Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Spirit of Ultramarathoning

Yesterday I got this e-mail (which I slightly edited for better clarity) from a reader. I've responded below.

Dear Wyatt:

I really enjoyed your last post, especially the thoughts on Anton Krupicka. It got me to thinking about what my running friends and I call "the spirit of ultramarathoning." We're so wrapped up in the elites and what they're doing that we forget what the sport is all about, and that's the folks out there doing it because they love it no matter where they finish--back of the pack, middle of the pack or barely making the cutoffs.



Tim Twietmeyer won Western States 5
times while holding down a full-time
gig at HP. Source: here.
Thanks for your e-mail. I couldn't agree more. While it's exciting to watch the elites and see and read about their amazing feats (like what Jim Walmsley was on the cusp of doing at Western States last year, before missing a turn--unreal), I agree that the spirit of ultrarunning is on full display in ordinary people out there running crazy distances and finishing races because it's what they love to do.

I saw this firsthand at the Greenland Trail 50K last year, when I was manning an aid station. I felt such love for the trail and the community from everyone who came through my aid station, especially the back-of-the-packers who were so easy-going and just happy to be out there despite the fact that we were experiencing a full-on blizzard. And I felt it at Western States last year when I saw a second sunrise while still on the course (it was a tough day-plus for me).

There was a time in my ultrarunning life when I was driven to win, podium or, at the least, finish top-5. When I stood at the starting line, that was what was going through my head. I didn't always have fun in these kinds of races--a lot of times I felt pressure that, looking back on it, I put on myself. It is amazing I didn't burn out, and I think the reason I never burned out was that beneath it all was a love of simply running in nature.

Now that I'm a bit older (and slower), I look at why I'm still doing ultras and it's because--probably like you and thousands of others--I love to run and I love the community. People like us have demanding jobs, families, lawns to mow and unending competing priorities, and yet we make the sacrifices to train for and finish ultras...because we love it and it's who we are deep down. And, honestly, that's how it was back in the day even with the elites. The guys and gals who were dominating in the 80s and 90s often had full-time jobs and families. Paid sponsorships? Pfft. They were punching the proverbial clock like the rest of us.

Which is to say being an ultrarunner has been, and probably always will be, about making sacrifices out of love for the sport that most people wouldn't make--waking up at 4am on a Saturday or Sunday to go for a long run, training when most people sleep, saying no to that second beer or glass of wine, going to bed at 9pm. No one is paying us to do this. We have no sponsors pressuring us. It's all about love and the community...and sacrifice. So, yes, I agree 100% with you: While I do think the elites embody the spirit of ultrarunning (they, too, love it), I feel that the spirit is truly sustained in ordinary people like us getting out there in nature and putting one foot in front of the other with like-minded folks, whether it's in a training run, at a local fat-ass event, or in an organized race.



  1. Wyatt,

    Great post. Or couple of posts actually. Glad you chose a picture of Tim Tweitmeyer. I work at the same company as him (now HPE) and thought I'd share that he still holds down that full time job. He's a friend of a friend who introduced us via e-mail and that spirit of ultrarunning is alive and well with him. He went out of his way to give me advice and encouragement as I trained for my first 100 miler last year. Proud to say I finished and even more proud to say that Tim is the very example of what the spirit of ultrarunning is all about.


    1. Thanks for the feedback, JJ. I met Tim at Western States last year and he's a tremendous ambassador of ultrarunning.