For most people, running 102 kilometres doesn’t really register on their list of desirable things to do in life. And with good reason I suppose. It was never really on my list of pleasurable things to do once either. And I’m still uncertain how it skipped the queue on my comparably sedate list. But doing something like that –putting yourself through indescribable physical and mental pain for 14.5 hours for fun like I found myself doing two weeks ago – quickly ensures you sling shot off the end of the ‘crazy’ scale in the eyes of your peers.
However, some people enjoy baking cakes for as many hours as I sleep. They are crazy. Others enjoy looking after ten kids under three years old. They are complete nutters. Then there are the ones who work multiple jobs, run a business, and volunteer for numerous organisations. All while appearing to run a super-organised household without turning into a mad woman as I would. Those people are definitely pinging at the end of the crazy scale.
And after months of having the words, ‘you are crazy!’ persistently fired at me in the lead up to my 102km running challenge last weekend, the dents started to penetrate my own doubtful mind. As I stood on the start line of the Tarawera Ultramarathon before sunup – naively oblivious to the 102 unforgiving and unpredictable kilometres that lay before me and the fact that I might still be running in darkness later that night – I did start to question my own mental state. Normal people don’t ‘run’ 102km. What if I am crazy too?
So what is crazy? There are three quite different definitions of ‘crazy’ in the Encarta dictionary to consider when making these accusations…
- Offensive Term
An offensive term meaning affected by a psychiatric disorder.
According to my husband, this is probably disputable. And I may have gone a little crazy when I lost my fifth toenail and was ordered to the couch with a bad case of FOMO and only three weeks left until race day. But speaking in general, I do know what day of the week it is and that Earth is blissfully safe from alien invasion (I hope). So far, so good.
Not showing good sense or practicality.
This is definitely not me. Check out http://list25.com/25-craziest-things-to-do-before-you-die/ If you think running 102km is for lunatics, then consider these crazies who are partaking in blindfolded sightseeing, extreme ironing (or anyone who actually enjoys ironing for that matter), shark surfing, solving rubrics cubes, waterfall kayaking and underwater golf. Now there’s a bunch of ridiculous activities that make no sense at all to me. I’m rating pretty low on the crazy scale at this stage.
- Very fond
Extremely fond of somebody or something.
I promise I’m not some crazy stalker person scrolling your Facebook profile and watching you brush your hair from afar. But if you were an unidentified runner dashing through the streets of Swan Hill without my knowledge, my inquisitive running mind would hunt you down and demand some form of identification. So I guess I am crazy! I am very, very crazy about running. I love running so much, that I wanted to run 102 kilometres. But please note: I also love singing and am NOT auditioning for the X-Factor. So I’m not that crazy. I know my limits.
So once I had redefined my not so ‘crazy’ self and realised that my 102km journey was driven solely by my passion for running, I knew that I was capable of anything. Just like eating a whole packet of Tim Tams in one sitting; it is completely crazy, but you completely smash the whole packet because you are driven by deep love. Running 102 kilometres is the same thing, right?
I’m not sure I’d say I completely smashed every kilometre, and 102 kilometres is difficult to describe in one blog piece, but here are some of the insightful things I learnt along my 14.5 hour journey in the New Zealand bush.
Mindful miles are a must
102 kilometres in the rugged outdoors has an uncanny ability to churn you up and spit you out like compost. Those endless miles dispose of the weak ones like bruised apples in the packing shed. If you want to end up in the beer tent at the end – damage free and with a shiny medal wrapped around your neck – you need to keep your wits about you at ALL times.
I soon worked out after several awkward face plants and embarrassing bum skids early on the race that it didn’t matter what speed I ran. If I wasn’t constantly scanning the trails for rocks and tree roots, I was DNF compost.
Appreciate your body
Just the fact that you are standing on the start line of a 102km running race at all is enough to prove that your body has been kind to you. So respect it. Some people can only dream of being able to walk one day, so appreciate the legs you were given.
Of course there are minor hiccups and periods of enforced rest that imposed on my rigid training plan along the journey, but as long as I listened to my body’s complaints during these months (it speaks for a reason), I had a fighting chance. As unattractive as my nail-less toes are, I appreciated every little one of those hideous things on the day for getting me to the finish line. Looks are not everything.
