I first learned of ultra marathons three short years ago, reading books like Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run and Dean Karnazes’ Ultra Marathon Man. My first reaction was incredulity. A 100 mile foot race, over mountains! Humans can do that? From the moment I first learned of their existence I was fascinated. No. More than that - obsessed. I knew that was where my future lay even though I had at the time only completed a single 5k.
This weekend at the Iron Horse Endurance Run I completed my fourth ultra marathon, my first 100k, and earned my first finisher’s buckle. I doubled over as soon as I crossed the finish line exhausted, suffering, and overcome with emotion. As proud as I was at that moment, I can’t say it was any more gratifying than that day in the fall of 2005 when I ran my first mile in the blisteringly fast time of 13:02 (remarkably close to my average pace at Iron Horse).
One of the great things about running is that it has a sliding scale of achievement with each milestone being as significant as the last. When you are starting from scratch, completing one mile can be as rewarding as running 100 after years of effort.
There are many levels of competition in a foot race. At the front of the pack there are the elites battling against each other to be the one to break that tape at the finish line.
Then there is the battle against the clock, runners chasing that personal record.
The most epic battle of all is internal. Runners challenging themselves, smashing through comfort zones to attempt to go farther than they ever have before and pushing themselves far beyond their perceived limitations. Individuals trying to achieve things they may have at one time thought impossible. It matters little whether the distance involved is one mile or 100.