“The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering.”
Igjugarjuk, Caribou Eskimo Shaman. One of the many quotes in “Extreme Running” by Kym McConnell & Dave Horsley
To a non-runner, the word “marathon” other than being the name of a city in Florida, town in Greece or Ontario, typically refers to something that’s very challenging, that which takes a large measure of effort and time to accomplish.
Therefore it’s common to come across terms like “food marathon” or in food-crazy Malaysia “makanthon”, “TV marathon” and so on. In fact, by just attaching a “-thon” to the end of a noun and sometimes verb instantly transforms a random thing and into a major undertaking usually involving large participation. Think “Walkathon” and “Telethon”.
The definition of difficulty is very subjective of course. A couch potato may find running 2K a marathon. Many iPad addicted 6-year olds may find running 800m impossible.
The longest distance I’ve covered – be it walking or running – has been 55KM. Not that far if you asked me since the roundtrip for my day’s commute to work is 60KM. And even though there’s some considerable amount of pain (admission of weakness!) over the last 5KM of the 55, I’ve never considered the distance to be an ultramarathon and therefore myself an ultramarathoner, much to the amusement of those in my running circle. It’s a matter of semantics and titles I know, and I’m not taking away the amazing accomplishments of others who have achieved that milestones.
Since an ultra is a very personal journey to be undertaken in one’s own terms as opposed to being peer pressured, here’s my own definition:
An ultra needs to be more painful and life affirming that what I’ve gone through in that 50-55KM journey along Singapore’s ECP, MacRitchie Trails and KL’s Putrajaya pavements. Painful and extreme enough to my mind and body that overcoming it will trigger some sort of enlightenment, realization and epiphany (hopefully not along the lines of never to do it again!). For all the expected discomfort, I want my journey to be meditative, a form of penance, acceptance of my limitations, and fully aware of my thoughts and emotions that I’ll be battling. It sounds like a romantic notion of an ultramarathon and I’m not sure if that’s even what a runner goes through in such an event, what more in sleep deprived mode!
I don’t know a lot of things about finishing an ultra (21 marathons under the belt means nothing), nor about the art of preparing for one in the first place. I don’t know if I’m lucid enough midway to recognize and appreciate the changes to my mental and physical state. However if one comes out a better person at the end of the journey, it’s an undertaking worth embarking on. Even if it requires being run over by the proverbial truck at the 70K mark.