“There’s no need to apologize, Dad, lots of people have called me crazy.” It’s official – I’ve joined the club ultrarunners find themselves in when trying to explain the sport to anyone other than fellow runners. The one where conversations about running become guarded because the thought of trying to explain how far you actually run is excruciatingly painful, and people look at you like you’re crazy.
My dad was a marathon runner, so naturally I blamed him for my “crazy” habit when I started running. “It was all those cool t-shirts he kept in a special drawer,” I would tell people. “He’d never let me wear them, so I had to start running marathons to get my own.” And once I accomplished my goal of finishing the Boston Marathon, 20 years after my dad ran it, I did some soul-searching to find a new one. 100 miles? Cool, let’s try that.
But I quickly realized you’ve got to be careful throwing that kind of mileage around in casual conversation. When people find out you’re a runner and ask, “how far do you run?” – a quick assessment of the situation is in order. First, throw the word “ultra” out and see if they bite. If you receive a blank stare in return, a generic response is recommended. I recently made the mistake of trying to explain what ultramarathons were, and immediately regretted it when I had to mutter “any race longer than a marathon.” Because the next question that usually comes up is, “you run that far all at once?”
Sometimes I question my own sanity, and my reason for entering ultramarathons. Fortunately, like most runners out there, I can give an honest answer that backs my habit. Running makes me happy. Ultras keep me challenged both physically and mentally as I push myself to try new distances. The sport requires training outside – a lot. I love being outside. Previously, as a trail crew member for the U.S. Forest Service, I used to dream of running the trails I was hiking. Call me crazy.
As a Forest Service employee, I was once recruited to help light a controlled forest fire on a logged clear cut high up in the mountains. The fire chief called me a marathoner because I was scrambling too slowly over gnarly logging debris while trying to stay ahead of the flames. Little did he know. Crazy? Maybe. But my trail crew co-workers used to complain about how steep the trails were, and I always discovered they were never as bad as I had imagined. That memory always stuck with me – it’s never that bad. So I don’t mind being called crazy because maybe I am. But I’m proud of it, and being a little different isn’t always so terrible.