Ahh… this should be a fun post. Do me a favor and read ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM. Things aren’t always as they seem!….
running Ancient Oaks 2012- photo by Caleb Wilson
So if you aren’t on Twitter, it’s likely you haven’t seen or heard my recent podcasting with Trail Runner Nation. Initially, TRN invited me on to do a podcast on toughness in ultrarunning. You can listen to that here. Afterwards, I continued talking with the hosts, Don and Scott, and they expressed interest in bringing me on for more episodes. Around the same time, Jimmy Dean Freeman, an accomplished “west coast” ultrarunner, contacted me after reading my blog. He wanted me to chime in on a community blogging topic: “Pandora’s Box: 100 milers” in which we would discuss running 100’s. Now this all happened coming off of my…what would you call it..I don’t know...an ultra life awakening of sorts. The one that happened down at Ancient Oaks 100 in early December.
My initial response to Jimmy was something along the lines of….NO. Honestly I had nothing especially great to say about 100 milers at the moment, and I felt like blogging about it at the time would be an [irreversible] emotional online wreckage. However, Jimmy kept encouraging me to reconsider, noting that an opposing viewpoint to the Yes! Go do a 100! mentality would make for a more complete look into our crazy running world. Jimmy is pretty persuasive, and somehow he talked me into it.
Meanwhile, during all of the tweets, Trail Runner Nation got involved. “Hey why don’t we take this topic to podcast,” Don said. I agreed to roll with it, and my second podcast with TRN was born. You can download “Ashley Walsh and Jimmy Dean Open Pandora’s Box” here.
Now in that podcast, Jimmy and I got a little heated debating the pros and cons of signing up for a 100 mile race. Afterwards we took the name calling to twitter, people took sides, and it got kinda crunk. So a follow up podcast with Jimmy- one that was probably a little less about 100’s and a little more about trash talking- took place. Click here to download “Unpacking Pandora’s Box with Ashley Walsh and Jimmy Dean Freeman“.
Surprisingly, and though I hate to admit it to Jimmy or Don, the chatter on podcast and the ensuing conversations stirred more thought in my ever-changing brain about the 100 mile topic. I’ve thought a lot about it since. And seeing as that I never actually wrote a post to go with Jimmy’s synchro blog…crap happens… I feel that it’s time to put my 100 mile thoughts into readable words:
If you’re anything like me, if a thought has entered your brain, nothing will stop you until you execute it. But with 100’s you might want to check yourself and recheck yourself on that way of thinking before you commit. Here’s the thing: you gotta be really freakin’ in touch with yourself and have a solid reason as to WHY you are willing to put your body through Hell. Is it to have fun? To experience trails? To make new friends? To see if you can do it? To run another faster than you did the last time? Therapy? Raising money for dolphins? If you can answer that WHY, then you’re doing good so far. My fear is that people (myself included of course) sign up for these things without realizing the time and commitment it requires from not only the runner, but everyone surrounding the runner. Especially the first one.. that one’s a big freakin’ deal. And you’ll squirrel away all kinds of hours in preparation: running, buying dumb crap, reading forums, stalking people for advice, running, driving to running..talking about running..running! It’s intense.
For me, I’ve discovered that the distance needs to be somewhat of a pilgrimage. Each 100 I have finished, I’ve finished because I had some kind of personal vendetta. I talked a lot about this in my recent Ancient Oaks story. Any other 100 I’ve attempted that I didn’t have a real reason to finish, I didn’t finish.
It’s also very apparent to me that the races have become extremely popular in the last two years. Maybe people are signing up for them left and right due to popularity, peer pressure, or thinking it’s simply the path of natural progression… “Marathon..50k…50..100k.. 100 DONE! More 100’s please!” I feel strongly in that committing to 100 without a real reason to do it other than an ultra version of “Keeping Up With the Jones’s” is dangerous — and I don’t mean that in a cool, risky, kinda dangerous way.
I feel that what many fail to see, is there are plenty of other distances to specialize in. Just because you decide to run a little farther than a marathon doesn’t mean you have to lose your 100 mile virginity. Just find what distance makes you happy. If spending an entire day running doesn’t appeal to you or fit into your life, then screw it. Do something else. Find you. Which leads me to my next point…
ELITE INSPIRATIONAL ATHLETIC ACCOMPLISHMENT?
