Monday, November 7, 2011

What happens during a 50 mile run, both mentally and physically and why do it?

“Ultrarunners live in that place where you feel as if there's nothing left, no more energy, no more reason, no more sanity, no more will to go farther. Then you push forward anyway, step after step, even though every cell in our body tells you to stop. And you discover that you can go on.” ~Marshall Ulrich from the book Running on Empty

I’ve tried to Google what running 50 miles does to you both mentally and physically, but only found writings of serious medical studies, never found what I was looking for. I wanted a simple explanation on what happens to someone when they run that distance. I thought, well I should know, I’ve ran the distance 3 times. So I looked deep within me and started writing. This is what I came up with.

Running ultramarathons is a test of character, endurance and strength. It asks you, do you have what it takes? If you’ve properly trained for at least 4 months, you should be able to deal with any problems that arise, both mental and physical on race day. 

“When it gets right down to it, the levels of commitment and devotion required to excel as an ultra-endurance athlete are all-consuming.”

So what happens during a 50 mile race?

Let’s start with the physical problems. You’ll likely experience any one of the following problems: painful blisters; blood gushing from your leg or knee from tripping because you are just too tired to pick up  your feet anymore, you are now shuffling; bruising; bloating and swelling everywhere, your feet, ankles, legs, stomach, face, hands; possible hamstring pulls; feet or leg cramps that either stop you in your tracks or control  your speed; knee pain; ankle pain; dehydration; Leg, hips, foot pain, your arm hurts from holding it up, shoulders hurt; stomach issues like gas or diarrhea; nausea; vomiting; chafing just about anywhere (even on your butt and you'll find blood on your underwear); overheating; freezing afterwards if you don’t seek warmth immediately after; dizziness; hallucinations (why is my dog on the course?, is that a bear?); vision problems; and the most serious  heart pain and feelings of numbness on one side of your body. The pain that you feel at mile 20 is doubled at 30, tripled at 40 and so on. 

Other physical problems: You may not be able to eat, you’re either too nauseated or just don’t feel like it. You're hungry, but it's hard to eat. That certain food you normally trained with now makes you want to vomit; normal terrains are now are hard, an easy hill is now your worst nightmare; moodiness; even a simple IPOD string is the most annoying thing ever; your immune system drops after the race and the chances of getting ill are super high; after you are finished the race, everything tightens up and you’ll walk funny for days.

“The human body is capable of amazing physical deeds. If we could just free ourselves from our perceived limitations and tap into our internal fire, the possibilities are endless.”

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

So how about your mental state?

Your mental state goes. The mental demons will scream at you to quit; feelings of inadequacies may come up; you know longer can do basic math after all, uh what is 25-17? Nope, don’t know; the mileage tests you, you’ve likely ran a 50K going into it, but you have to come up with 19 more miles. How? Unless you are just running on instinct, you can play mental games, I’ll run to the next aid station, I won’t count the mileage, count the loops instead (if it’s a looped course) I’ll run though this song, walk a min or two after it’s over.  

Even with all these negative problems, running ultramarathons is extremely rewarding and it is a gift to be able to do so. There is such a joy and satisfaction in knowing that even with all the physical and mental problems that go on in running such a distance, you crossed that finish line, you did it! What an absolute fantastic achievement, a true test in human strength and endurance. 

“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you're not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you're not demanding more from yourself - expanding and learning as you go - you're choosing a numb existence. You're denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
This is one reward for a running a 50....
But the greatest, is because you never know who is watching you? Who looks up to  you?


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