“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” -T.S. Eliot
As early as I could walk, I ran; bet that’s most of our stories, that running came as natural as breathing. I often wonder though, when I hear claims today that running’s not our thing or we just can’t; it’s too difficult, too tiring, too time-consuming, too hazardous, so-not-my-thing, the list goes on… as our excuses melt into, well.. excuses. What happened? I wonder. Wihere did our natural ability to give flight to our worries, cares, fancies and even dreams go? When did we become such a sedentary-type people with lips that move more than we do? I’d wager that the advance in information technology (IT) gave birth to not just knowledge and information, but with it’s advance came the decline of human autonomy and our desire to engage ourselves and our senses in the act of living.
Yet, this is not all our story. There are many of us who have moved past the seduction and post-coital stages of the IT era to embrace its ability to enhance our lives and bring fulfillment to our running experiences. In fact, running is now enjoyed by more people the world over than ever before in history. The 1970’s saw the explosion of running across the United States with thousands of road races and marathons being run each year. Running now enjoys the prominent place of being the sixth most popular form of exercise according to Dr. Richard Well, CDE of Medicine Net.com. We owe our thanks largely to Pheidippides (490 BC), an ancient “day-runner,” who put running on the map. He is supposed to have run 149 miles to carry the news of the Persian landing at Marathon to Sparta in order to enlist help for the battle. Some believe the story of Pheidippides to be a myth, whether myth or legend, it is the genesis of the modern marathon. It was the first running of the marathon (26 miles, 385 yard) in the modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens that commemorated Pheidippides’ historic run.
Today running has taken on more depth and definition. While many of us run for health reasons and see it mainly as a form of exercise, there are those who have taken it to the next level of fun and competition. Another, slightly newer though fast developing area of running, is the extreme sporting aspect of ultra running events for the ultra-competitive and thrill seekers. Here we move from marathons, track, road races and various fun runs to ultra-marathons, trail running, decathlons, triathlons and Iron-man triathlons.
- Considered any race over 26.2 miles, Ultra-marathons generally come in two forms: those that cover a specified distance, and events that take place during specified time (with the winner covering the most distance in that time). The most common distances are 50 kilometres, 100 kilometres, 50 miles, and 100 miles, although many races have other distances.
- Trail Running can include endurance and cross-country running and hiking over trails and is typical to most ultra-marathon events.
- Decathlons are composed of ten track and field events run over a two-day period.
- Triathlons are multiple-stage competitions that include three successive sporting events of varying distances. The most common form is swimming, biking and running.
- An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile run, raced in that order and without a break.
With all this new additions to the sport of running, it is no wonder that many of us are no longer satisfied with a fun run or just running for exercise. There is an inate drive and desire in us for more; it creates a discontent with the status quo and allows us to push beyond boundaries and exceed limitations in our pursuance of that sense of overwhelming fulfillment that can only come from the ultimate challenge. In the words of Michael Finkel, 100-mile Western States Endurance Run Ultra-marathoner,
“I was suffused with this warm sense of overwhelming fulfillment. In one day, I’d totally rejiggered how I calculated my abilities and weaknesses. I was deeply happy.”