9 Ultrarunning Norms You Can Break

I have always been a rebel. It’s in my DNA. Always has been, always will be. This personality trait is evident in every area of my life. I like to think for myself, and refuse to accept societal norms. Seeing as running is a huge part of my life, it should come as no surprise that I shattered a few running standards there. Here are a few examples of how I made running work better for me:

1.) You don’t have to get faster. From your very first running step, to your very last, no doubt you will at some point devise a plan to get faster. Faster equals fitter, fitter equals better, better equals winning, and winning.. well, who doesn’t want to win at life? Getting faster at running is a nice feeling. You can cover more miles in less amount of time, therefore leaving you with more numbers on the clock to enjoy your hobby. Unfortunately, the desire to get faster can become very frustrating. Especially if you don’t seem to be any good at it. That was me!  I used to always compare my times to others, and even to my own past times, and I was never, ever satisfied! Sometimes, I would even leave a solid strong race performance completely disappointed in myself because I had missed a goal time by a few minutes…..sound familiar? So here’s a thought: let it go. Completely forget the desire to be faster, stronger, and better, and just run. Be in the moment. Constant improvement and goal setting is not essential to enjoying this sport.

2.) You don’t need to run long on weekends.  Likely before you even decided to become a distance runner, you were aware of the weekend long run. It’s just how you have to do the whole training gig, right? Not necessarily. While the long run should be staple if you plan to go far, it doesn’t have to take up your Saturday or Sunday. I run long on Monday mornings. Weird? Nope. It works for me. After years of spending my weekends waking up at the butt crack of dawn to run, I just got burned out on it.  I hated waking up early then being too drained all day to hang with my family the only day we were all together. I thought to myself, you know, it might feel really good to just sleep in for once…I tried it. And, lo and behold, I liked it. I traded weekend workouts for spending the morning in my husband’s arms, cuddling my kids by the light of some Tom & Jerry, and making a huge hot breakfast for everyone. The whole “family weekend” thing became the norm, and I never looked back. My weekend completely belongs to my crew. I would much rather wake up at 3am on a Monday to run for 4 hours than do it on a Saturday now, because Saturday is the only day we all have together. Occasionally I will still run long on weekends, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world. So don’t be afraid to rethink this for yourself! Maybe it makes more sense for you to run on a Thursday night, or a Friday afternoon.  If the long run is becoming a pain to fit in, be open to change. You may be able to find a better, more unique time to get your long run in.

3.) You don’t need a sponsor.

Real quick, I need to flashback to this… because #AASUGAR is still looking for some athletes if you’re interested.

It all seems cool and all, but look, you don’t have to be an ambassador for a food, a shoe, or a shirt to be worthy of racing hard. Charmin toilet paper, Jiff Peanut butter, or Moon Pies don’t need to be throwing product your way for you to reach your full potential…

(We were bored. Don’t ask.)

You can be a fully functioning athlete without ANY brand power on your shirt. It is possible. Companies are wonderful to support runners. I love it, and have appreciated and accepted it many times. However, race day really comes down to this: your training, your guts, and your will….All YOU. Don’t you think any less of yourself if you’re not repping anyone but your own freakin’ bank account.

4.) You don’t need to apologize for a crappy race on social media  Isn’t that so liberating?! We’ve all seen it, and probably done it. You chalk up your race online: “5 days until my big race!! I’m going all out!!!” .. you know..all that celeb status runner stuff, and then–well, and then you fail. Miserably. Happens to the best of us. So, naturally, the only logical thing to do next is to explain to everyone why you sucked so bad, and apologize for letting them down and destroying their hopes and dreams about you. Looks something like this:

Just wasn’t my day today. My leg broke. I ran 60 miles and started to puke from the pain. I wish it would have gone better. I tried. I really did. I tried soooo hard. But, in the end, I just couldn’t keep running on that broken leg. I’m sorry to my mom, my wife, my crew, to all of you good people. 

WHY DO WE DO THIS?! WHY?? Why do we always need to explain ourselves to others? Not only are we narcissistic in thinking that everyone and their mom cares about our lives, but we act like the fate of humanity is somehow resting on our running shoulders! This needs to stop. You run your race for you. I run mine for me. We don’t need to apologize for sucking when we suck! If we inspire or motivate someone along the way, great. If not, so what. And if some idiot gives you a hard time about a DNF, well, you can tell them where to put it!!!

