I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what exactly an ultra-marathon was when I picked up this book. I just felt that it was something I wished to know more about , and probably do. I was confused, did it mean 50k or 100k? I now know it is running any distance greater than a marathon.
I found this honest story regarding that subject, to be a highly inspiring read. Not only for aspiring ultra-runners like myself, but for anyone who ever doubted they could do anything.
When I first began reading this book, an ultra-marathon felt like a far-off fantasy, or maybe something I would get round to doing, when I’d done everything else. I then recalled the Buddhist quote; “our greatest mistake is that we think that we have time”.
By the time I completed the book (and after a few months of purposeful mindset changes and priority shifting), I am now preparing to run 55k next year.
As announced in the book’s intro, this is not a book about how to run faster, this is a book about how running can be a journey into personal growth.
The thoughts that stayed with me the longest after reading, were not running related.
Such as this part:
“If you are a woman, and run a marathon or ultra-marathon, to turn around and criticize your body for every dimple or pocket of fat is like being saved by a superhero from a burning building, then turning around to tell him his socks don’t match his cape. No one cares about that.”
I, personally, find running makes me feel invincible. The more arduous the run, the greater the intensity of that feeling. (Drinking tea makes me feel a bit like that too, which is why my current obsession is running with a flask of it).
Vanessa says she does not have a typical runners body (not many ultra-runners seem to, to me) but when this book first crossed my path, my first thought was what enviably strong and beautiful legs she has on the cover photo.
Women, in my opinion, seem to be raised and influenced to view their bodies as something which must be fixed, corrected, improved on. We all seem to compare ourselves to a chosen interpretation of perfection. Here’s my proof Women, Sort Yourself Out. (1 min vid clip, warning:1 naughty word used)
Crossing the finish line after 26+ miles, no dimple or wrinkle can detract from the greatness and perfection of that body.
Vanessa presents that we, as a species, once ran due to a primal urge, seeking survival from physical predators, but now running can help to provide a way of survival from modern ‘predators’, in our jobs, families and everyday dealings.
The idea of Vanessa defining herself as ‘rich’ not in monetary terms, but her decision to abandon that limited classification in favour of ‘experiential riches’ was so nice. I know enough people who have plenty of money, but are lacking in either the time or health to enjoy it. (I left a career in Law, as my boss did not understand, I had no desire to age and die slowly behind a desk for money I would never be healthy or happy enough to enjoy).
I felt like such a wimp reading of her experiences; encounters of mountain lions, running alone in the dark, this is the fuel of my greatest doubts regarding my ultra-running ambition (more than the distance). I am not a loner, I find energy and security in groups, although I do prefer to run solo, as I find it meditative, especially when bumping into no other soul for miles. However, the idea of being as isolated on a run as Vanessa appears not only comfortable with, but to relish in, is something I would need to aspire further to achieve.
It is not a huge book, so others could read it much quicker, but I read it very slowly, stopping each time I had read a point I wished to sink it, then reading again a week or so later, a few pages at a time only.
Reading this book as someone fascinated with the concept of ultra-running, the chapter On Excuses is most inspiring. And these are the lines from it, which I leave with you:
“Everyone sweats; everyone pants for breath. The person who is in better shape will usually push himself to hike more quickly and bump into the same limitations. But when a fit person is stressed, he is less likely to attribute the difficulty to his shortcomings… Obviously conditioning is advantageous, but the perception of disadvantage can be more debilitating than the actual disadvantage.”
“Ultras are hard for everyone. Ultras are just plain hard. Everyone struggles up that hill. Everyone has trouble breathing. Everyone feels the hot sun.”
In the words of Seal:
In a world full of people, only some want to fly. Isn’t that crazy? Oh, We’re never gonna survive, unless we get a little, crazy.