Are you a boring ultrarunner? It’s not that hard to figure out. When people find out that you are one of those “ultramarathoners,” and let’s be honest, they’re going to find that out pretty quickly, the natural next question is whether you have run a 100-miler… and how many.
Your answer to that question will tell you if you are a boring ultrarunner or an entertaining one. The boring ultrarunner needs a Powerpoint presentation to answer the question “How many 100-milers have you run?” The correct answer is a number, or, better still: “I don’t know.” The boring ultrarunner turns a simple answer into a dissertation on how many “100-milers” have been started, how many finished, how many DNFed (and how far along the DNF occurred). And whether passing 100 miles in a longer race counts as a 100-miler, and whether passing 100 miles, yet DNF-ing the race can be added to the tally and on and on. Even if the victim is an ultrarunner, this is far more information than is desired.
The truth is, although ultrarunning is a sport of numbers, only the boring ultrarunner relates those numbers to others. What people want to hear are the stories. Even when the question is directly numerical: “How fast can you run 100 miles?” the best answer is no more exact than: “I have done it in under 24 hours” or “I have not broken 24 hours… yet.” To the non-runner, any more precise answer is devoid of meaning. To the ultrarunner, it is not necessary to be more precise than a number of hours. Sure, there is a difference between 18:59:59 and 18:00:01. But no one but you really cares. “18 hours” will suffice as an answer.
The entertaining version would be, “I think I would have broken 18 once, but I lost 40 minutes when I was treed by a wild boar.” Or, “I broke 19 one time, but that was probably only because of the pack of wild dogs that chased me for 10 miles.”
And that really brings us to the crux of avoiding becoming a boring ultrarunner. Your great victories seldom make entertaining stories. What people want to hear about are your appalling errors and grievous miscalculations. “What do you eat?”
Do you really believe that someone wants a calorie-by-calorie recounting of your diet in your latest successful ultra? Of course not. “Real food” will work for an answer. But what they really want to hear about is the time you attempted a 100-miler fueled by nothing except pork fat and Karo syrup. The more catastrophic the results, the better.
“Don’t you have to sleep?”
Are they looking for the story of the precise sleep schedule that resulted in a PR? Who cares about that? Tell them about falling asleep and running headlong into a sleeping bear. Tell them about the time you experimented with wearing an eye patch on alternating eyes to see if you could sleep half your brain at a time.
“Do you get blisters?”
Don’t even think about describing your regimen of taping, ointments and specialized clothing. Tell them about the time you duct taped your scrotum as a treatment for chafing.
I think it is clear what it takes to avoid being a boring ultrarunner. Success is boring. Calculated, well-run races lack pizazz. Details are excruciating, unless the details relate to something that was excruciating. If you want your ultrarunning to be entertaining, you need to do a lot of foolish things. Sure, you can attend to all the finer points of preparation and execution and have every race turn out well. But let’s be honest, how many of us will be contending for UROY, no matter how well we perform? But take a few chances, try a few unconventional approaches to the sport, and any runner can contend for the most entertaining ultrarunner.
So have some fun out there. Tread where wise men dare not go. And remember: no matter the physical and psychological scars you might carry, people will never tire of hearing your running stories.