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Are Ultra Marathons Bad For You?

Written By George Callahan

Sep 27, 2018

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Are Ultra Marathons Bad For You?

 

“Boy, That’s a Long Distance”

I remember the first time someone asked if I ever wanted to run a marathon. My longest run to that point had probably been a lung-searing 5 miles. I set down the greasy pizza I was eating: “No way! Marathons are bad for you. Your knees and ankles take a pounding. You’d have to drink a lot of milk to keep your bones healthy!”

Running a marathon was bad.

The pounding on the joints and the stress on the heart, coupled with the time investment needed to run 26.2 miles was too much. Why would anyone want to do that?

There I was, munching on cheesy pizza and nursing my legs after a 5 mile jog; I had no idea what the future would hold for me. In 2018 I would run my first 100 mile ultra marathon, finishing in a mind-numbingly slow 29 hours and 50 minutes (with this kind of training that can be expected).

When I eventually ran a whole 10 miles in 2014, I had reached the threshold of ‘necessary.’ It wasn’t reasonable or worthwhile to go over 10 miles. You’ve read those articles before

This is How Much You Need to Run Per Week
Doctors Say Don’t Run More Than THIS At One Time
Looking to Lose Weight? Don’t Run More Than You Need!
Why Too Much Running Is Bad For Your Health

I was drinking the Kool Aid. My bones, joints, tendons, heart, and all the other important components of my body wouldn’t be able to handle distance over 10 miles.

Maybe 10 miles is even too much

 

Fitness Culture

The culture of mediocrity, comparison, and visual had grabbed me. It would take a few years to break free.

I was running for aesthetic: looks and comparison. Wanting to look a certain way, I’d ask: “How much should I run to look like that?” The answer was “No more than 10 miles.”

Culture, one of complacency and mediocrity, preaches comparison and alignment. Look at others and devolve to fit their molds. Your peers run this amount for this reason and do this many workouts while eating this much food because they want to look like this

This is where I lived. “What does it take to look like that?”

I fear many people fall into this category.

This mindset, this mental infestation of comparison, is toxic. It pollutes the air with a superficial belief that the value of fitness is found in visual, missing the most important part of physical training.

Just like I missed the reason for running a marathon.

And like I missed the reason for pushing past 10 miles.

Just like I couldn’t understand the purpose of Going Farther.

Put on your gas masks. Welcome to the Wicked Trail.

 

Are Ultra Marathons Bad For You? | Wicked Trail Shirt

An Ultra Marathon Can’t Be Good For You, Right?”

Ultra marathons are the epitome of adventure, challenge, and physical prowess. Obstacle course races and triathlons come close, but neither explore the monotony of lonesome trail or open road over a period of a whole day, or multiple days. How far is too far?

People do many things that are bad for them. Drinking pop, eating fast food, smoking cigarettes, spending too much time reading ultra running blogs, and yes, diving into ‘the crazy’ and running an ultra marathon.

I would argue, however, as I’m sure many ultra runners would, that running an ultra marathon is not bad for you. It’s actually one of the best things you could do for yourself.

Ultra running is an investment that pays better than any stock ever will.

What exactly is the ultra marathon runner getting from his or her time on the trail? When do we see a return on the battered knees, bludgeoned ankles, twisted stomachs, and tears of frustration from being awake for over 24 hours?

Joint pain, ligament stress, and sleep deprivation are signs of overuse. Our bodies need rest and we’ve deprived them of it. Stop. Rest. Lie down. These can’t be good.

Wait.

Are these a byproduct of something intangible and great?

Is the mental growth launched by an event of extreme challenge bought with temporary joint pain, ligament stress, and sleep deprivation? What if hurting for a few days, or even a few weeks, didn’t matter?

 

The ultra marathon: Free gas for life

Would you pay $1,000 for a lifetime of free car gasoline?

I shouldn’t have to answer that.

That $1,000 might hurt in the moment. You might notice the small pains it causes in a few months, or a year from now.

But guess what?

You’ll never wonder if you have what it takes to fill your car up and get on down the road. Any financial struggles that rise up against you won’t affect your ability to keep going; you paid a fee many years ago that has paid off in the freedom of mobility. Nothing can stop you from filling your car up and getting on down the road.

Pay the $1,000; run the ultra marathon. Are ultra marathons bad for you? Can you, right now, afford the foot pain, the bloody toenails, the knees aches, and the sleep deprivation?

No?

What if it unlocked a lifetime of free gas? Whenever a new challenge rises up against you, what if you had complete confidence in your mind and body?

This is what an ultra marathon will do for you. It gives you the mental fortitude, perseverance, and strength to overcome obstacles. Not physical obstacles; mental and emotional obstacles.

You won’t feel the knee pain when you get laid off.

Your feet won’t be throbbing when your car breaks down.

You’ll no longer be chilled to the bone or baking under the sun when a financial slump threatens your security.

“This is just another Wicked Trail. I’ve been here before. I know this emotional fatigue, this mental frustration; we became well acquainted at mile 80.”

Are ultra marathons bad for you?

Stretch often. Strengthen your muscles. Train well.

Invest in the discomfort. Fill your tank.

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