After seeing a post on the Ultra running Community forum and thinking about the events of the past few years, I thought it was time to revisit Born to Run, as in the book by Christopher MacDougall. If you've not read it and you run ultras then you followed a different path into ultra running than I did. Before I read it I thought that ultra running was just something a select band of people with far too much time on their hands did when they got bored of running marathons. I was right. However, reading 'Born to Run' made me want to become one of those people, and made me believe that I could. Well, in a roundabout kinda way. It planted the seed of ultra running in my head, and did so in an impossibly entertaining way. I awkwardly glance around the room now when I think of how I was in the months following my reading of this book. Basically I would tell anyone who would listen, and probably many who wouldn't, that the Tarahumara were living the life we all should be living, and that there's this incredible thing called Ultra Running going on in the world without many of us knowing about it. Come on, you need to hear about this, people. Basically I was evangelising, and 'Born to Run' was my bible. When the initial excitement subsided and I got to know more about the sport I learnt that there was a fair amount of hyperbole going on in that book, and that the picture painted of the life of the Tarahumara didn't quite match the reality. The reality was in fact closer to that I'd already learnt of first-hand during my travels in South Africa; that their traditional way of life is under threat now they're learning how life is in the first world and wanting a piece of the 'action.' Many of us westerners believe that their humble existence is far superior to our vacuous, technology-driven way of modern life, and many of them believe that our vacuous, technology-driven way of modern life is new and exciting, and something to be strived for. I guess it could be said that there are pluses to our way of life and the Tarahumara's way of life. If I had to pick sides I'd say I'll have their day to day life but in a woodland glade on Exmoor or a leafy lane on the Isles of Scilly rather than the Copper Canyons.....and perhaps with the odd hot shower, and a washing machine.
So what is my point? Well, ultra running is awesome, but essentially it's people running from one place to another. When you look a little closer there is a story behind everyone's run from one place to another, and what led them there, but ultimately it doesn't make motorway service stations prepare wholesome, nutritious and affordable food. It doesn't stop politicians from lying. It doesn't stop pharmaceutical companies from making billions from highly questionable drugs, many of which may be doing more harm than good. Once you remember that you can forget what ultra running isn't and celebrate what it is. If someone doesn't 'get' ultra running then they're not going to, no matter what you say, unless they give it a go, and are willing to push through the pain barrier to discover the unparalleled beauty of the colossal endorphin high. Gimme a truckload of 70s LSD and it wouldn't come anywhere near the feeling I have experienced during the latter stages of an ultra run. That feeling of having gone way beyond my perceived limitations, come out the other side and seen the world through unweary, idealistic and tranquil eyes. There are such parallels for life in ultra running. The late Caballo Blanco said that the way to get through life is to have faith in something, and that's the same way to get through an ultra. He wasn't wrong. What ultra running has taught me is that I am capable of enduring a whole heap more pain than I thought I was. At first I felt I could only apply this to ultra running, and not to daily life, but when I think about the person I was three years ago and the person I am now it becomes clear what a difference the running has made. What I gained from ultra running also ultimately led to me getting to know God, but that's a different story for another day (and a few tens of thousand more words.)
What are my final thoughts on the matter? Well, I could talk about this all day, but I recently spoke to Toni Bernado, the national marathon record holder of Andorra, who shared Emil Zatopek's famous quote "If you want to run, run a mile if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon"may I add to that "If the different life you experience from a marathon isn't quite different enough, run an ultra." The messages of Born to Run (not the barefoot running thing, the messages about what ultra running can do for you) are all true as far as I'm concerned. Maybe there was a lot of journalistic license used, but if there hadn't been then maybe it wouldn't have blown my mind quite so much at a time when my mind really needed a shake-up, and I'm sure this is true for many others as well. Ultra running is getting more and more popular all the time, and that can't be a bad thing. No-one owns ultra running; we live in a capitalist society, but ours is a communist sport and always will be, so to speak.
*Signed copies of my book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' are available - am currently running a special promotion whereby a certain number of copies will be FREE POSTAGE (UK only sadly - rest of world has a postage charge). To get hold of a copy please follow this link....... http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Everything-Will-Work-Out-in-the-Long-Run-signed-personalised-copy-Dave-Urwin-/251664671472?pt=Non_Fiction&hash=item3a986222f0 *