5.) You don’t have to find a running partner, or join a running group. 

I am not a particularly social person. I never run with a group.  If anyone joins me on the trails, it is going to be my dog, and that’s about it. It’s not that I despise humans or anything, it’s just that running is my alone time. It is my chance to breathe, to think, to process, and to listen to music. I really, really enjoy that. I have a group of friends outside of the sport, so I did not really get into it to make acquaintances. This might make me seem callous and anti social, but I’m really— No. I guess it’s true, I am callous and antisocial.

Ha. Really though, I do like to make new friends every now and then, and I am never rude to other runners! However, being a runner doesn’t mean that I need to morph my loner self into a bubbling runner socialite.

So if you’re like me, you can totally be a moody mountain goat nomad and keep to yourself, it’s fine! Running alone is great for developing mental discipline and toughness. I find it especially useful during those long, lonely, remote ultra stretches, where I find I can easily run confidently and comfortably simply because I am used to the feeling.

I will say this though, while I do enjoy being a run loner, literally all of my closest friends are distance runners. We have great conversations, and the adventures we share together are off the chart! I’m happy I got out of my comfort zone and made some friends. So if you do decide to come out of your shell for a quick minute, you  likely won’t regret it.

6.) You really don’t need to race multiple times a year.  I know it’s the cool thing to do. I mean, Johnny ran 20 100’s this year, and Jane ran like 10 ultras in 5 months, then did 400 miles in a circle,  then busted out a 5k the next weekend. Facebook was literally oozing at the pores with inspirational goodness. These people must be some serious super humans… and insanely rich…right?  You only did a marathon in January, and then a 50 miler last month, which you are still fatigued and recovering from. You must suck and need to kick it up a notch, right?

Wrong.

A couple things here.

First off, yes, Kilian Jornet exists. No, none of us are him. The average runner is not a superstar genetic freak of nature! The human body simply cannot handle a true peak performance multiple times a year. Look at race times of the runners you see racing every weekend. They probably aren’t that stellar. In other words, many of them are sandbagging each event, or not giving each event their best possible effort. They are approaching the sport with a quantity over quality attitude.  That is perfectly fine. It is what they enjoy, and what floats their boat. But see it for what it is, and don’t fall into the illusion of thinking you aren’t doing enough.

Second, think about shelf life.  Do you want to still be doing this when you are old and gray? Then slow down a bit! Many runners in the sport for the long haul find that 1-2 longer races during the year, and maybe a couple other shorter distances are all they can handle running at best effort. More than that could lead to burnout eventually. Mentally so, but possibly physical burnout as well. Adrenal fatigue– look it up!

Eventually, you will find it’s about settling into your own body’s rhythm, groove, what you can afford to do, and not comparing yourself to others. For me, the best training and racing routine is one that keeps me happy, healthy, rested, energized, and balanced for the length of my life.

7.) Let running sit low on life’s totem pole.  You do not have to train 7 days a week. You do not need to put running over sleep and health. You do not need to be an inspiration to us all!!  Really you don’t. ….Why don’t you? Well, probably because you have a life. I’m so sick of  this whole media infused mentality of “HTFU”, “GO BIG OR GO HOME!!” and “BEAST MODE!!!!”… *Eye roll* It’s just not realistic, guys.  I mean, what if you have 3 kids in sports, a stressful job, financial problems, and a demanding, crabby mother-in-law who lives in your basement? Can you train every single day of the week like a professional athlete? No, you probably can’t. And you shouldn’t. Some days, some weeks, some months even, you really just might not feel like you have the physical, mental, or emotional capacity you need to train hard. And that’s probably for the best. Don’t beat yourself up about it!!! Yes, ultra training definitely requires some sacrifices here and there, but it does not need to get out of control. Run as much as you can without disrupting not only your life, but everyone’s life around you. I find the lower prioritized approach way more sustainable than trying to be a working mom [with horrible biomechanics] throwing down close to the same amount of miles as an Olympic marathoner… wayyyy more sustainable.

