As you know, this year I made one of my dreams a reality: I ran the Canyon de Chelly Ultra in Arizona. Simply put, it was amazing. I managed to get a prize (a lovely jacket) that I keep wearing all the time (I am actually wearing it now while I am writing as it’s freezing in bloody London). What is the Canyon De Chelly Ultra? Well, in case you don’t know, it is a 34-mile race in the Navajo nation, where you first run in the sand and then climb up a canyon, and finally go back to where you started. You can read about it here: http://frenchyummymummy.com/running-in-the-wild-wild-west-the-canyon-de-chelly-ultra/ I have run several marathons, ultras and 100k races over the last couple of years. Yes, despite my ripe age (and two children, a business and a husband who spends all his time travelling the world, but hey, we’ve all got our own stories). I keep being asked how we ultra runners do it. The thing is, I have no idea. I am just an average runner (serious runners who read this are probably way faster than me). My only edge is this: I don’t give up. This made me wonder: what do ultra runners do differently? Are we really made of sterner stuff? Here is what I could think of:
1 For us, distance is relative: a 5k run is a not even a run, and a 10k run is a short run. A short long run starts at 10 miles. A long run is anything up to 100 miles. A friend of mine told me that she was a bit tired and had only run 4 miles that day. That’s just us.
2 We are eternal optimists. Or at least I am. For instance, when I found out that I was going to run in the sand, I trained in Hyde Park, in London, where the Royal Horse Guards train their horses. Needless to say, I was way undertrained: the sand in Arizona was much, much softer (and lasted slightly longer than the 300m in Hyde park). But I didn’t worry. I should have, but I didn’t. That’s just me. My calves survived. Just.
3 We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know that we are going to face at least one massive low, and want to quit at some point during the race. We push through. It’s alright, we just have to accept it and get to the ‘other side’. For instance, I was convinced, during my first 100k and after 8 hours of run, that I was going to die of pneumonia there and then. Before you judge me, you need to understand that I grew up in the sun and that London isn’t well-known for its warm climate. And my mind was probably playing up. Needless to say, I was completely fine. In Arizona, I had a panic attack while climbing on top on the canyon (I am not very good with heights). I stopped for a couple of minutes right in the middle of the climb. Took a few deep breaths. There wasn’t much I could do except carrying on. So I carried on;
4 Food, glorious food. Even when we don’t want to eat (for some curious reasons I am not really hungry when I race), we need to. And we learn (the hard way!) that the stomach has a mind of its own. You don’t want any details, trust me on this one. If you can survive an ultra just having gels, you are incredibly lucky!
5 Pain? What pain? After a while everything hurts anyway. You just have to accept it.
6 Don’t be afraid of crying. My theory is that a good cry might makes a loo break unnecessary and is therefore a good thing if you want a good time. So cry away, baby!
7 I personally don’t think that I am going to run an ultra when I start. I run to the next aid station, or to the next turn, sometimes just one step at a time…It’s all about breaking down the task in manageable chunks, right? Let’s not overthink it anyway. At some point, you just need to go.
8 We embrace our inner crazy (or at least I do). When I run, I have no filters. I just have to accept my impulsive energy. I yell if I feel like it (if you ask, it’s a Navajo thing. That’s my excuse anyway). And it’s all about being in the moment and not thinking about anything else. It’s pure bliss, in fact.
9. We know that hard work beats talent, and that talent without work doesn’t mean anything. In short, we train.
10. And we are not going to live as if we were already dead anyway, right ?
So what’s your verdict? Did I forget something? What do you think of ultra runners? Are we really THAT different?