Thursday, as the temperatures were expected to hit the 90s, my husband asked how far I was going to run.
"30ish is the goal."
"Seriously? And this is fun for you?"
Not "fun" necessarily. And I wouldn't default to obsessive either although the time, energy, and resources may suggest otherwise. I would say that the desire to be a part of the ultra running community is, for us in it, intrinsic.
As I mentioned in the inaugural More than Miles article, many of my cohorts and I are referred to in mental institutions as "ultra runners". Marathons (and sometimes even 50ks) are considered "training runs" and races usually cover distances greater than that from Richmond Hill to Forsyth Park – round trip.
We aren't happy with flat courses and mild weathered days. No, we need 8,000 feet of elevation change, treacherous switchbacks, dark trails, and humid southern summer scorcher conditions. If we can get that all at one time, so much the better!
Ultra running is a fairly new interest in Savannah. Once the running community began to congeal around the Savannah Rock 'n Roll marathon, folks went to the internet to discover training tips, meet other runners, and research events.
I was one of those folks. Tim Waz was who I found.
Tim, the owner and race director of Lowcountry Ultras, has the uncanny gift of making every person in the room feel like the cool kid. A runner nearly his whole life, Tim focused on the shorter, faster races. When his times began to slow in his 30's, he looked at other challenges.
"Four years ago, I decided to try my first 50K on very little training and knowledge of the sport of Ultra Running. Four and a half hours later I was hooked! The runners were unlike any I had come across before; open to sharing their training plans, experiences and any other information you could ever want."
I'd only recently heard of ultra running and I was interested to see what it looked like. The opportunity to volunteer for one of Lowcountry Ultras signature races, The Cremator 50 Mile Endurance Race, seemed perfect for that. Fifteen hours of watching hearts and souls do what I never would have considered before as possible shifted an entire portion of my thinking.
I realize that there are longer, harder, hotter races — now. Then, I didn't. And it still doesn't matter. That's the beauty of Ultra running and the community that surrounds it. What matters — what must matter — is the now. This day, this run, this moment. Not another runner, not another race, not another set of circumstances. Right now.
"Staying motivated and focused is hard," admits Tim. "Trying to keep it light and fun is key!"
The Ultra community does "light and fun" pretty well. The air of competition has an interesting aroma. It is not that leave it all on the battlefield push to overcome your opponent that I am used to coming from a high school football, "SEC or Die" background. It isn't even the same as the charge felt at runs that focus on the shorter and the faster.
Interestingly enough, the closest likeness I've been able to establish is childbirth.
I've been amazingly blessed to have brought forth four beautiful children under my own strength and sheer will. Lightning quick to never-endingly long, overwhelming pain to a walk in the park, complete comfort to agonizing fear; each had their own characteristics, but that didn't matter. I couldn't put it off. I couldn't punk out. I couldn't have someone else do it for me. I either did it or I didn't – there was nothing else.
Such is the heart of Ultra Running.
Oh don't get me wrong. There is much smack talking and goading leading up to races. We compare past experiences and secretly hope to do better or place higher. But the mood is more that of a penny poker game on a Thursday or an nostalgic game of quarters with old friends.
You see, after being that long with yourself, hurting, failing, trying, succeeding, failing again and watching those around you go through the same, the main thing is no longer the race, but the run. Your contention turns to sympathy and then to empathy. That kind of hurt and happy is known to you. You want none of the former and all of the latter for the feet of your fellows.
"For me, the larger 'hurt' factor during an Ultra is when my body is physically ready for a race but my mind is mentally not in it. In that case there is almost nothing you can do other than take a break, rub some dirt on your soul and hope that your mind can come around," says Tim.
"The greatest joy is the personal affirmation after finishing each run, that I've just laid it all out on the line with the focus of improving myself on my next run. That and the friendships."