Ultramarathons, I guess for many people, it is a challenge, something to tick off their bucket list, to prove to themselves or others, 'that we have the fortitude to push through the limitations, to defy the odds and to endure the hardship'. It's about endurance and determination, a big commitment for time and effort it requires for training, even dietary adjustments sometimes. For serial ultra runners, like me, ultramarathon means something different. It's almost become an addiction, and the longing doesn't seem to ever stop.
The episode starts as soon as I sign up for a race -- weeks, or even months before the race. The excitement starts to build up. I'd go for long-distance training runs, strength specific training to prevent injury and also do recce runs for difficult races. Until the night before the race, the excitement comes to its climax. I'm never nervous or never ready, I just want to go out there and run. But at the same time I could see what my body will go through during the race, most importantly I could see how my emotions will go through the roller-coaster ride during and after the race. Yes it's still a competitive event, but it's not a race against others, not anymore. It's more of a process of self-exploration.
The Black Dog Calling
Running has been my way of dealing with emotions for many years. I love running through the woodlands near my home. I love running in the night when I can hear owls and other wildlife rummaging around. I love the feeling of strength, independence and fluid freedom. Ultra running takes it to the next level. It's almost like creating an extreme situation, a manufactured hardship, for myself to go through, to confront my darkest emotions. A fellow ultra runner describes it as the black dog calling. Running up and down hills, trails and grounds, through the wind and rains, my body is at front-line with this confrontation whilst my mind is sending commands.
My Form of Meditation
I believe many of ultra runners will agree the ultras are more spiritual than physical. Meditation is not about sitting on a cushion cross-legged like a zen master. The common misunderstandings about meditation are,
To be free of thoughts
To have strong concentration
To achieve a particular state of mind, like being peaceful or blissful
Meditation is being with oneself, pure and simple. Meditation is feeling your body and watching your mind, non-judgemental. It can be of any form as long as you come to your own awareness, which is the essence of meditation. We often get so caught up in the ups and downs of life, that we don't take the time to pause and notice what we already have. Perhaps all the ultras I ran, were the opportunities that I created for myself to recognise and appreciate what I have -- the ability to run, to explore, to maintain control and much more. To me, running is my way of meditation.
7th March 2020, my 63rd ultra in Yorkshire.
This day last year, I lost my dog Nancy, 5 weeks after I lost Sid. I ran with their neckerchiefs in my pack. This ultra is dedicated to them. Thank you for being wonderful kids. Always with you.