8.) You can DNF all you want!!! Because frankly….Who gives a crap?! I remember reading a post a little while ago stating that those who DNF ultras were essentially nothing more than human garbage. Not finishing what you start is basically the worst thing imaginable. Complete failure. I say screw that nonsense! If you’re sick, fractured, twisted, fatigued, or heck…if you just want to go home, eat dinner with your family and call it a day, by all means, just do it. You can! You can stop running!  It’s your life, it’s your experience, and who cares what anyone else thinks about it? I seriously doubt that when any of us are on our death beds, we will be wishing, above all else, that we had finished that dang 100 miler. Ultrarunning, as wonderful as it is, puts an intense amount of stress on the body–YOUR body. The skin that YOU have to live in every single day, and for the rest of YOUR entire life. Race wisely.

9.) You don’t have to have a goal race and a schedule. Racing is fun. It helps us stay motivated to run every day, and a schedule helps us accomplish those goals and dreams. But, there is such a thing as just running for fun, my friends. There is no problem with simply running a few miles in the the park every day, or going for a weekend jaunt in the mountains.. JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT. No plans, no itinerary, no hopes– just the art of moving and breathing freely. It feels absolutely amazing. I did this for the majority of 2012. I was burnt out, and sick of trying. I didn’t want to quit running all together though, so I just decided to run what I wanted, when I wanted, and left the rules out of the picture. It was the most liberating year of running I had ever felt. If the thought of signing up for another race drains you, then don’t do it.

See how running feels in the raw, without all of the pressure and details of goals and schedules. Ditch your watch, and just get out to enjoy a nice day. Don’t worry about how far you’re going or how fast. Just be present in the moment. Take in what it feels like to be alive, and let that be enough for you. Just run…. You might like it.:)

All in all, running comes down to this one simple thing: Do your own thing, and enjoy it.  Yeah, I could have summed up this entire post with one sentence……Okay, I’m deleting the rest now.

Have a great day, guys, and GO RUN! 😀

Tune in to TRAILRUNNERNATION to hear me discuss this blog post with Sally, Don, and Scott HERE.

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66 thoughts on “9 Ultrarunning Norms You Can Break

  1. jimathiker says:

    Nice Article….what you wrote can also be applied to long distance hiking. I especially appreciate your ambivalence toward sponsorship…too many people want someone else to pay for their lifestyle, or they need free stuff in order to validate their existence among their peers within their chosen sport. Again, nice work.

    Like

  2. proactiveoutside1 says:

    I hit the “amen” button more than a few times on this one. I tried the group run thing, and found it’s just easier to go on my own. And to run for fun, whether that be trying to nail it in a race or just get outside and enjoy the day. Also, unsponsored. 😉

    And yes, I shared the hell out of this post.

    Like

  3. Darren Walker says:

    There have been many a time in my life that I have longed for sponsorship. There is something about potentially being sponsored that makes me feel worthy, wanted, idolized, and even at times worshiped. That’s a fantastic feeling. To feel like a master of the universe. But then, why are we even here? Who are we and what is our purpose on this carousel of life? Is it to master the universe or to serve in the universe? This question has plagued my mind for many decades and I still don’t have the answers. To be a master of my own destiny and become sponsored is an inherently sloppy slope. If sponsorship consumes me, turns me into a dark figure- a dark public figure I never aspired to be, then have a gained anything? Have I lost my way, my compass, my soul? On the flip side, to ignore these strong feelings of eagerness for belonging and power might lead to eternal stagnation. Eternal stagnation in the myre. The wheels of my mind are turning. Thank you. Thank you again. Thank you for making my night. Posts that make me think are so succulent.

    Like

  4. Kari says:

    This was a really awesome post, Girl! I started running last year, nothing over a half yet, but already feel a lot of those same feelings you described. All of my friends in the run club are of the same mindset. Such a relief to know that I actually don’t have to live up to those standards! No idea how I got pulled into that mentality in the first place. But thank you for liberating my way of thinking! You rock!

    Like

    • Ashley Ringo Walsh says:

      Hey Kari! Thanks for giving this a read! I’m glad you could find it useful. It’s not necessarily a bad mentality to have I suppose. The norm definitely works for a lot of people, but it is good to know that you can follow your own path and still have fun. Have a great weekend! ~Ash

      Like

  5. Bruce says:

    Well I think you should go big or go home, or HTFU, or FTHU, even. Just kidding. I think you’re my twin. Lovely piece.

