As the title suggests, I have missed a week of posting. This was due to a hectic exam schedule at school. The good news is that the exams are over and now I have two weeks off before the madness begins again! This is where, in the film version of my life, they would have an 80’s style workout montage of me whipping my poor body into shape. Can’t you just hear the Rocky theme?
This week I’d like to talk about a somewhat touchy subject, hero worship. It is touchy, at least for me, because I intend to be critical of some aspects of the books and articles published about or by some of my personal role models (I don’t actually like using the word “hero” to describe anyone who hasn’t saved lives or done something equally fantastic), yet I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I do not admire or respect these people. So with that in mind, let’s begin….
There is probably not a sport in the world that does not have legendary players/participants, and running is no different. From Pheididdides to Usain Bolt, you can’t help but admire the people who run the farthest, the fastest, or with the most style. Often it is the admiration that we feel towards these people that bring us into a sport, and such was certainly the case with me and ultra-running. I had finished my first year of endurance running by training for and completing two marathons, and I was unsure of where to go next. I knew that I would certainly like to get faster, and in the back of my mind the idea of running a 3hr10min marathon to qualify for Boston was calling to me. It still does for that matter. However, it was when I picked up a copy of the book “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes that I knew I had found my next challenge. I was vaguely aware of ultra-marathons before reading the book, but I had no idea that they went up to 100 miles (or more). I was so excited by the challenge of a 100 miler that I could hardly sleep that night.
So, while I gradually began to train myself up to the point where running a 100 miler was a possibility, I also read everything that I could about well known ultra-runners. I found that three names kept coming up in my search: Dean Karnazes, David Goggins, and Ray Zahab. These people, to varying degrees, became my inspiration while training. However, particularly in the case of Dean Karnazes and David Goggins, I began to notice something that troubled me slightly. What concerned me was that in books and articles about ultra-runners, it tended to be the dangerous and inadvisable things that they did that were most played up. I found that often running ultra races while woefully under trained was held up as something admirable. Even their self-inflicted injuries where used to show how great they were. I can appreciate why that is. After all, it is the more extreme things that are interesting. But I do feel slightly uneasy about the message that inexperienced, and particularly younger, runners might be taking away from this. This is not unique to running either. Many sports hold up the idea of being able to “work through the pain” as something to strive for. I suspect that most of us understand what it means to work through the pain. It is important to remember though that pain exists for a reason. It is trying to tell you something. Knowing what it is trying to tell you is an important thing to learn during training. There is a huge difference between pushing through the exhaustion as well as the sore muscles and joints that come with pushing your body to its limits, and tearing your body apart by going beyond those limits. That is an important distinction that I feel often gets drowned out by the sensational story of the runner who fractures his foot bones and causes his kidneys to fail while completing his first ultra. Pushing beyond your limits is not just badass, it’s dangerous, and at the very least it can harm your ability to continue to run in the future.
As a final note, I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t admire what these crazy people do. It’s just that I want people to be aware of the potentially long term consequences of attempting these crazy things and to go into the attempt with their eyes open. Ultra-running, by it’s nature, has a high potential for injury. Ultra-running without proper training and care taken is a recipe for disaster. While the odd person can pull it off, most people who try don’t even finish their race, and some of them end up suffering for their efforts long after race day.
So, my tip for the week is this: Know your limits and use your head.
I’ll be back next week (and it really will be next week this time!) with more tales of hubris and madness.