21 December 2012

How To Be An Ultrarunner

Before the first idiot scoots excitedly to the edge of his Aeron chair and amazes us with his power of observation that you merely need to run one step further than a marathon to be an ultrarunner, I'll point out that being an ultrarunner is much more than simply running 26.3 miles.  It's a culture, and a humorous culture at that.  There's the terminology, the clothing, the technical gear, the shoes, the realization that you're slow as a banana slug, the failing marriage (and/or relationship), the addictive personality, the disdain for humanity (or the pseudo dark aloofness for humanity that you saw in a James Dean poster image once, that you now covet while sitting at a grey conference table during Friday afternoon meetings in your going-nowhere job).  You look through the running magazines and lust after the 23 year old men and women with glowing, elastic skin and flowing black hair.  You're 40, pasty, a little chubby and have ear hair that would scare a child.  But you transcend your reality through ultrarunning because it's going to be your culture.  You will be in the tribe (whether the tribe has a say in it or not).

You've run a marathon and maybe even broke 4 hours once, so why not give longer distances a shot?  I mean, the cut off times in ultras are more lenient than a stoned 10th grade sociology teacher.  You could actually place in your age group, since most ultra events have more age group categories than participants; it's like a little kids' birthday party - everyone goes home with a treat.  Then you can finally start balancing out that stupid medal rack you bought that has the Dunkin Donuts Suffolk County 6k 3rd place age group medal dangling from one end.  Sadly, as you'll learn, many ultras retain the "old school" mindset, which is just another way to say they're cheap bastards who think flour on the ground is an acceptable finish line and a jug of water next to the trail is an aid station.  The only way you'll take anything good home from those races is by grabbing a slower competitor's finish line bag before he finishes.  Of course, the upside of these cheap ass races is that, well, they're usually cheap.  Per mile the cost is often about 1/5 that of a boring 5k in your town (if you're bad at math like most Americans, that means a $30 5k equates to just $90-$100 for a 50 mile race).

Ultrarunning is so much more than simply running the events.  There are huge numbers of people who run ultras but are cluelessly outside of the culture of the tribe, ostracized like a greasy pimple faced kid at a school pep rally.  So, how do you wedge yourself into the grimy, sinewy circle of ultrarunning?
Throw that shit right in the garbage.  (dude might want to look into a refund for his community college graphic arts degree)

Before you even run a step go to your bedroom with a garbage bag and throw away every t-shirt (and/or cheap road running hat) from every event shorter than a marathon that you've ever saved.  You don't want to be caught dead in a Whirlaway 10k shirt (well, maybe hang onto that one, since it gives a little street cred [look it up] but don't wear it).  The only way it's cool showing up to an ultra run in a short distance shirt is if you're the fastest one of the group (not likely).  Next, pitch all your road running shoes.  This is critical if you're one of those hypochondriacs who wears super heavy motion control shoes with more posting support than the Bay Bridge and resemble white bricks.  And, God help us, if you use $200 orthopedic inserts, wrap those up in newspaper (so even the garbage man doesn't see them) and toss them out.  The goal here is to completely scrape everything having to do with road running from your existence, a cleansing, if you will (which you damn well better).

Resemblance a coincidence or a metaphor (running, weakness, collapsing, support, support group...)

If you're feeling rather naked and exposed after stripping away all remnants of your road running life, good.  Minimalism (or at least the proclamation that you are in fact minimalist) is one of the cornerstones of your ultrarunning foundation (visage).  Don't fret, shortly, you'll be wearing and using more gear in ultrarunning than a Navy Seal Diver who golfs on the weekends.  We'll get to that later.

While you're at it, erase the history on your web browser and wipe letsrun.com from your memory.  The forum is loaded with the upper echelon of mediocrity in the road running world.  And, like most groups who feel a sense of inferiority, they find and pick on groups they deem lessor than themselves.  It's like the stone-dumb hillbilly whities in the South who have ingrained racist hatred for black folks.  They think they've found an inferior group, so they automatically hate them in the hope that it will raise their own sad social status (but I digress... wildly).  Letsrun seems to feel that ultrarunning is where slow road runners go to die.  Granted, paces are obviously slower in many ultras.  You're running 40 times further and over mountains. 

