I recently finished the book Once a Runner by John Parker Jr. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s an excellent novel that really captures the world of serious runners—from their grueling training schedules down to the lung-burning pain caves that elite athletes push their bodies and minds into to seek out the absolute limits of human potential. The book will inspire you to lace up your shoes and hammer out 400s at your local track. And it will likely make you reminisce on your own running journey. At least, it did for me.
Like many of you, I was once not a runner. I did not run track or cross-country in school. In fact, I did not run at all. I was too busy smoking cigarettes behind the high school gymnasium. I could not have run a mile if I tried. It was not until my early 30s that I took up running. I did it for my health and because I needed to calm the restless desire I had to push beyond my comfort zone. Something deep down told me I needed to move. And so, I did.
The beauty of ultrarunning is that there is no prerequisite. You can start at any stage in life. To participate, you simply need some drive and determination. Talent helps, but it is not required to join, nor do you need it to be accepted. The community is open to all shapes, colors, backgrounds and paces. You can be an accountant or a former Olympian. We all line up and finish at the same place.
Many of us turn to ultrarunning to better ourselves, not necessarily to compete against others. Our competition is more often with anxiety, obesity, addiction, loss or Father Time, than it is with our fellow runners. Ultrarunning is therapeutic and medicinal – it is many things to many people. For me, ultrarunning opened doors to new opportunities, new friends and new adventures. It taught me the value of commitment and discipline, and it gave me confidence that I could accomplish more than I ever imagined I could.
I firmly believe there is a correlation between running ultramarathons and being successful in life. The dedication, grit and accountability it takes to train for, and complete long-distance foot races often translates to the workplace. We learn through running what hard work is, and how to fight back the voices telling us we are not good enough to accomplish our goals. No one will argue that we are saving the world while we’re out running around in the woods with our little packs on, popping blisters and downing gels like sugar-crazed lunatics. But perhaps running provides the confidence-building tools that remind us of what we are capable of beyond the trails.
As we work towards new goals in 2021, both in running and in life, remember the lessons you have learned through ultrarunning. The same qualities we all share that help get us to the finish lines are the same ones we need to make our world a better place. Attack 2021 like you would a 100-mile training plan. And remember, you do not need to have been a public speaker to let your voice be heard, or a frontline healthcare worker to lend a helping hand. Just as you do not need to have once been a runner to be one now.
Good Luck and Happy New Year.