Wednesday 15 July 2015

Running Stupid

The following is an article that I wrote last year for the rather splendid running magazine Like the Wind. If you don't already subscribe, and you have even a passing interest in any type of running (if not, what on earth are you doing here?!), I thoroughly recommend giving it a look. It's not all idiots like me writing - some people know what they're talking about!

Running 100 miles in one go is a really stupid thing to do. I know this because people tell me so on a regular basis:

"I wouldn't even drive that far!" 

"Pheidippides died after running only a marathon y'know!" 

"Isn't it bad for your knees?" 

You know the drill. Everybody knows these things. Nobody could possibly run 100 miles. Except that they do. All the time.

And the sport of ultra-running (superlative etymology aside) isn't the sole realm of the genetically gifted übermensch of this world; everyday people like you and me are achieving this "impossible" feat on a weekly basis. And the more people do it, the more people will do it. How many people running ultra-marathons today got into it as soon as they heard that it was possible from the exploits of Dean Karnazes? Or the Tarahumara Indians? Or the latest list of the Toughest Races In The World (TM) in Runners' World? Would it have even crossed your mind to try to run so far before you heard that others had done it?

Because, if you ask me, the main thing that it takes to run 100 miles is... stupidity. If you can remain ignorant of what we all know - that if you run a step further than 26.2 miles (the oddly specific distance which has apparently been programmed into our brains as the absolute limit of human endurance) then you will die - you will discover that you can achieve what you originally considered impossible. 

I maintain that anybody can run 100 miles. I am certainly not special. Well not in that way at least... But that's not to say it's easy of course. It takes dedication. It takes training. And it takes shear pig-headedness. I have the last one in spades. 

But training will only get you so far. Once you reach the ultimate limit of your endurance, how do you go further? Belief perhaps? Thinking positive? I prefer to think of it as simply ignoring the fact that you can't go further. Run stupid I say! Ignore the things that we all "know" and go out and learn these truths for yourself. Take common sense and stick it where the sun doesn't shine! This sport isn't the place for such trivialities as common sense - now is the time to step beyond your comfort zone, reach for the very limits of your abilities, and then just keep on truckin'.

You may think, "I can't possibly go any further". But your next step will prove you wrong. Relentless forward progress. One foot in front of the other. Just keep swimming. Pick your cliché. The adage that ultra-running is 70% mental is probably about 95% true.

The Piece of String Fun Run is a singular race, held once a year as a way to torture unsuspecting ultra-runners with a simple premise; how do you cope mentally when you don't know how far away the finish line is? Competitors run to the next checkpoint, not knowing ahead of time whether they will be greeted with a "congratulations, you've finished", or simply directions to the next one. The race can be anywhere from 1,000 meters to 1,000 miles. Only 2 people have finished it each year. This race plays right into the hands of the stupid runner. "Run until we say stop". It is simplicity in itself, and only the stupid need apply.

As the great ultra-runner Forrest Gump once said, "Stupid is as stupid does". Running 100 miles in one go is indeed a really stupid thing to do. I wonder how much further I can go?


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