The Joy Of Running Ultramarathons
Recently, I was reminded of my joy for running ultramarathons.
For me, it is a joy of simply moving through these spaces, a joy independent of time, pace, place,
It is a joy of camaraderie, of gratitude for simply being able to toe the line, for connecting with
others, a joy of simply being.
Sure, with each race comes the opportunity to run well and perhaps, PR. But ultramarathons
vary not just in distance, but also weather, elevation gain, and distance from home. Runners
themselves may also vary from race to race because…well, life. And the longer the
ultramarathon, the more variables are at work, meaning more could potentially go wrong and
Sometimes I love to just adventure run, exploring new trails without a schedule. The miles pass
and the body is made stronger, seemingly without effort, as I find myself immersed in the
scenery. A few months ago, I “accidentally ran” a half marathon, as I went exploring Mt. Pisgah
and a local trail in Saranac Lake, not giving much energy to how far or how fast, but rather
immersed in my joy of traveling by foot. I completed my first winter summit of Baker Mountain
in Saranac Lake because the trail conditions were good, the body was good, and I really wanted
to see the view from the top in winter…so I did. I ran 16 miles on the Black Diamond trail in
Ithaca when I was curious to approach Taughannock Falls from above for the first time. I still
plan to return to repeat this adventure run while adding in the North and South Rim trails,
allowing me to circle the falls, as I ran out of time to complete this during the previous run. I also
“accidentally ran” 16 miles last winter when I completed most of an 8-mile road run before
deciding to stop by my trails…just to have a look… Finding that the trails were perfect, I
proceeded to run another 8 miles on those.
I felt free to just run.
In fact, I’ve always been most inspired by Zach Miller’s Barr Camp runs, during which he would
just run through the mountains for several hours, using only the timer on his Casio watch to
measure elapsed time.
Ultramarathons are a means by which to spread this experience out over many hours. Seasons
appear to change over the course of a day, as the morning cool gradually gives way to warmth as
the day wears on. Mid-day temperatures urge us to adjust our strategies, as we focus that much
more on hydration, electrolytes, and, for some of us, stuffing ice into our bras. A bra and
hydration vest stuffed with ice cubes felt amazing during my solo 50-miler last summer. The
late afternoon hours bring cooling temperatures and a growing sense of accomplishment, as we
watch the number of miles covered continue to grow. The evening hours bring a quieting of the
spirit and thoughts of family home at dinnertime, as the day gradually winds down and evolves
into night. And for those of us continuing into the night, the landscape is suddenly transformed,
with moving shadows and daytime creatures retiring as nocturnal creatures emerge. The Pine
Creek Challenge 100K showed me more little frogs in the span of a couple post-sunset hours
than I had literally seen all summer.
After the effort, my body aches rewardingly from the miles just traveled. Stiff legs remind me of
the challenges I just overcame. My heart is full, knowing that anything is possible if only you
want it badly enough and if you simply believe.
The impossible is made possible.
Just put one foot in front of the other. You just keep on moving.
I try to bring this perspective into every ultramarathon I run. Each race is an opportunity to best
a previous time, but being healthy enough to toe the line, watching the results of my training
come to fruition, and crossing the finish line, are my foundation.
However, a third-place finish in the Pine Creek Challenge 100K last September showed me how
all these factors sometimes come together for me.
Running ultramarathons is a joy of moving through beautiful spaces, of having the fitness to
manage the terrain, and of friendship. At times, it is also a joy for a cold refreshing beer after a
hard effort. A cold beer handed to you by a fellow runner as you cross the finish line of the
English’s Ridge Rumble 50K is the best tasting beer in the world. It is a joy knowing that, in
these spaces, many of the fastest runners hang out at the finish to cheer on the rest. Regardless
of whether the goal was besting a previous time or simply running for hours, we’ve all felt joy
together. We’ve all suffered together. We have overcome together. In this moment, these trails
have brought us all together.