I’m writing this to try to put some method behind the madness, to explain to myself as much as to anyone reading why I’ve decided to run an ultramarathon.

What first comes to mind is the desire to test my capabilities. There are innumerable stories every day of amazing humans doing incredible feats that go beyond their limits.

For me, runners epitomise this in many ways; from the brand-new runner’s bravery to put on some trainers for the very first time; to the people who run hundreds of marathons over consecutive days; to the adventurers tackling obscene distances in the most inhospitable world terrains.

Runners break boundaries

Running, in many ways, is a form of masochism. I think it is for me, anyway. It’s the great leveller. It keeps me on the straight and narrow. It gives me purpose, discipline – and, in a way most of all, the thrill of breaking boundaries.

This masochism, and this drive to forever go that extra step, is addictive.

Runners don’t ‘need’ to do what they’re doing. They don’t need to go out for tempo sessions when it’s pouring with rain.  They don’t need to turn down a beer with friends the night before a training session, or to leave loved ones at home on a weekend morning, or… you get the picture.

But those who choose to do these things are the ones who say no to staying inside their comfort zone. They’re the dreamers, the toilers, the strivers, the grafters.

Ultra allure

The ultra I’ve chosen is London to Brighton – 100k, 62.1 miles. With the training I’m conscious of the stresses I’m placing on my body and mind, and the demands I’m asking of them.

It’s uncharted territory for me. The jury still seems to be out on ultra training, compared to marathon training. The do’s and don’ts seem to be more varied, more changeable. This is natural. There are fewer people in this sport, and the broad definition of what constitutes an ultra (anything above marathon distance) means variability in advice is understandable.

As with anything, I’m trying to iron out creases in training, to practise and find what works for me. I give the same advice to anyone training for any distance: minimise surprises on race day by practising everything possible in advance.

All of this adds to the aura and the challenge of ultra running. It’s more hurdles to overcome. For me, it’s new and it’s exciting.

Beyond the “fun” run

But is it fun? This is a question I often ask myself. The answer I end up with is that ‘fun’ is too superficial a word to describe such an experience.

I’m not sure there’s a word that can describe it. The rewards are there to experience for anyone who does it. It’s addictive, compelling, character-building, confidence-boosting, challenging.

But ‘fun’ – I’m not sure. I think running can, and this may sound a little ridiculous or even egotistical, take you to a higher place. A kind of consciousness and perspective that can’t be achieved by many other things. It’s raw, natural, and connects you at once with your inner-self and your ancestors whose livelihood depended on the ability to run. We’re built to do it. Born to do it. It’s an antidote to modern life.

The curious runner

I run to ask questions of myself, and I run to find answers. The answers I find aren’t always the answers to the questions I’m asking. But I always find something valuable.

In many ways, it’s hugely time-consuming and therefore selfish. I couldn’t do it without the support and understanding of those around me. I think anyone who regularly runs would say the same. It takes a certain sort of person to run – and train for – these long distances. Behind every endurance runner is a special someone who shows belief without question. For me, I’d like to say thank you. You know who you are.

So why do I want to run an ultra?  Some of the reasons I’ve written above. Some I’m yet to find out. I hope, and expect, that training and running an ultra will help me find out more about myself.  I can’t wait to find out.

Ben is a running coach and keen amateur writer based in east London, offering a range of coaching and courses to runners locally and across the UK. See more at runwithben.co.uk

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