Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Longevity: Body, Mind & Spirit in Ultrarunning

This morning I had a conversation with another woman ultrarunner and she asked me the question, "What do you think is your biggest accomplishment, what are most proud of in your running career?"

I would have to say my longevity (33 years of running and still going) and how I've been able to run well, and be satisfied with so many of my performances and enjoy them, all these years, and have set lifetime PRs in every decade: my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. While I am taking an extended break right now and my motivation isn't really there, I still love it and enjoy it and look forward to future runs.

We talked about many things in our conversation, about the sport of ultrarunning and what drives people to do extreme endurance events, and what happens to them, physically, mentally, and spiritually after doing this for so long. Many of the top performers only last for a few short years until their bodies and/or minds give out.

If you're like most people, falling into the middle of the pack to back of the pack runners, you might be aspiring to run longer or faster, accomplish some goal, stay fit, have a social life around running, or prove something to yourself. Running ultraendurance events is a popular activity, much more than it used to be. However, it comes with a price, that can get awfully steep.

I'm not just talking about the cost or entry fees, gear, and travel. I'm talking about the personal cost: the physical, mental, spiritual costs of this sport.

We've seen a lot of people who struggle with addiction and substance use, who have turned to running, people with eating disorders, unresolved psychological injuries, and some people who have exhibitionistic or narcissistic tendencies, where social media is used as a tool.

This is not to point fingers or assign blame. None of us are perfect, and none of us make it through this life unscathed, especially psychologically. I think if most of us took the time to think about it, we could find elements of these behaviors to be more common than not.

The cost of "doing ultras" is much more than people dare to think about or delve into very deeply.

We talked about my strategy for avoiding burnout, and my longtime practice of running a lot of ultras for a few years, followed by time away from hard training. Also, about how I have kept my weight at a higher level than most ultrarunners, not completely by choice, and only very rarely depleted myself of calories.

The only time I have actually done any kind of carb restriction or special "diet" that was high protein and moderate fat, with low carbs, resulted in a dramatic and quick weight loss, quick results in running, but were short-term and resulted in a vitamin deficiency and poor performance soon thereafter.

People are looking for the holy grail, they are looking for ways to set themselves apart from the crowd, they are looking for some sort of satisfaction that is missing from their everyday lives. They think if they follow a strict training regimen, a strict diet, or use the right supplements, equipment, shoes, or coach, that they will reach that nirvana in their simple goals, but it does little to complete their life. It actually takes more away from their lives.

I wrote my running philosophy here: eight years ago. I've done a lot of things in my life, not just in running, in those eight years. I've been meaning to update it, but lately I've been busy with other things. I'm planning to do it, and in this current post, is some of what I'd say.

I have never been able to just focus on running. It throws my other interests off balance, and I miss being a whole person.

I also see what this type of intense focus in mind, body and spirit, on running to the exclusion of most other things, does to many people's mindsets. They feel somehow immune to the realities of being mortal, human, fragile, subject to fate and mishaps and everyday life experiences.

We are so shallow in our culture: we are always looking outside ourselves to feel complete, and we think that when we do things that set us apart, it somehow earns us points, for superiority. We can be as smug as we want to about it, throw the lingo around, or dress according to our own little subculture of activity. However, the forces of nature demand that we come back to equilibrium and the reality is that we are all connected. One person using more resources will eventually affect someone else. And because we engage in certain activities does not make us immune, immortal, or superior.

The spiritual shallowness of feeling apart, feeling disconnected, is hurting us, no matter how much we think running is going to heal us. We ARE all connected. Everything is.

One example, which I've written about before, is when someone who has been living what they believe to be a healthy lifestyle- eating "right", exercising, and doing what they think will protect them from health problems, suddenly is diagnosed with cancer or some other serious or chronic illness. They say, I don't understand, I did this, this, and did I end up with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, fill in the blank.

All that has happened is life itself. Full of unexpected twists, randomness, heredity, or some other vulnerability due to habit, exposure, behavior, or who knows what. It's called being mortal, a human being.

Guess what? There is no holy grail. It's not kale, apple cider vinegar, or juicing, yoga, sensory deprivation, or mindfulness; as delicious or appealing as any of those things might seem to be on their own.

My two cents, advice, recommendation, or just babble, how ever you want to look at it, is this: find the parts of yourself that make you whole. No one is unidimensional. Expand your efforts into those other parts of yourself. There's more to life than obsessing about something as shallow as your own athletic performance, vanity, physical health or nutritional practice. If it takes time away from your training, that's even better.

Ask yourself what gives your life richness, instead of building accomplishments. It's not about building a resume in your t-shirt, hat, or plastic bracelet collection to wear in public.

Ask yourself who you are, rather than what you do or have.

We can all do better and live longer with less. And it might just help someone else who needs more.


Lea said...

I found this to be such a powerful and inspiring message. For those that are involved with ultrarunning or who know someone that is, this should be a required read. Even those who are not involved with ultrarunning can benefit from your message, because somehow we have all experienced moments where we "seek outside ourselves to feel complete," as you brilliantly remarked.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Lea, thank you for your comment. As a nurse I have learned much from running ultras that applies to nursing. I don't think I would have ever become a nurse if I had not been an ultrarunner first, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have survived nursing and gotten out of it alive if I hadn't been an ultrarunner.