Yes I’m writing about running… again. I found something I really love, what can I say?
After my first marathon in 2017 I set a personal goal to run my first ultra-marathon in 2018. I needed to heal from overuse injuries, so I started the year out with trail running and in June ran the 27k Scenic Trail Skyrun in Switzerland. While that was fun, it was on an entirely different level than road running because it was literally just climbing mountain after mountain as fast as you can. For me this is not running – it’s fast hiking, which I love, but I’m just not experienced enough to actually run up big mountains. I still wanted to go for the 50k distance but choosing to do that in another mountain race was not the challenge that I was looking for. I knew that if I attempted the distance in the Alps this year, I might die. I decided to search for something that was equally as cool, but that my body was prepared for. If you don’t think an extreme physical challenge is a good idea, then what do you do (when you’re as crazy as a runner)? You look for an equivalent mental challenge.
As if running 50 kilometers isn’t already a mental challenge.
I found a local race in Munich that looked perfect. It was a timed race, which means there’s no set distance and the participants just run in loops until the time runs out. This particular event was a 6-hour race around a 1-mile loop. I signed up immediately and only afterwards did a bit of research about the organizers.
You may or may not have heard of Sri Chinmoy, but he was a renowned spiritual leader who moved to New York City to spread his teachings. Several different popes, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa were all fans of his. What does this meditating guy have to do with running? He was an avid sports enthusiast who believed that running, weightlifting, and various other sports helped him to express his teachings. He founded the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team which puts on hundreds of racing events around the world, including the 3,100 mile Self-Transcendence Race in New York and the 6-hour race I signed up for. Just by the organizers of the race, I already knew that this was going to be a unique event.
The day came and my partner and I (and our dog, Berry) drove the 20 minutes to the little park where the race took place. There were about 30 people running and as I lined up at the start, I realized I was probably the youngest person there. There were several people at least in their 70s, including a woman who was running alongside her wheel-chair driving husband. There was also a blind man who apparently runs every year. Here I am at the start, already wanting to cry inspired tears. Soon the race starts, and I’m off to run my leisurely 5-6mph pace which was the minimum speed to reach my 50km goal.
I soon realized that literally after every mile I would encounter the best part of every ultra-run – the aid station. Ultra-runners aren’t exaggerating when they talk about the buffets that they keep coming back for. There were at least 25 different options from various types of teas, sodas, and sports drinks as well as cookies, cakes, crackers, bread, nut butters, chocolate… the list goes on. The temptation brought on by all this food was heightened by the fact that I ran by the tables every 10 minutes. I literally had to say to myself “OK Chelsea you just had way too many cookies, wait until you run two more laps to have more.” What kind of heaven is this? Is this why not all ultra-runners are ultra-skinny?
I soon found my rhythm and reached the 50k mark less than 5 minutes before the time was over. My emotions were all over the place and I had already been crying for a while. I always cry after I run for several hours and it’s usually because I have some kind of emotional epiphany. The happy tears came as usual, but I also cried at least twice because I wanted to stop running. I was actually still running and didn’t stop running but cried because I wanted to stop. What kind of psycho does that? In the end I was happy to limp over to the showers and just stand there and smile because I wasn’t running anymore.
I ran a little over 32 times around the loop in 6 hours, but the most impressive feat of the day was the woman (yes, female) who won the whole race. She lapped me every other lap, running 78k total. It’s hard to answer the “why” we run these distances, but for me I think the words of Sri Chinmoy say it best: “The inner running and the outer running complement each other. For outer running, we need discipline. Without a life of discipline, we cannot succeed in any walk of life. So when we do outer running, it reminds us of the inner running.” Persevering through pain in athletics teaches us and inspires us to be better people in real life. I recommend anyone, no matter your current physical fitness, to take this practice into your life and I’m sure you will see tremendous benefits. Plus in ultra runs you get the best buffet experience you’ll ever have.
That run was back in September, but just recently I ran my third marathon. This one was in Northern Maine (the Millinocket Marathon) with starting temps around 0°F (-17C) – maybe my next post will be about that race and the fireball shots that made it a good time. Stay posted!