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On October 23, 2017, Guillaume Calmettes ran 245.832 miles to become the last man standing at the Big Dog Backyard Ultra. Here’s the story from the woman who cooked him a lot of soup.
Somewhere I’ve seen Eastern States referred to as a “Massanutten 100 on Steroids.” The course is a work of art: one giant loop through the Tiadaghton State Forest with a scenic lakeside finish area in Little Pine State Park. Pine Creek Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” cuts through the center.
Five years ago, two important aspects of my life converged: my career path as a clinical psychologist, and my long-time passion for running. A year into graduate school, I faced the decision of choosing a topic for my dissertation. I opted for something I had long been curious about: the psychological side of ultrarunning; that “90% mental” behind the old adage.
For the uninitiated, for those who marvel at the idea that 50 or 100 miles of continuous running is possible, the phrase “I could never do that” is often an instant, almost involuntary reaction. “I could never do that” precedes a second common reaction, “I can barely run a 5k.” Despite how frequently I hear this reaction, it still gives me pause and makes me wonder: Why, after all, are people so fixated on finishing an ultramarathon, when the road to the starting line is where most of the journey takes place?
If you’ve ever been to my house for dinner, you will soon come to understand that I am a nutritionist…
Ultrarunning is an endurance sport and as such it requires you to push yourself up to your limits. As you approach these limits and work to overcome them, you will find yourself facing similar physical and mental challenges over and over. Ultrarunning is testing you to see if you are learning from your mistakes, if you are equipping yourself to better deal with these challenges.
I’m not going to give my story or my excuses, or place blame or defend myself. I didn’t finish. Those are the only words it needs. I didn’t finish, and I went home crying in the middle of the night, showered crying in the middle of the night and fell asleep crying and cramping in the middle of the night. When I woke up, I told my family and apologized. I was embarrassed and ashamed and exhausted, physically and emotionally.
Mention race walking to a runner or ultramarathoner and they usually have one of two reactions: they laugh and mock the hip-wiggling, much-maligned Olympic event, or they speak of it with respect either from trying it themselves or because they were passed late in a race by a steady-paced heel-to-toer.
One of the greatest things about our sport is its spirit of collective effort. At ultramarathons it’s as if we are racing with, not against, each other. Maybe it’s because running so far is so daunting that people “pull together” to overcome the challenge. Or maybe it’s simply that the nature and values of people attracted to this sport selfselects for friendly, helpful people.