Running Down the Years

I just finished reading And Then the Vulture Eats You edited by John L. Parker, Jr.  I enjoyed this book much more than I anticipated and feel quite a bit better about ultra running.

Sounds odd, I know, but here’s why…

Right now there are any number of books and articles and blogs about ultra running.  I can find a dozen different training plans, all sorts of advice, plenty of dire warnings and more than enough accolades of the current running greats.  All that has its place and I am grateful it’s all so easily accessible.  But that leaves out something…

The book is a collection of accounts by ultra runners about running these longer-than-a marathon races.  The authors are big name runners, several Olympic veterans, who have been running for decades and these accounts are of real adversity (and not-necessarily overcome adversity, too).  These accounts were written 20 – 30 years ago when the sport was still fairly young and pretty quiet.  The authors write without trying to impress and the tales are as gritty as the races.  Some are quite funny, too.  🙂  They all show, without ever telling, how much about long distance running is mental.

The physical training is vital if a person is interested in walking away without some sort of permanent soft tissue injury.  The mental training decides if a person does or does not finish.  You have to have a strategy and a game plan and the ability to constantly monitor yourself and make changes from moment to moment.  You have to have infinite patience to run your race and not be caught up in whatever is going on around you.  You have to have the confidence from your training to know you can handle what comes.

The stories in this book show each runner taken to the point of decision: go on or quit.  Without much drama the stories show the consequences of these decisions.

Even though I cannot yet claim the title of Ultra Runner, there are some moments in this book that I can comprehend on a personal level.  For a while now… OK, for the past 15 years, I have lived in isolated places with no running community to speak of beyond the highschool track program.  I am accustomed to being the only runner I see – ever – and to the people I know and work with looking at me a little sideways when I talk about the last race I ran or the next one coming up.  While I am out running and pass people’s yards or am passed by cars, I realize these people who wave as I go by have no idea if I’ve been running for 10 minutes or 2 hours.  And they pretty much don’t care.

I can absolutely relate to the story “The 37-Mile Unmarked Invisible Acid Test” (Tom Hart) where the runner discovers over the course of the day he spent running 37 miles around his towns something he calls the “Incognito Effect.”  This is the difference and distance between, ” …what I knew I was doing, and what anyone observing me might have thought I was doing.”   In the end he says, “It can’t hurt to be reminded from time to time of the necessity of making one’s own satisfactions, and of the futility of expecting anyone else to understand them.  The gulf between what we feel we’re doing and what others perceive us to be doing will remain the most ultra of all distances, one that no amount of miles, or words, can finally bridge.”

The story “Swifts on the Wing” (James E. Shapiro) made mention of historic ultra running.  Apparently, in the late 1800’s, six day races were commonplace.  They actually started in the 1770’s.  They developed as contests and ways to achieve some small fame in an era when footmen were couriers and messages were carried on foot or horse back.  The object of the ‘race’ was for the participants to cover as many miles as they possibly could over the course of 6 days.  (Sundays were always a day of rest.)  The 6 day race actually written about as participated in by the author took place in the 1980’s and the winner covered more than 500 miles in the six days.  Yeah – my mind boggles, too.  Now picture doing that in 1770 before there was such a thing as a running shoe.  Barefoot?  In boots?  Wow.

And so…

Far beyond the daily miles and the question I ask myself as frequently as most of my friends ask me…

I hear the sound of running feet…

Swift.  Effortless.  Enduring.


About wfig

Longtime horsewoman and hiker, occasional world traveler and professional biologist.
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3 Responses to Running Down the Years

  1. Haha says:

    Thank you for this beautifully written and thoughtful essay. You seem almost serene in your contemplation of this most personal 50 miler. I have complete confidence in your mental toughness and your preparation, not to mention your motivation. You are an athlete and I know you know your body and you know all the risks. While running your race, I sincerely hope you are able to revel in every mile over 26.2 and count it as a personal best.

  2. wfig says:

    Thank you! Never doubt how grateful I am for the contributions of my crew, either. Never. Doubt. It.

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