It is difficult to explain to a non-runner what it’s like to run an ultramarathon. How can you possibly put into words the excitement, the highs, the lows, the torture and the triumph of such an audacious pursuit? Here’s my attempt to explain the stages of running an ultramarathon by using something everyone can understand: cartoon characters.
1 The Mickey Mouse Stage
Your mind begins to entertain the delusion that running an ultramarathon will be fun. You find a race that captures your interest. You begin training for the race and a sense of excitement fuels your running for the next few months. Your race is going to be perfect.
2 The Homer Simpson Stage
Man, this training is hard! You’re tired. You’re sore. When the alarm goes off at 3 a.m. on Saturday to wake up for your long run, you turn the alarm off and go back to sleep. When you finally do wake up, you don’t drive to the trailhead. You drive to the bakery. A lightbulb goes off as you realize that the only thing better than one donut is twelve. You feel a little guilty for your laziness, then spend the rest of your training attempting to tune out your inner Homer.
3 The Wile. E. Coyote Stage
The week before the race, you rehearse your race strategy. You create an elaborate plan for how to conquer the Road Runner. The course. The cramps. The nausea. The fatigue. (Spoiler alert: the coyote always gets smashed with an anvil, or blown up with a stick of dynamite. Late in the race, that’s how you are going to feel, too.)
4 The Donkey Stage
Just like Donkey in Shrek, you start the race with a jubilant mix of hyperactivity and excitement. You feel like you can run forever. You are talkative, smiling and extraordinarily happy to be experiencing such a wonderful adventure.
5 The Shrek Stage
Fortunately, The Donkey Stage will carry you through many, many miles. But eventually you start to feel hot spots on your feet. Your calf muscles begin to twist like salty pretzels. That gel packet doesn’t go down quite as easily as you’d like. And you still have many, many more miles left to travel. Welcome to The Shrek Stage. You feel irritable. Little things make you frustrated. You realize just how dumb the hobby of running is. You’re angry at yourself for actually paying to do something so foolish.
6 The Eeyore Stage
You know you’ve hit The Eeyore Stage when your walk breaks become longer and more frequent. The frustration of the previous stage has now turned to weary pessimism. When you arrive at an aid station, an enthusiastic volunteer will ask what you need. Your only response is to look at them with droopy eyes and shrug.
7 The Pepé Le Pew Stage
You’ve probably been running all day. Maybe you’ve been running all night, too. Your clothes are sweaty and putrid. You smell like a rancid skunk. The odor is so strong that you’d run away from yourself if you could.
8 The Beavis and Butthead Stage
Eventually frustration and sadness pass. You develop a morbid obsession with fire. (In this case, the raging dumpster fire is your body.) But instead of being repulsed or discouraged about your blisters, you start poking and prodding them while grunting, “Huh huh huh.” The miles of self-loathing have passed. You are able to laugh at yourself and have fun. Thanks to the sleep deprivation, your mind and body have become numb. Suddenly you realize that you’re no longer smelling a skunk. You are smelling a finish line. And it smells absolutely wonderful!
9 The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Stage
Against all odds, you make it to the finish. As you stand at the finish line, you are overcome with happiness, elation and relief. You then quickly transition to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Stage. I remember absolutely nothing from this cartoon except that the turtles loved pizza. And so will you. You can’t wait to eat non-aid station food. Eat. All. The. Pizza.
10 The Dory Stage
In the following days, you’ll think back fondly on your race. You’ll forget about the struggles because they will be overshadowed by happiness. You’ll start thinking about how you can do better next time. You’ll be filled with optimism. And chances are, you’ll find yourself sitting in front of your computer searching for your next race.