Ultrarunners, of course, counter this attack with uplifting quotes and sayings, albeit sometimes barbs and "witty" (intended strength of quotes around "witty" are off the charts and cannot be measured on the Long-Scale of sarcasm) comebacks.  Some of the more common gems:

"So, you ran a marathon?  How cute." - This is an attempt to belittle road marathon runners, even though they may likely run marathons in 2:30, nearly twice as fast as your plodding ass.

"It never always gets worse." - Yes.  Yes it does in fact get worse.  Right up until you cross the finish line of a 100 miler, each step is a new definition of pain.  Don't kid yourself.

"Any idiot can run a marathon.  It takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon." - A faint attempt to illustrate and acknowledge ultrarunners have humor and self deprecation.  It's still saying ultras are superior.

I'll leave you to ponder Part 1 of How To Be An Ultrarunner while I fight off death threats and trolling sludge from Letsrun.com

In Part 2 of How To Be An Ultrarunner we will take a look at the dichotomy of minimalistic footwear matched with $900 of gear and attire, pride in otherwise personal hygiene, relieving oneself, and body parts falling off.  And so much more (if I think of anything).  


  1. That right there is a big ol' bottle of inspiration. I'll take two. And a beer (don't forget the beer).

  2. Anonymous comments won't be published. However, your question about a missing result this month in my race schedule is interesting (interesting that of all the junk on my site, you've taken the time to comment on a race where I stopped after 100 meters from the start line with a calf injury). Nice work, Sherlock.

  3. You ran 100 meters? Did you break 60 minutes, ultra guy?

    Letsrun rocks!

  4. "The only way you'll take anything good home from those races is by grabbing a slower competitor's finish line bag before he finishes." - Best line of a great article, thanks for the laugh!

  5. Brownie, that 100 meters will never compare to my 218 miles in 41 days! I still crack up every time I think about that.

    Kevin, I am in no way approving of stealing someone's finish line bag. Go through it and take out only the good stuff.

  6. 13.1=Aid Station 1

  7. I find this post incredibly insulting! To imply that my pace is similar to a slug is highly inaccurate. During the 100 milers I've run, I can often (though not always) get up to the pace of a three-legged elephant.

  8. Nailed it. Looking forward to the second installment.

  9. You captured that perfectly...! Love the Ultra-humor! I just completed my first ultra distance 50km a couple of weeks ago in pouring rain and thick mud. I had a great time! I don't know if I'll ever get to do a 100 miler, but I never say never!

    I want to do a 50 miler next year. :)

  10. I'm one of those special kind of idiots who will be starting (hopefully also finishing) my first 100 in a few months. I hope that, by then, I can learn to slow down to the pace of a slug or, even, a three legged elephant. Great Article!

  11. I love your humor, and oddly relate to a great deal of it.
    I just ran my first 50K in the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Run and loved it, so much that in a month I am tackling another marathon up in our mountains (Bighorn Sky). I DNF'd the first time I attempted the 1/2 marathon years ago but since then I have put on my big girl panties, brushed my ego off my shoulders, and learned how to properly fuel, for not only the distance but the terrain that lies ahead. I have learned how to eat while running, time my salt tabs and sugar gels, heck, I have even taught myself how to belch while running! I think it is all very forensic and learn something new with every training run or race event.
    My future goal, in 362 days, is to tackle the 50 miler that the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run has to offer. Maybe a 100 is in my future, maybe not, but for now it is fun to learn how work it out while everything within me screams to stop, even when my feet are numb, knees hurt with every step, my hip flexors are tighter than a banjo string, and it feels like I am running through tar.
    People say I am crazy and always tease that all of the above sounds "so fun" in a very sarcastic tone, but to me, it is fun, and yes, in a crazy sort of way and I love being obsessed and addicted to this sport and feel that toe nails are so overrated at this point!