As a race, humans do all sorts of daft and dangerous things to stimulate a rush of adrenaline. Thrill seeking is addictive; the exhilarating rush of hormones as we push ourselves to our limits in a quest for the buzz. It’s why many of us runners enter race after race and why I often burst into tears as I cross the line.
But, someone asked me today if I got that rush of emotion when I complete an ultra and I realised that no, I don’t. So where does the satisfaction come from? And why do I keep going back for more?
Ultra running is, by necessity, carried out at a gentler pace; it’s not the sort of exercise that should get your heart rate racing. If you’re getting a rush of endorphins as you trundle along, you should reign it in a bit!
Mentally, to cover the miles, I personally break the mileage down. In my mind, I’m never running more than the distance to the next checkpoint. (Having a memory like a goldfish helps immeasurably as each stage melts away in pursuit of the next.) But, joggling 6 miles at a 15min/mile pace ain’t going to blow anyone’s mind.
Finishing an ultra is most often a final fatigued shuffle rather than a glorious lung-busting sprint. In my case, the immediate aftermath is often characterised by my wobbliness, realisation that everything hurts and hubby shovelling food into me before I vomit or fall asleep whilst walking to the car.
But, it must give me some rush surely?
Of course, any long-distance event is a challenge that confers satisfaction on completion; it’s just a slow burn. I often wake early the day after an ultra, despite a ridiculous dawn start the previous day. The dull ache of muscles well-used, throbbing and twitching is a very pleasing sensation; a nice way to be drawn from sleep.
The following day is when I hobble around, sore and starving. I gladly stuff my face and have a proper bath that the ouchy, chafy, knackerdness prevents immediately after a finish. I catch up on all the social media messages I missed while offline. And gradually it sinks in what I’ve done.
You see, when you race a 10k on a Sunday, the adrenaline rush that has you sobbing uncontrollably as you are presented with your bling has long worn off by the time you’re tucking into you roasties. With an ultra I’m still beaming on a Wednesday as it gradually dawns on me exactly how far I ran. As I shuffle around work in my ugly-but-comfy shoes, unable to skip up the stairs to the staff room and too stiff to bend down to put a book on the shelf; I recall the miles I ran, the narrative of a day out doing what I love and get gentle waves of contented achievement.
Ultra running is a very different discipline to shorter forms of racing. But there’s a lot to be said for a slow released pleasure versus a quickie hit.
(*Note there are no euphemisms contained in this blog. I did well.)