By Benjamin Freeman Prichard
Muddy shoes, a wet shirt, torn shorts, and a bloody bandana pretty much some up my running career in Hawaii and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. From the day I buy a new pair of shoes until the day I retire them, they remain muddy. In fact, the only washing they ever get is when I run through streams or in the ocean. And if there is one thing I can impart to readers is the importance of keeping running exciting. If you are not already doing it, break up the routine and embrace the unknown.
I think Hawaii is an amazing place to run. The climate is very consistent year round, it’s warm and it rains a lot. Throughout the islands evolutions beautiful ridges and deep valleys have formed that continue to inspire even the thickest of intellects. When I see the rolling hills and mountains, I can’t help but want to go run through it all. The beauty of the islands can be overwhelming. Even at night under a full moon or a sky full of stars, I can’t help but be inspired. I often turn my mind off and just go. Ultrarunning is somewhat new to me but here is my take on it thus far.
Ultrarunning has become an integral part of my life since I first read Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. Then his second book, Natural Born Heroes was another game changer for me, taking my running to the next level. I integrated my diet and sense of duty into my running. I believe each of us must pull our own weight in the world. Those of us doing it now will be leading all the others later on.
99% of my running has been alone so I have had a lot of time to consider what I am doing and why. The answer is; I am training for the unknown. Sure, I have a few races looming in the future but my daily running routine is largely based on the moment because honestly we never really know what we are getting ourselves into when we go out on a run. We might get lost, we might get injured, we might even get kidnapped or worse. Therefore I try to avoid referring “being halfway” or “almost there” because for all I know I might twist an ankle and the miles just got a lot longer as I limp my way back home. I’ve found it is imperative to be with the moment and try to avoid doing mental math.
I look at ultrarunning on a survival level. What do I need to do to remain moving for an indefinite amount of time? How can I make running easier for me so I exert less energy? What do I need to keep my body fueled, hydrated and my mind focused. When I go on an adventure I bring a few necessities. A LifeStraw so I can drink from any water source. A knife for protection. And GPS on my phone so I can track where I came from and where I am heading.
Trails provide more than just a place to run. I often find myself foraging for food along the way. I have found nourishment from my surroundings many times. A simple guava or mountain apple have lifted my spirits. Wild papaya has settled my stomach as has passion fruit. I often eat noni leaves for minerals.
I remember being fearful of running on trails when I first took up running. The security of a smooth road was hard to trade in for the rugged trails. Only later did I realize trail running would help me with every aspect of my health and well-being so much more than road running ever would have done for me. Instead of just mindlessly placing one foot in front of the other for hours at a time. My feet are now reading the trails like pages of brail. In a spilt second I make countless decisions about where to place my feet. While at the same time allowing the universe effortlessly fill my lungs with cool forest air and attempting to move around the vegetation without disturbing the quiet forest.
At times on the trail I become so aware of my surroundings. I enjoy stalking others on out and back runs. If I pass someone once I try to catch them at least once more on the way back. I often smell them before I see them, occasionally I find their litter and pick it up or I hear them murmuring over the next ridge or valley.
I have had a few instances running when I was the prey. I wrote about one particular adventure of mine in the local newspaper and a local hunter wanted me dead for exploiting the land. From then on I planned my runs strategically to avoid hunting areas or places with only one way out. Running took on a whole new adventure when there is someone out there looking for you and you don’t know who they are but they know you.
That’s when I really began making the most out of my runs. I didn’t want to go easy, I looked forward to it to being hard. When my mind revolted at the thought of running hard I told myself I would go easy just to get me out the door and then I would go hard because I still could. Ultrarunning takes us beyond our bodies and minds. If we come into the sport with the proper training, I believe there is little we can’t accomplish. The unknown is beyond the finish line and it could be right now.