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

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. I wanted to look a certain way: “How much should I run to look like that?” The answer was “No more than 10 miles.”

The culture of complacency, of 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. It misses the most important part of physical training.

Just like I missed the reason for running a marathon.

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

Just like I missed the purpose of Going Farther.

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

 

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

An ultra marathon is 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 ultrarunning blogs, and yes, diving into ‘the crazy’ and running an ultra marathon.

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

Ultrarunning 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.

What if these were a byproduct of something intangible and great?

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

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. And you might notice the small pains it caused 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 ultramarathon. Is it bad to run an ultra marathon? Can you, right now, afford the foot pain, the bloody toenails (check out some of our favorite gear for avoiding these), the knees aches, and the sleep deprivation?

No?

What if it unlocked a “lifetime of free gas?” What if, whenever a challenge rose up against you, you had complete confidence that you could set your mind right and get on down the road?

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.”

Stretch often. Strengthen your muscles. Train well.

Invest in the discomfort. Run an ultra marathon.

Book of the Month:

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds is a dive into the demons that plagued David Goggins -elite ultra endurance athlete and Navy SEAL- through his early life and an exploration of what it took for him to become a master of his own mind against all statistical odds. His tools for mental stimulation and growth are useful for anyone interested in venturing into endurance sports, becoming a better person, and mastering his or her mind. A must read!

Light 2 Light 50 Race Report: First Ultra Marathon Victory

Ultra marathon running isn't about winning, unless it is. Ultra marathon running is subjective; a person's journey through the darkness, down the Wicked Trail, is driven by his or her own passions, fears, and desires. This journey into pain is driven by his or her own...

Ultra Marathon Training: Crush Expectations

Most people running their first, or second, or third ultra marathon carry expectations into the race. They had training expectations; they planned the miles and hours they'd have to train, running and strengthening and stretching their way to ultra endurance. When...

Fasted Running Is Your Best Friend: 3 Reasons To Try It

For thirteen miles, I felt invincible. For the final three, I wasn't sure I'd finish. I felt like I did near the end of my first 100 mile race, although with much less lower body-body pain. It was an ultra marathon replication. I smiled during those long, arduous...

The Best Ultra Marathons: Is Yours On The List?

"What's the best ultra marathon?" Is it the most remote or adventurous like Marathon des Sables, the most challenging like Badwater or the H.U.R.T 100, or is it simply your first 100 miler, the one that breaks you into the world of ultra-endurance? Is it the race that...

Ultra Marathon DNF: Yes, You Failed. Yes, It’s Okay.

I was perusing some online ultramarathon running groups last weekend and came across a post about DNFs in ultrarunning. DNF stands for "Did Not Finish;" the participants name is not published and no belt buckle is awarded. The DNF is dreaded by many as hot-spots and...

UltraMarathon Pain Management: The Pain Cave

What is your perspective on ultramarathon running? Adventurous and exhilarating? Calming and therapeutic? Full of pain and suffering? Pain management has much to do with your perspective on running an ultramarathon. What is your perspective? Why do you run an...

share this post

Book of the Month:

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds is a dive into the demons that plagued David Goggins -elite ultra endurance athlete and Navy SEAL- through his early life and an exploration of what it took for him to become a master of his own mind against all statistical odds. His tools for mental stimulation and growth are useful for anyone interested in venturing into endurance sports, becoming a better person, and mastering his or her mind. A must read!

Light 2 Light 50 Race Report: First Ultra Marathon Victory

Ultra marathon running isn't about winning, unless it is. Ultra marathon running is subjective; a person's journey through the darkness, down the Wicked Trail, is driven by his or her own passions, fears, and desires. This journey into pain is driven by his or her own...

Ultra Marathon Training: Crush Expectations

Most people running their first, or second, or third ultra marathon carry expectations into the race. They had training expectations; they planned the miles and hours they'd have to train, running and strengthening and stretching their way to ultra endurance. When...

Fasted Running Is Your Best Friend: 3 Reasons To Try It

For thirteen miles, I felt invincible. For the final three, I wasn't sure I'd finish. I felt like I did near the end of my first 100 mile race, although with much less lower body-body pain. It was an ultra marathon replication. I smiled during those long, arduous...

The Best Ultra Marathons: Is Yours On The List?

"What's the best ultra marathon?" Is it the most remote or adventurous like Marathon des Sables, the most challenging like Badwater or the H.U.R.T 100, or is it simply your first 100 miler, the one that breaks you into the world of ultra-endurance? Is it the race that...

Ultra Marathon DNF: Yes, You Failed. Yes, It’s Okay.

I was perusing some online ultramarathon running groups last weekend and came across a post about DNFs in ultrarunning. DNF stands for "Did Not Finish;" the participants name is not published and no belt buckle is awarded. The DNF is dreaded by many as hot-spots and...

UltraMarathon Pain Management: The Pain Cave

What is your perspective on ultramarathon running? Adventurous and exhilarating? Calming and therapeutic? Full of pain and suffering? Pain management has much to do with your perspective on running an ultramarathon. What is your perspective? Why do you run an...

share this post

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