Standing at the starting line, a quick smile stretched across the side of my face as I tried to hide the anxiousness of lining up for an ultramarathon with my limited preparation. My mantra suddenly became, “Let’s just do this to have fun.” The admission of the lack of expectation brought levity to the day, and I was able to laugh off my body unraveling throughout the race due to lack of training. But my experience remained in this realm of triviality. The deep satisfaction of crossing the finish line, earned pride and commitment, was lacking.
How often have we shown up for a race with the minimal amount of training under our belts? How often have we heard the remarks about going into a race underprepared? Of course, there are life constraints and curveballs that push the best laid plan off track. There’s a certain naive, in-over-my-head enjoyment of jumping into a race that is outside what our training would indicate we’re ready for. But, in my experience, there’s something missing during these types of races.
What I miss is respect. A respect for the distance. There is a reverent sense of purpose and fulfillment that seems to only come through respect. I may have laughed showing up with limited preparation, knowing at the time the circumstances of life just wouldn’t allow me to properly get ready for the race, but I knew it was going to be a much different experience.
Respecting the distance does not start at the race. It forms during the months or often years of preparation. The first inkling of respect trickles in as a bit of unease tags along with the excitement of choosing a race. The respect resides in those initial moments when the enormity of the months or years of pursuit at hand, is just too much to think about all at once. And the respect continues as the dedication slowly bears fruit during the humble grind of training, recovery and planning.
Race day is just one day. The finish line passes in a blink of the eye. The best and worst parts of a race quickly turn into a brief story. A stumble, sudden sickness or just a lousy day and the race may fall apart. But, respecting the distance cannot be broken in one day because it was formed over many. Any runner that crosses the finish line with tears of pride, relief and pure joy could tell you, as much as the race day itself, it’s the commitment to preparing for the distance that brings deep satisfaction. Respecting the distance and committing to it is always fulfilling. Truly respecting the distance grants one of the most unique gifts of ultrarunning: to be able to stand at the starting line as your best self, before even one step has been taken.