FOR THE FIRST THIRD OF THE RUN, I FELT FINE. DANCING ON MY FEET LIKE A DANDY, IN FACT. THEN THE DISTANCE STARTED TO BITE. THERE’S A SEQUENCE IN THE DESCENT INTO RUN DELIRIUM. THE LEGS START TO FEEL HEAVY. THE ENERGY SAPS, LEAKING FROM THE BODY LIKE IT HAS BEEN SKEWERED IN FIFTY PLACES BY A RAGING BULL – ENOUGH SO YOU CAN’T PLUG THE LEAK. I WANT TO LAY DOWN BESIDE THE TRAIL AND GO TO SLEEP.
They tell me that is your energy systems transferring from glucose (reserves now gone) to fat burning. I just know everything is telling me the grass tree looks a comfy place to curl up. But so early in the run?
Mentally it is over. But I’m a long way from home. So it’s not. Plod. Plod. Should I walk? Yes. No. Get to that post. Then walk. No, next post. A hill, great, I can walk without shame. From here it is a zombie run. Not the ‘fun’ type where horror film and makeup buffs congregate to trot out five kay dead-leg style in homage to their favourite living dead flick. This is just straight day of the living dead running, no Shaun references or makeup required.
Halfway and there’s an inkling I might make it, but the stomach is turning over, flip flopping on a trampoline of indecision that has me simultaneously ravenous and on the verge of throwing up.
This run is going to be the end of me.
Of course, ultra runners may recognise this narrative well. The legs getting tired at 30km, the shift in energy systems at 40 or so… But the run I’m whingeing about was no ultra. It was, to be precise, a mere 6.4km run. Nay, an epic 6.4km. Epic in particular moments, at least. It may as well have been an ultra, so my mind chatter told me at the time.
But that’s the beauty of running – challenge, brutality, pain, hunger, fear; it’s all relative to the solitary moment and the individual feeling it. And all just as valid regardless of time, distance, ascent or some other self-validating number used to beat a chest with.
Someone’s very first 2km run – perhaps the beginning of a life-changing journey from couch to metaphorical Kosciuszko peak – can be as nightmarish as the worst trainwreck written in the history book of the 240km Coast to Kosci itself.
Which brings me to my point. Every run is worthy. Every run can hurt. Every run can be euphoric. Every run can also be a trainwreck with mental and physical ramifications as serious as the runner judges it to be. It’s all relative.
Ultra runner Rich Bowles loves to say “you didn’t ‘just’ run (insert whatever kilometre distance you like). You ran (insert kilometre distance). Be proud. Any run no matter the distance is an achievement.”
I agree – drop the magnanimous, self denigrating ‘just’ as though whatever you ran doesn’t really count when compared to…to what? Stop the comparisons.
Why is your run any lesser to anyone’s, the Kilians of the world included?
Because it’s not far or tough enough? Compared to who? To what? Because it didn’t hurt as much as someone else claims to have hurt? Judged by whom?
It seems we are in a phase where the ultra is the new marathon – the thing to be held in reverence, to be revered as an experience that allows you into an elite ‘club’ of sorts. It seems the marathon, which used to be held in the same stead, is something to be whipped out between breakfast and lunch, a mere training run. It is no longer to be boasted about, no longer backyard barbeque fodder, for it no longer (seemingly) holds the gravitas it once did in the New Audacious Age of 100km, milers and beyond.
Lest we forget we remain a niche sport. By the numbers, there are more people in our local communities who are yet to run 21km, let alone a full marathon, than there are those who have. That puts those who have run an ultra in a smaller minority again (note: this minority does not equate to superiority). Let us not lose respect for those who tread the trail at lesser distances. Lesser brutalities. Lesser inclines. It’s all very well to push the limits of mileage and pain when your limits have already been stretched into the ultra zone. But don’t sneer down at those entering their own hurt lockers at a Park Run. They are no lesser runner. They are no less brave (for who knows their demons, their struggles and what a 5km run around a park could represent in their context – it may be the equivalent of your Northburn or Buffalo Grand Slam, hell it may be their own personal Barkley Marathons).
Toughness is not measured in sheer distance, elevation or peaks bagged in one run. Respect should be afforded for the mere effort of lacing up and stepping into the environment, no matter where, how far, how long.
No doubt that running an ultra is a massive achievement worthy of the cherishing and of the plaudits. And like any experience of life, once lived you will find you have secret handshake conversations with others who have lived through the pain. You may even succumb to the fallacy that those who have yet to run an ultra ‘will never understand’. Indeed, I’ve seen it bandied that you’re not a real runner until you tick the 100 box.
Bollocks to that.
If you take a step out your front door, manage to get a bounce in your step, and do a blockie at a pace greater than you would when collecting the fish and chips on a Friday, and you do it more than once a week with no other intention than to travel faster than a walk somewhere, around something, through something, to something – then you’re a runner. You didn’t just run around the block. You ran around the block. And while you may not have risked rhabdo or even dehydration, you ought still feel chuffed to have run at all. And we, as runners living all sorts of contexts, should be chuffed for you.
Chris Ord, AU Editor
This editorial first appeared in Edition #20 of Trail Run Mag. available for free download (along with all editions) HERE.