    Have I told you about the time I was 637 miles into my million-mile run over broken glass and my liver fell out…

    Like

  6. Bruce says:

    Well I think you should just HTFU, or FTHU, even. Just kidding. I think you’re my twin, Ashley Ringo Walsh. Lovely piece – thanks. I wrote something a few months after I DNF’ed the Comrades Marathon. It’s here:

    http://do-your-squats.com/words/?p=49

    Say, did I ever tell you about the time I was 637 miles into a million-miler; well my liver fell out and I needed to sharpen a stick and patch the hole using my eyeball…

    Like

  7. Kim says:

    Wow – I love this!!! My favorite was #8 because so far that is what I’ve done in every (3) ultra I’ve attempted!! After the 3rd I decided that running an ultra (50 miles) wasn’t for me. Great post!!!!

    Like

    • Ashley Ringo Walsh says:

      Hey Kim, thanks for the comment! You know I think it’s kudos to you for listening to your body! I know so many people continue to do this stuff day in and day out just bc they think it’s their thing, when really they find no joy or satisfaction in it! See it in myself sometimes too.

      Like

  8. Jeff says:

    Girl. I am gay. I also run. (Yes, gay men love you run too). I love the act of running, but I hate the machismo that goes hand in hand with racing. Just because YOU race and win doesn’t mean that you’re better than me or have the right to discriminate against me! Just because YOU have a sponsor doesn’t mean that you’re better than me or have the right to discriminate against me! Your sponsor would probably FIRE YOUR HAIRY ASS if they knew how you treated me… Sorry. I got side tracked and have had some issues in the past. Because I can totally relate, I give this bangin’ post two thumbs up!

    Like

    • Ashley Ringo Walsh says:

      Thanks for reading & commenting, Jeff! I’m sorry you’ve felt discriminated against during your running, that really sucks. Honestly, I think that everyone deals with something. A lot of times many people know nothing about it. Running is good therapy for it. Have an awesome week. -Ash

      Like

  9. vanessaruns says:

    Reblogged this on Vanessa Runs and commented:
    I love this girl. If you don’t know Ash, you may want to give her a follow. In the meantime, be an out-of-the-box runner and start with this list. ESPECIALLY #4 and #8. Trails and ultrarunning are a personal journey. That means you can choose your own route and do it your own way. Personally, I love signing up for races that are way over my head and risking a DNF each time I tow the line. When I don’t finish, I learn a LOT in a very short time span. When I do finish, I’m riding that high for years. Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to set your own pace. Enjoy!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Mike says:

    Thanks for the reality check Ash. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the social enf of running and to try and over achieve, whether for personal or other reasons. You are so right. It’s nice to just sit back and let the legs go where they want without an agenda. …and as soon as I finish my marathon on the 12th, I intend to follow your advice. 🙂

    May God have mercy on my soul. 🙂

    Like

  11. David F says:

    Followed the link here through Ultrarunner podcast.

    I have been messing with ultra running for the past three years or so and find upon reflection, that I have never taken an extended break from running (having an off season break, etc). I am a mid packer at best and always striving to push push push to get a rung up…… training in south florida during the summer is flat out brutal due to the weather and I despise running in the heat for anything over a few hours….. my body just hates it.

    With a 50K next weekend and my third try at completing a 100 four weeks after that, I have just been feeling burnt out lately – physically and mentally.

    Your post is exactly what I needed to read right now – a real reality check to help right the ‘mental ship’ in my mind that has been listing to one side and bothering the hell out of me.

    Thanks for a great post

    Like

    • Ashley Ringo Walsh says:

      Hey David! Really really loved this comment! I understand completely. I just finished another hundred, and I’m just so so spent and tired, decided to take several months off. I’ve done it before and it seems to work out well for me. I hope you accomplish what you set out to do and find that balance. Good luck, man.

      Like

  12. Sam says:

    Love this post! I DNFed 3 100 milers this year so it was very refreshing to hear your opinion on DNFing. All 3 times it was the right thing for me to do, but reading other blogs I was feeling bad about it. Thanks for the reality check!!

    Like

  13. Amy says:

    Hi, i just wanted to say that i have followed your instagram for quite some time and it has helped motivate me from a slow 6 miles race right through to my first 26.2. This year will be my first 50k race. Thank you and keep it going! 🙂

    Like

  14. Portuguese trail runner from Portugal says:

    Great post. Sometimes to be a runner is a problem, when we start to be too demanding on ourselves. We are badass for even running when we are not professional. We do it to escape life’s problems and get in wild mood, not to add another worry to our lives.

    Like

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