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You hear it all the time “I could never do that”; “I have a bad knee”, “I’m not a runner”. It doesn’t matter what that is; it might be losing weight, running a 5k or a Spartan Race, or completing a GoRuck Challenge or an ultra marathon. What matters is the dismissal; as soon as someone says “I can’t do that”, they’re right. They don’t really mean they can’t; they mean that they can’t imagine themselves in that place and certainly aren’t willing to put in the necessary work to get there.
I used to be that person. I was overweight, I’d never been athletic, and when I ran, my knees hurt. So I wasn’t a runner. Even when my wife started training and running half-marathons and marathons, I wouldn’t train with her, because I “hated running”. I had my own things to be obsessed with, which at the time revolved around martial arts. Eventually, I started running as cross training for karate, needing to boost my endurance, and I still hated it.
Fast forward to 2012 & 2013, when I stumbled into the world of obstacle racing. My first Spartan Race (Jan 2013 Super in SoCal), was without a doubt the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point; 9 miles of brutal hill climbs, cold weather, tough obstacles, and what the heck is this “burpee” thing we’re supposed to be doing? The feeling of accomplishment in pushing past the discomfort and the cramps and eventually crossing the finish line is almost indescribable, and I was instantly hooked.
I signed up for more races, trained harder, started running more, and began to adopt phrases like “STFU” and “Embrace the Suck”; these events made me feel truly alive in a way I hadn’t experienced before… they are visceral and painful and rewarding and put me in touch with my basic humanity. Shortly afterwards, I joined Team SISU; a group in Southern California that started with people training for the Death Race. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who had done incredible things from the Death Race to World’s Toughest Mudder to ultramarathons… and I realized that many of them were just regular people. If they could set such huge, lofty goals, and then crush them, why couldn’t I?
Since that first Spartan Race, I’ve slowly started seeking out bigger challenges and more extreme events – back to back race weekends, longer distances including a couple of marathons, overnight rucks carrying weight, and even the SISU Iron, a 30h crazy and fun endurance challenge in the hills north of Los Angeles.
For those that haven’t done them, long endurance challenges break down barriers and show what you’re really made of; do you throw in the towel or keep pushing? Do you retreat into dark and negative thoughts, or look to help others around you through their trials? Do you get surly, or smile more?
Where are my limits? What is my body capable of? These are the questions I seek to answer. In this process, there have been many times where “the hardest thing I’ve ever done” has become commonplace and just a fun weekend activity, which is a great gauge of my physical and mental journey. The Antelope Canyon 50 mile ultra marathon is another step in this process. It’s almost twice the distance that I’ve ever run before, and that both scares and excites me. I have a bunch of training challenges at the moment, but that doesn’t really bother me; on race day I’ll either succeed at my goal of fall short… in which case it’s another learning opportunity and will at that point in time answer the questions that lead off this paragraph.
Ultimately, while my first ultramarathon is a huge personal goal looming before me, it will eventually be no more than a stepping stone on the path to who I really want to become. Becoming Ultra is one chapter in a much longer book.