Why I Run Ridiculously Long Distances

When I started to run ridiculously long distances, 2 years ago, people who found out about that were puzzled: “How can you run 200 kilometers, Dragos? Even by car, this is a very long distance!”

For a while, this was fun. It also helped me a bit with my self esteem. You know, when you accomplish things that seem out of the ordinary for other people, your self esteem will automatically go up. But in all honesty, this effect is just temporary.

Very soon, I started to avoid talking about that with persons that I knew they’ll be thrown off by this. I simply changed the subject, or, if the discussion was abut running, I just stated that “I run too, you know” without giving too many details.

Why I Really Run

The reasons I’m running ridiculously long distances have little to do with self esteem (although, like I said, it’s important, albeit just temporary).

I chose to run in races well over the marathon (which is 42 km, by the way) because, at some point in the process, I discovered that I was touching on areas of my self that I didn’t know about. The more I ran, the closer I was to these “undocumented” parts of myself.

It’s not simply about physical fitness, or how can you adjust your body to this level of effort. Although this is an important part of it, of course. You simply cannot finish such a long race without proper physical training. Or you can, if you’re mentally strong, but the physical damages will be long lasting.

It’s more about some unusual skills that I found really useful, not only in my running endeavors, but also (or, to be honest, especially) in other areas, like entrepreneurship, business or relationships.

I will briefly list them here, and then we’ll talk about each of them one at a time.

  1. decision making skills
  2. time management skills
  3. discipline
  4. planning skills
  5. long term vision

I’ll talk about each of them using some real life experiences, from my races.

Better Decision Making Skills

It’s almost midnight, and I’m running for about 6 hours. I’m somewhere in Athens, Greece, and it’s just the first part of the first day of a 48 hours race, which consists of 1 km laps in a half deserted place, near an abandoned airport.

I made steady progress, I’m about km 50. It’s suddenly very cold and I find it somehow difficult to keep up with my strategy: run 4 laps and then walk the 5th (while hydrating or eating). But I’ll keep pushing until the end of this 4+1 cycle.

I’m at the 5th kilometer and I start my brisk walking. At the checkpoint they’re serving dinner. In less than a second I decide to stop, take a portion of hot pasta, and start eating while I continue my walking.

In that second, I rapidly inferred the following:

– for the next 10 minutes I will have a pulse between 90 and 110 (top). That is a good pulse for eating, or at least setting up the context for eating.

– after that 1 km, I will have to run again 4 more kilometers, which means at least 22-23 minutes, at my ultra-marathon pace (6:20 / km). It’s likely that by then, the dinner will be over, or cold. If it’s cold, it will take additional time and energy from my body to digest.

– after those 4 km I will also need more sugar, so I will have to mix some gels with the dinner (if there will be some dinner left) and that is very likely to cause some stomach trouble (never had any stomach trouble during a race, by the way).

– so, better take that pasta now, while it’s hot, put it in my system and wait to digest it during the next 4 km running cycle.

These types of situations are very common in an ultra. Almost always you have to take a decision which, because of that specific context, will have immediate and profound consequences. To change shoes now, or in 40km? To put an extra layer of clothing now, or wait until it gets warmer (if it will get warmer, that is)? To stop and put some sunscreen? To take a salt pill now or just my regular iso and electrolytes beverage?

If you take the wrong decision, it may cost you anything from 20 minutes delay up to a DNF (did not finish, a common expression for when you are abandoning or can’t finish a race).

I learned very soon, at my first 200km+ race, Ultrabalaton, that this is an essential skill for an ultra-runner. And it can be trained.

As an entrepreneur, I’m always forced to take decisions. And, because of the specific context of entrepreneurship, those decisions can cost me anything between a few thousands dollars lost, up to bankruptcy.

Now you see the link?

Better Time Management Skills

It’s midnight and I’m somewhere in Hungary, near the lake Balaton. I am at km 150 of a 220 km long race. It’s my first 200+ ultra and I already made a huge mistake, by wearing the wrong type of shoes. I have blisters the size of my fists on my soles.

I have 14 more hours until the cut off time and 70 more kilometers to go until the finish line. Technically speaking, if I walk (meaning 5 km / hour), I will make it in time. But I’d be very close to the cut off time.

So, I made another strategy: I put the time limit to 12 hours, leaving a 2 hours buffer for unexpected events. I set up a new strategy: running 2 kilometers, then walk 1 kilometer. That will give me a speed of around 6 km / hour. 70 km will be made in approximately 12 hours.

For the following 6-7 hours I go by these rules, and, apart from the increasing pain in my soles, everything works as expected.

Only at km 200 I have to stop for half an hour, at a medical checkpoint, to put some bandaid on my blisters. That means 30 minutes lost. And then I realize I can’t make the same running / walking strategy (it’s more than 24 hours since I started to run, the pain is way above the threshold and I’m also hungry).

But, because of the 2 hours buffer I set up 8 hours ago, I still have time.

I finished Ultrabalaton with only half an hour before the cut off time. If I would only walked, I couldn’t make it on time.

Time management is not about splitting your tasks into time chunks. It’s about correctly predicting the amount of time you’ll need for each of them. And running an ultra is a great way to practice this.

As an entrepreneur, I get to do 200% more than I can usually do. Especially in the early stages of a startup. So, time management is critical.

Now you see the link?

Better Discipline

I’m in Southern Romania, between the cities of Giurgiu and Bucharest. It’s my first ultra, 60km, as part of a bigger race, that I just joined for the last part.

I already ran 30 km and my mind is set up at the “marathon wall”. I ran a couple of marathons so far, and in each of them I hit the infamous “wall” somewhere between km 25 and 35. I know that I am very close to this part now.

We’re running in a small group, on the main road. Cars are passing us by, so we line up. All I can see now is the back of the runner in front of me. Shoulders going up and down in a slow motion dance. And the symptoms of the “wall”: fatigue, heavy legs and my mind telling me incessantly to stop, otherwise I will disintegrate.

And yet, I don’t stop. I put my eyes on those shoulders and keep going. And keep going. And keep going. And keep going.

For the next 10 kilometers there’s nothing more pushing me forward, apart from pure will. Discipline. Or the ability to still do what you have to do even when your mind is telling you that you will disintegrate if you keep pushing forward.

As an entrepreneur, I get to face many ups and downs. Sometimes it’s clients, sometimes it’s partners, sometimes it’s the team. There’s always something. Something telling you to stop. And yet, I don’t stop. I just keep going.

Now you see the link?

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