Sorry. I hate to say it, but the truth is, for most of us, this isn’t some elite sport. Running [errr hiking usually] 100 miles doesn’t make me or you or anybody better than any other runner out there. Sure we can move far…but it isn’t elite as many have made it out to be. I took a lot of flak for my stance on this in the second podcast, but I’ve felt this way for a long time. And seeing as that I do run these things competitively, I feel I have the right to voice my opinion here. The way I see it, we don’t always have to do things to get pats on the back for being the best or the most inspirational..
You know, I haven’t been on Facebook in a long time–a couple years actually–but I remember the constant display of insane butt kissing in running. Any time someone would do something even a tiny bit challenging, the comments would just pour in with “Ohhhh my gossh!!! Sooo inspirational! You’re incredible!!!!” and it would go on… and on.. and on…and on… and oh my friggin gosh… it’s like each person has their own individual fan club! People will say just about anything while jumping on that “motivational bandwagon”. Why, though? Does everything deserve a huge congratulations? It’s like ‘Wow. That’s incredible!’ has lost its merit. …Annnd…..Enter some really friggin inspirational running…..
Nevertheless, I do believe that everyone deserves to be praised for their efforts. I really do. Because it feels good to build others up. But it seems like in this semi twisted age of social media, there is nothing genuine left. Things get done for the facebook likes alone… I’m guilty of it, trust me…and it kind of blows to accept that reality. Because when it’s all said and done-even after all of the loads of praise- without that face to face interaction, I suppose it feels like more of an emptiness. …Which reiterates the need to have a serious “WHY AM I DOING THIS?” in place before you run 100.
IS IT FITNESS?
So I had originally planned to write this post several weeks ago, and voiced all of my points over twitter to Jen. But that was lame of me, seeing as some dude jacked my quotes and turned them into his own blog post. So you may have already seen a lot of this elsewhere, but here are some of my original thoughts on 100’s as fitness:
To me, 100 is a mental accomplishment more than a physical triumph. There are exceptions to that, such as drastic weightloss and people with one leg running to name a few– which are all incredible. But for the average runner, getting to the end of the line doesn’t require as much fitness as it does mental grit. I know from experience that your body starts to break down miles away from that 100 mile mark. So is it a strong body that keeps you moving or a strong mind?
I fully believe that in training [as I’ve said plenty of times on twitter] you’re really going farther than you need to once you hit that 20 mile mark of all out running. And in ultrarunning prep, I feel like it caps at 50. I don’t believe that there is much fitness to be attained after that point. I’m just a trainer, and not some doctor that’s studied this crap all of my life, but that’s just my observation.
100 is a lot to put your body through. The breakdown of the body that occurs is intense. I definitely believe it goes well beyond what is considered healthy and normal. I’m okay with that, ..but are YOU? In my 3rd 100, Fort Clinch, I was taken to the ICU by ambulance due to severe rhabdomyolysis. My body literally began to eat my heart for fuel….not one of my finer moments… Of course that’s not likely to happen to most runners, but it’s just an example of how quickly extreme running can break down your body. On the flip side, I have also finished a 100 and walked right off the course with nothing but painful blisters and sore legs, and resumed running again a couple days later. Either way, you have to accept the reality that these things can and will mess with your body in a major way. SO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY, DANGITT!! …Hey, you had to hear it from somebody.
IT’S MENTAL. I brought up another point on podcast about 100’s not really being that big of an athletic accomplishment and more of a mental one… and as usual… took a verbal beat down for it. But again, I remind you that my blog is called AshRuns100s, so I must find some value in it, right?….Hang on I’ll get to that!… Certainly it sounds incredible to say “I ran 100 miles!”. I mean, as ultrarunners, we know what that entails: It’s a lot of running, but it’s also a lot of walking, eating, talking, sitting, moaning and groaning. I believe that the outside non-ultra world imagines us running nonstop Kilian Jornet style across the mountains, and they’re thinking…Holy friggin’ crap. You gotta be kidding me?!… And the truth is, that’s not an accurate portrayal for most of us. And there is nothing wrong with that!!!! I just feel that our society has become so used to doing NOTHING (i.e. “The Comfort Society of America) that we celebrate anytime someone does SOMETHING. When in reality, we were built to do this kind of stuff. Like migration (that was for you, Jen).
