First, a confession.
I've been sick for an entire week, and I am sick of being sick. The worst part is, I weighed in this morning and the scale basically looked at me and said, "lady, you've taken that whole 'feed a cold' thing waaaaay too literally. Ease up, will ya?" So, I've got some work to do. Clean eating and sticking to the plan are the name of the game ... at least for the next few weeks. Now, on to the meat of this post.
There is no way you can witness an ultra marathon and not be inspired in some way.
Linda and I spent Saturday volunteering at the Des Plaines River Trail Run. It includes races in three distances - half marathon, marathon and 50 mile ultra marathon. The half, I can relate to. Marathon, even. But 50 miles? What fresh hell is this?
Our friends Pete and Dave were running it, so it was really the least we could do to show up and support them. We were assigned to Aid Station 5, which was at the half-marathon turnaround point. The marathon runners turned around at that point and head back to the start. The ultra runners, however, kept running; they would run almost an entire marathon before they returned to our aid station on the out-and-back course.
These men and women are truly amazing athletes. But what surprised me the most was that they were genuinely appreciative. Don't get me wrong - runners are the nicest people in the world. Elite and pro athletes alike have always been very kind to me when our paths have crossed (and I've not given in to geeking out all over them). But this caliber of athlete - people who willingly run 50 miles at a stretch - is something quite different, so I didn't quite know what to expect. I shouldn't have been surprised, because my experience at IronMan was quite similar. And yet, once again, I learned that, by and large, athletes become great athletes by training hard, and being nice to people.
And they sure were nice to us.
On the way out - after running about 14 miles - most runners were happy to see us but content to keep running on. But on the way back - at about the 38-mile mark - they were desperate. Some couldn't string a group of words together to form a sentence. They could barely point to what they wanted. And we supplied it all! Electrolyte drink and water, plus pretzels, chips, Doritos, M & Ms, bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, goldfish crackers, Coke and other sodas, candy corn, plus the usual energy gels. Pretty much anything a runner could want, be it sweet, salty or liquid, we had it. And they ate it, with great appreciation.
It felt weird to tell people they were almost done, when they had 12 miles to go, but it was the truth. Out of 50 miles, having only 12 left meant they were on the downhill slope. And it really got me to thinking.
No matter what my goal race is, there is always someone out there pushing farther.
I guess that's the curious and inspirational part of being a runner; we don't stop reaching. We either keep working at the distances we know, trying to run them faster, or we push beyond. 13.1 becomes 26.2.
26.2 becomes 50.
And, God love 'em, for some people (like one of my aid station compadres, Carrie T.) ... 50 becomes 100.
I don't understand ultra runners, but man do I admire them. I am grateful for the example they provide, for the inspiration they unwittingly share, and for the way they treat their fellow runners.
Run on, you crazy athletes.