This event has been on my wish list for several years now. However, it has taken me a number of years to learn to respect my body enough to complete the challenge. I have experienced many bouts of overuse injuries that have sidelined me for months at a time (and perhaps brought out the definition of crazy in its truest form), but I now see these as a blessing. Smart training and gratitude is the key.
Pain is temporary
Pain is temporary. Achievement lasts forever. It is as simple as that. 14.5 hours of running may seem like a lot, but there are people who suffer for a lot longer.
Ultramarathons are a smorgasbord
Food is the cornerstone of life. You need it to survive and it’s the centrepiece of our social lives. Being a twelve course meal of aid stations and post race banquets, an Ultramarathon is no different. Everything is about the food. The week before is about eating. Race day is about eating (if you can keep it from shooting out both ends). Each leg of the race is about when you can eat again. And the week after is all about eating. In fact, it’s a good three-week buffet. And people wonder why I want to do it again.
Make friends on course
And choose them wisely. If they are offering you a few laughs, some kiwi/aussie banter and a bottle of bourbon at the end, they are keepers. If they tell you that 100km is the hardest thing you will ever do and declare that you will hate every minute, it’s time to let them loose.
But on a more serious note, making new friends along the way is a must. Thirty minutes of talking to someone is thirty minutes of distraction. There were several times on the day where some incredible human being saved me from a moment of self-doubt or pain, as I did for them.
This goes for off the course as well. Without loyal running friends to keep you company during the long lonely hours on the road or trail, it certainly makes training challenging. I am forever grateful for my supportive Swan Hill friends in the lead up to my event. They delivered me to the start line, which is already 90% of the journey.
Pain with a view
Why not drive 102 kilometres?’ they ask me. Makes sense. But if I was to drive to my finish line destination, I would have missed out on 102 kilometres of stunning, jaw dropping New Zealand scenery. If you are going to suffer, then why not do it in one of the most beautiful places in the world? With 60% of the trail traversing traditional Maori lands, I will never get another opportunity to experience these remote places again.
Since I made the switch to trail running and ultras, it has become less about personal bests and more about personal discovery. There’s something about immersing yourself in nature and removing yourself from civilisation that is soul changing. My entire core set of values has been transformed on these runs in the wilderness.
Every step is one step closer
Do you remember the kid at school who impatiently skipped the queue and ended up being sent to the back? He went straight for his destination and failed. The only way to process 102 kilometres is to break it down into reasonable chunks for our mind to process. ‘I am going to focus on getting through the next 20km first.’ Or, ‘I’m going slow my pace through this technical section and come out feeling good.’ Life is a series of small steps and if you impatiently jump straight to the final goal, failure is imminent.
However, as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, albeit how slowly, you are one step closer to your destination- the beer and the food. The same goes for life.
Make pain your friend
If you run 102 kilometres, you must expect some pain. But it’s how you embrace that pain that helps you overcome it. As parents we consistently tell our kids that they need to stop reacting and their sibling offenders will eventually tire of the stirring. Similarly, the minute you are at peace with your pain – letting pain know that you are not bothered by his/her presence – it is no longer fun and pain has found a new victim. But worth noting- there is a difference between the ‘giving up’ pain and pain that causes you serious injury.
You are capable of anything!
Never let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. EVER! You can do anything that your heart desires, provided you believe in yourself. And if the challenge doesn’t scare you, aim higher. X-Factor here I come…
No journey ends
Running an Ultramarathon may seem like the culmination of one journey, but the journey never ends. There may be more 100km runs, perhaps a 100 miler. Even a faster 10km. I might try to swim across Lake Boga without drowning or surf across the water on a shark. Or I might even try my hand at some extreme ironing, despite how ridiculous it sounds. Or simply try to thread a sewing machine. Whatever the next challenge, I plan to spend many more days outside my comfort zone; developing, changing and soaking up the fulfilling scenery.
And I have come to the conclusion that they need to include a fourth definition of ‘crazy’ in the dictionary…
A flattering term to describe someone that steps out of their ‘personal’ comfort zone in any shape or form.
Anyway, aren’t we all a bit crazy?