Can we not accept that it’s a maybe more of a major MENTAL achievement? I can! In my own experience, I have seen exactly how ultrarunning made me look LESS fit. Here’s my proof: the picture on the left is me before I started ultrarunning. I was only doing low mileage marathon training and high intensity cross training at the time. The picture on the right is when I started running well over 100 miles a week and no longer had time or energy to dedicate to serious cross training.
OBVIOUSLY I lost overall fitness even though I amped up my training hardcore for ultrarunning. I was putting in 30 hour weeks of running during that picture on the right. Strange, huh?
BUT WHY, DESPITE EVERYTHING I JUST SAID, WILL I TELL YOU TO GO FOR IT?
Because it’s life changing. 100 miles is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. And I can give you my favorite reasons why:
Though I don’t believe these things are a good choice for me fitness wise, I do believe that they have made me a stronger woman. Stronger mentally, because I feel that I can conquer any situation that is thrown at me. Stronger physically, because I believe that I can endure far more pain than most people I encounter. I believe that they helped me to develop toughness, and a thick skin in life in general. Trust me, submit yourself to running for hours alone in terrible conditions and you’ll feel the same!
I have a cool story. Jimmy touched on this a little in our first podcast. Telling your friends, kids or grandkids stories of your 100 mile glory days is nothing but cool. Seriously. There’s no denying that. My little boy is always asking me if I think I could run to ____ [some far away place thousands of miles away]. I love being able to respond with, “I bet I could if I had enough time!”… See, I know that his brain is filled with thoughts and dreams of his own. If he sees me chasing down these things that most people think are ridiculous, then maybe he’ll do the same. And since I literally have a scientific whiz kid genius of a son, who know’s where that could lead?? Your life deserves a cool story…so make one.
It’s good free therapy and stress relief. So far, I have lived one beautifully [really] screwed up life. Browse this blog for evidence if you don’t know my back story. I have battled addictions of many sorts, but one of the biggest for me was an addiction to Chrystal Meth when I was a teen. Running for hours alone daily in the woods became my permanent way to deal with my past mistakes and to hash out things in my brain. I’m convinced I’ve settled a lot more in my life than I would have if I paid for 100 dollar counselling sessions! It works for me and it feels good for me to let everything go — out of my brain, through my own two feet, and I leave it all out on the trails. And that right there is good enough reason as any.
And most importantly, all of my friends, even my best friends, I met through ultrarunning. These connections are not just superficial “Hey how’s the weather?” kinda nonsense. No, I mean these people are here to stay! We talk about anything and everything, and we get each other. You know, most of us would agree that we didn’t find this sport, rather this sport found us.. and that’s indicative of the type of personalities we have. The connection that we share over the unique accomplishment of finishing a 100 mile race.. even sans racing, like I do with Amber….it’s special. And more importantly, it’s worthwhile. ALL of the pics below are with my ultrarunning buds outside of running, because we all hangout and talk in day to day life!
Jen and I road tripping out to Death Valley for Badwater 135.
Amber and I having a celebratory dinner after a dangerous solo 73 mile mountain run through the Smokies.
Beth and I flying out to Ohio for her 24 hour race.
Run Bum Sean and I grabbing lunch out at Lemonade in LA before road tripping to Santa Barbara with Dan.
Bruce and I partying out on the town in Gatlinburg spending the weekend at my parents cabin before a marathon.
With Caleb, Jen, and Michelle after my 100 mile induced near death trip to the ICU. Our paths have been forever intertwined since.
The memories I’ve made with these people, and many many more, are an incredible part of my life that I cherish.
…..And that, my friends, is why you should run 100 miles….even though you shouldn’t. 🙂
So there you have it, the good the bad and the ugly from my perspective. If you made it this far, leave your thoughts below! Thanks for reading:) ~Ash