Running is currently my main outlet for working out. I can appreciate that not many people likes running. Running aimlessly without a destination or purpose can be a boring thing to do.
Since young, running was never my thing. It wasn’t something I excelled at nor enjoyed doing. In school, I literally ran away from anything that has running. Of all the sports, I loathed the cross country event most. Back then it was just an annual long run covering 7km distance around the neighbourhood. I did not see any point in it. I would run too fast (by my own slow standard) the first few hundred metres, exhaust all my energy and then end up walking the rest of the way. I simply did not have the interest to run all the way, fast or slow.
Things changed when I became a father in my mid-thirties. It wasn’t like running has the potential ability of making me a good father. It was because hands-on fatherhood role for a pair of twin boys means I no longer have the luxury of time to play social sports like golf or badminton. Outside work hours, the timing of these games were usually in conflict with the peak demands of the babies. The only slots I had to myself were either late at night or wee hours in the morning. Social games were out of the question. The only remaining and sensible thing left for me to do for workouts, was running.
Actually slow jogging would be the more accurate description. It was tight, boring and tough for me. Yet somehow, I persisted. And I became better.
In the beginning, running 2km was already a lot. A few months later I started joining friendly 12km road races nearby. The half-marathons looked mighty elusive then. But then I ran it somehow. Two half-marathons later I signed up for my first full-marathon, less than two years since I started. Then over the next two years, I ran five full marathons around the country.
I was not particularly a fast runner. Pushing myself faster wasn’t my goal (then). But I realised that I could push myself further. So I started entering more demanding trail races which is a new ball game compared to road running. You run through forest, climb mountains and sometimes cross rivers. The trails always have a way to throw you off with various terrains, elevations and conditions. Trail races are tougher but more fun undoubtedly. It was in my progress up the category-distances of trail racing (12, 16, 25, 35km…) that I discovered the world of ultras, trail ultras, to be specific.
The term ultra is broad and wide ranging. An ultramarathon, also called ultra-distance, is basically any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi).
To date I have completed 4 trail ultras in 2018 and another 7 in 2019, all in the 50 to 55km category with total elevation gains up to 2,600m. As I am advocating aspiring more on this site, my next target would be to conquer the 100km trail ultras, triumphantly (not limping back and licking wounds).
Since I started running ultras, I have many people questioning why I do it. Why do I put myself in so much suffering? I usually just smile in response because people are just asking for the sake of asking. To those who were genuinely intrigued, I would say something like I run ultras to learn about myself and to discover what I am capable of.
But these days I realised that running ultras has formed a deeper meaning to me. Make no mistakes, ultras, especially the mountainous ones are tough and very demanding. During the later stages of the race, I can feel so exhausted that there is no more energy in me to be in another place with my mind. I am fully present, taking in all the discomfort, suffering and pain. This is when I experience the profound awareness of being in the moment and be grateful for all I am. I have no choice but to be in the now. To survive, to make it back alive.
Why do I need to run really long distance? Why do I participate in ultras?
For me I see the benefits in multiple folds. There is definitely an improvement in my physical fitness and mental toughness. There is this increased capacity to explore and cover more terrain in less time. There is a sense of camaraderie and fun in overcoming and completing something quite difficult alongside friends.
Most people run their first ultra to see if they are able to do it, me included. I was moving away from the crowded marathon space which has gained much popularity over the years since I ran my first. But like many that started, I continue to run ultras for something else. People who continue to run ultras will tell you about how they learn about themselves through endurance pursuits. I too learned that if I put my mind into it, I am able to persist, to overcome challenges.
But does it mean that only those who runs ultras are capable of such feats? Not necessarily. I believe that anyone too can run and complete an ultra if they want to. With the right motivation or put in the right circumstances we are all capable of doing extraordinary things. We don’t have to participate in an organized ultra-marathon just to proof that we can overcome challenges.
I guess at the end of the day it boils down to how you put things in perspective. I am just using running because I feel that running an ultra can be metaphorical representation of life. Running an ultra is not easy, but so is living a life, a meaningful one that is.