“Life is a Marathon” or so the phrase goes. I’d like to redefine this. After taking part in a 100km race, I am more convinced that “Life is an Ultra Marathon”.
The marathon, at 26.2 miles, or 42.195 km, is a long distance. Getting a sub 5, 4 or 3 hour time is a mental game which many runners partake. Indeed, even the elite runners are pushing the boundaries and a sub 2 hour marathon is getting close.
An ultra marathon is loosely described as any distance longer than the marathon distance and requires a different mindset. On the journey, you will experience all kinds of emotions, the pain, the love, the agony, the reassessment, the questioning, the commitment and hopefully, at the end, the triumph. Time is less of a factor, there is more time for error and it is a very slow burn, things you do at the beginning of the race will have implications later on.
It is all about the preparation. Success is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration, and similarly, an ultra marathon is 10%, training is the other 90%.
Getting started is difficult. For me, it started through buying a new pair of shoes – the pair I would ultimately wear in the race. I went to different shops, listened to advice, but in the end followed my brain. I went for a pair of shoes in the middle ground – not minimal, not maximus. These helped me to get started.
You can calculate all you wish, get your satellite, heart rate, shoe mileage, cadence, stride length, but some data just can’t be quantified. It is above of the monthly mileage which modern GPS watches calculate, and above the input = response training, look-at-me attitude of social activity networks and the monotony of the treadmill.
Sometimes you’ve got to just disconnect and enjoy the sensations, the intangible, unquantifiable feelings and emotions which ultimately will be cherished like a secret from others and kept to yours alone or those you are with at the time.
A kind of run like this gives massive affirmation to why we run.
Listening is a key factor. Listen and understand others. In training, there is no point and no time to be stubborn. Be open minded, say yes more often and try anything. Understand why people do the activity and what is the effect of doing it. Admittedly, not everything will suit or will everything be to your liking but you will learn and explore.
Also, listen to your breathing when running, listen to your own body and what it is telling you.
Find the limits. Then push some more. You will enter into a place where you cannot see the end.
Ultra training is tough and demanding.
Practice runs are often intense escalating to a climatic point. “Is that all you’ve got?”
This is where you should give it another tenth. Sadistically. Hold the expletives under your breath.
At this point, you need to ask yourself, “Am I satisfied now?”
When you have solidly run your arse off, by yourself, where nobody is watching you, no one is cheering for you, but you know that is the best you can do and more, then you have found the feeling of not just readiness for the race, but a life affirming quality. There are no facebook “likes”, no benevolent teacher compliment of “good job” and no medal for completing the training. But then, do you get a medal when you have completed life? The gratitude you get is for the battle you have won against what you initially thought to be impossible. You do it for yourself: completion makes you mentally stronger and also certainly, physically stronger.
In the process of all of this organised mayhem, you will undoubtedly question yourself. The inner dialogue will tell you to give up or back off. Things which were important to you before will start changing. You will go back to basics, stripped free. After all the end game is all about endurance, things you don’t need just weigh you down.
You will also go into a phase of acceptance. The training for an 100k ultra distance is distinctly different from a 42km marathon, in that it will be difficult to get above 50% race distance training run. Well think about it: 50% is already 50km. By this distance, you’ve entered in the the ultra territory simply by training. Accept this fact, don’t let it bog you down. Keep focus, keep going.
By this stage, you just want it over. In the race, you will experience highs and lows, there is nothing you can do about it. Nobeyama 100km is one of the tougher courses ultra marathon road races in Japan to run, probably due to the fact that about 20km is on trail, not on road! The trail is not difficult, but certainly there were sections where there were rocks and watching where you put your feet was necessary. The course is never flat, and I mean ever.
Also, it goes over three mountains, the highest is at 1903m. And whilst the heat isn’t an issue at this higher altitude, it is the middle and final sections which aren’t at higher elevation that have to be tackled in the midday heat.
To it’s saving grace, there are two bag drop off points, one at 42km and the other at 72km, where you can put in all of your mid-race energy snacks, drinks or even change of clothes should you wish.
The final few kilometres will tick by slowly, and there is a low gradient, uphill slope for the final 7km – having completed the 93km. Unlike training, you know what is coming, but still, there is not much you can do about this difficult section. It is pointless giving up now, waiting for the dreaded “retirement bus” is simply not an option and would feel like caving into the grim reaper.
It was not helped that one of my legs were cramping up now, I had lost a lot of salt through sweat and the muscle was feeling it. But spurred on by the “after x km” signs, which were now single digit. Finally, the finish was there and it was one of the nicest sights to see.
Life is to be enjoyed. An ultra marathon is the same. The eventual race result is simply a single dimension of what has been done, perhaps only you and a select few know that it is much more about the journey to covering the distance.
It is clear distinction to those who haven’t run an ultra and those who have, simply by the question they might ask after the event.
“What was your time?” is something which would be a normal question, and rather academically, that is stated below. However, those who have been through experience may ask, “How was your training?”, or simply shake your hand and give you a knowing pat on the shoulder.
Finish time: 11 hours 26 minutes 43 seconds
Placing: 228th position
100km course completion rate: 58.6% (1438 of 2452 runners)
Max elevation: 1903m above sea level (6243ft)
Min elevation: 880m (2887ft)
Max temp: about 28 degrees Celcius
Conditions: very strong sun by midday. Not much wind.
Course and elevation map here
Full results here