20130126-172136.jpg

I was at a Holiday Party a few weeks after my first 50-miler. The guests ranged mostly in their late-thirties to early-fifties except for an old man who sat on a stool beside the refrigerator, arms folded, with a sour look on his face. (See pic above for a visual approximation) He did not say a word the entire night. After an hour of chit-chat, the host mentioned about my recent accomplishment.
“Ben just finished a fifty-mile running race… for fun” said the host. Ohh’s and ahh’s emanated from the guests. The host then asked “how long did it take you?”
“Just over 13 and a half hours” I said.
The old man leaned forward to adjust his seat and said “Sounds like a fucking waste of time.”

I think most ultrarunners have had a few stories like that. When I started running half-marathons and then marathons, I had to deal with some fearful and neurotic family members who would say things like “you are going to die from a heart attack” or some other bizarre or unlikely event. Now my family members and other relatives have grown to accept my running. In fact, many of them don’t know I ran a 50 miler or anything further than a few miles. They are not the only ones in the dark. What’s the point? If I am company of people who don’t run at all, I really don’t make an effort mentioning distance. When I do, their eyes glaze over. Running 5 miles or 50 miles or to the moon and back have the same meaning to them. Sometimes I do get an occasional bizarre response like “Is a 50k less than a marathon?” or my favorite comment made to me: “Is a half marathon a marathon for amateur non-professional runners?”
If I am talking to a fellow runner on the other hand, especially to someone with distance running experience like marathoners, I would comment only if asked and with a little prodding. I would start each tale with a preface like “Any idiot can run a marathon, but it takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon” as I’d would wink and nod self-depricatingly.

There is another point to my rambling blog entry. It is in regards to the shared psyche of ultrarunners. I noticed that since becoming an ultra runner, I seemed to have joined a fraternity of distance runners who for most of us/them are a loose organization of jerks.
One evening I was having drinks with a fellow ultrarunner. He had such a distain for non-runners, that he equated them to lowly slugs. (His choice of words was much worse.) Just recently, a few of us ventured out on a 20-miler, starting out in the dark at 6am on a February morning. When we crested a mountain to see the entire valley below us, it wasn’t long before someone mentioned how the “others” are either still asleep, playing videogames or hungover from the night before. Trailrunners for the most part are the most laid back, generous and overall greatest bunch of people on Earth. Does conceitedness increase as the mileage goes up? How many of us look down at our fellow man sans trail shoes and distance chops with pity?
I have always thought myself as a modest person and humble about my achievements though I too have made the occasional veiled remark now and then. And lets not forget the window decals on the back of my car — a sticker for every distance I conquered. 26.2. 50k and now 50 mile. Do I actually think I am impressing anyone important? Will a super hot chick who is into running (or running dudes) would see those stickers, pull me over, and want me right then and there. Very… very… very… unlikely.
I can say that I am proud of my achievements — doing something that so may few can do. Sometimes I am boastful and then at other times it is a secret that I play close to my chest. This secret leads me back to why I love trailrunning and achieving such distances. The genesis of the secret is the insurmountable joy, satisfaction, peace and pride that comes with ultrarunning. It is a secret that is hard to describe. Perhaps it is a secret that we shouldn’t tell to often. The others would not understand.

What are your thoughts and attitudes about the ultra runner persona?