I ran my first marathon when I was 42. Seemed like a nice number: 42 kilometers for my 42nd birthday. Back then, I thought 42 kilometers was a huge distance, an absolute upper limit, hard to imagine reaching, let aside going over it, if ever. Since then, though, I finished quite a few much longer races, engaging in what I like to call “running ridiculously long distances”. In today’s post I’d like to outline a few benefits of doing this.
What Is “Running Ridiculously Long Distances” Anyway?
In today’s sedentary world, a marathon is the epitome of physical achievement for 99% of the population. Running for 4-5 hours uninterruptedly has become so hard, that the mere thought of it makes everybody and their mother’s nauseous – if not really, really worried.
And, if you look at the average level of fitness of the modern man, and taking into account the extraordinary comfort that we enjoy these days, it is rightfully so. There is no need for anyone to run 42 kilometers. You can get away without it, and no one will even notice.
And yet, people are doing it.
Now, imagine that, from this 1% of people running marathons, another 1% is engaging in something even more outrageous: running in races well over 100km, or longer, like, literally, for days.
This is what I call “running ridiculously long distances” and the term “ridiculous” is not derogatory, nor ironic. For the overwhelming majority of the population of the Earth, there’s no immediate reason for doing this, hence it is obviously unnecessary and can be safely classified as ridiculous.
And yet, some people are doing it.
I can’t say for sure what is the motivation for the others, but here’s a very short list of what makes me do it 2-3 times every year.
1. When Soft Resets Are Not Working Anymore, You Need A Hard Reset
Sometimes, you need to unwind. To take some distance from whatever you’re doing, and just be with yourself for a while. You feel the need to recharge.
So, when you feel this pressure, you usually go on a weekend trip, or spend a day at the spa, or just party like an animal with your buddies, whatever shifts your focus from the task at hand.
I call these resets “soft resets”. Because, even if they are shifting your focus, you’re still in familiar territory. You’re still within your known limits. You can predict what will happen in the next 20 minutes.
But when you start running ridiculously long distances, you’re in completely uncharted territory. After 8-10-12 hours of continuous effort, your comfort zone is crushed. Gone, left behind. And you’re in the middle of nowhere, not really knowing if you’re getting out of it. Physically, you’re in pain. Psychologically, you’re experiencing a ton of emotions and states, from exhilaration to despair, from deep calm to intense frustration.
This is a “hard reset”. And I call it “hard” because it feels like you’re cut off from your usual power sources. For a while, you’re blacking out. Anything familiar fades off and you have to be immersed totally in what you do.
And that total and unconditional surrendering to the present moment will eventually pull you out as a newer, refreshed, recharged individual.
2. The Journey Is Worth Way More Than The Destination
Other groups of benefits are to be found also before the actual event: it’s the preparation that counts just as much. Make no mistake, to run a 100 miler is an incredibly difficult task, and, if you put your mind to it, you’d better take it seriously and prepare for it. For months, if not longer.
And it’s this preparation that will forge new habits and approaches, which, slowly, will help you become a better person. You will have to develop discipline (training every week is time consuming), you will have to go through deep introspection (what is your real motivation for doing this?), and, most importantly, you will have to learn to live with yourself (who else is going to be with you when you’re in the middle of a dark forest, at 2 AM in the morning, running alone and waiting for the next checkpoint to appear?).
In a way, the mere journey of making it to the start line of a such an event is just as important. Of course, finishing the race is always desirable, but just the fact that you decided to do this and prepared for it counts enormously.
3. I Can See Clearly Now
And, finally, the thing that makes me go back to these races over and over again is the clarity that I get after a certain time. I don’t know if it happens to every one, and I don’t know if it’s happening around the same time, but for me, after 10-12 hours into the race, I get into this very clear, and lucid space, in which everything is finally “there”.
I used to say that this happens because, since I’m running, I can’t run away from my problems anymore, so I’m forced to deal with them. I still think this is one of the reasons.
But I also think there’s more to it, and I would say it’s related to meditation. Doing the same thing, consciously, for hours, or days, is a form of meditation. So, running ridiculously long distances can also be seen as a meditation in movement, one in which all my learned hallucinations about the world are questioned, evaluated and, if they can’t fit in, simply discarded, clearing the field, eliminating the garbage and cleaning up my lenses.
For the record, it’s never the same thing that I’m seeing. Sometimes I learn the difference between pushing through versus letting go, and sometimes I just learn about how to commit to my own promises, barely making it to the finish line. But every time I get into this space, something really important emerges and reshapes my life, in a better way.
So, that was my little list.
Of course, there are some costs. You need to learn your locus of control, like when it’s worth pushing through the pain and where you shouldn’t, you need to cope with the after race pain – real and annoying – and you need to accept some DNFs (Did Not Finish).
But, at the end of the day, the rewards are outweighing the costs. The distances may be ridiculously long, but also the benefits are extremely consistent.