What Ultra Running Teaches Us – Guest Blogger – Joy Paley

What Ultra Running Teaches Us

Everyone has their own reason for becoming an ultra runner. I have been a runner throughout my life, and had completed half marathons when I was in my prime. For me, however, running an ultramarathon was about something altogether different than physical performance and what running had previously meant to me.

My entire adult life I had been trying to complete a novel and had been in various stages of trying and withering in despair. Actually finishing and publishing a novel seemed unattainable, and I was drowning in depression and recurring feelings of failure.

Training and completing an ultra was my way of teaching myself that literally anything is possible if you decide to do it. I needed to show myself that I could achieve my goals, and I wanted to start by accomplishing something solidly physical, like running, to prove to myself that I could achieve my other, more ephemeral goals. Here is what running my first ultra marathon taught me about life.


Don’t slip out of the moment

I have a constant, terrible habit of comparing myself to others. In my training, other runners would pass me, drawing on reserves of strength I couldn’t find in myself. I would become discouraged and decide that I would never be as good as them, and could feel my resolve and my pace disintegrating.

Gradually, I learned to never slip out of the moment by giving into these negative voices. A key part of ultra running is focusing on your own progress and the enjoyment of running. By learning to truly find bliss in running, I gave up the temptation of negativity.


You can’t race if you don’t maintain yourself
In my desire to be a writer, I would stay up all night working, pounding coffee, only to fall into a predictable burnout the next day. In these low points, I would give into my old smoking habit, thus creating a vicious nonproductive cycle of straining myself and giving up.

When ultra running, you have to maintain your body and a healthy regimen, or you absolutely cannot race. This goes with training, and with doing the actual race itself. If you sense your body needs five hours of sleep and you only give it three, you will be hurting the next day. Through ultra running, I’ve learned that loving yourself first is key to achieving your goals.


Surround yourself with positive people

My husband is my secret weapon when I’m doing an ultra marathon. When I’m on my 80th mile, I have his voice in my head telling me how awesome I am and what a good job I’m doing. It keeps negative thoughts from creeping in, and kills any desire to give up before it can even start.

The only way to do the “impossible,” like run hundreds of miles or write a bestselling novel, is to have people around constantly telling you that it is. If you’ve got people in your life who are bringing you down or who disapprove of your goals, you’ve got to let them go. Even if you love them, ridding your life of “frenemies” or stressful relationships will improve your life after the initial hurt heals.


Miles are mental

Ultra marathons mean you’re running for not only hours, but days, and having a clear, positive mind is crucial. If you don’t keep your mind in top shape, you’re not going to be able to endure the boredom that comes with the miles. I practiced meditation to prepare for my ultra marathon, to learn how to keep my mind empty of everything but empowering thoughts.

This ability to control your mind, and to have it dwell on only things that will improve your ability to succeed, is one of the most important lessons I’ve garnered from my ultra running experience. In the end, ultra running has shown me that I am in control of my goals, if I only take the time to stay in control of both my mind and my body.


Joy Paley is a guest blogger for An Apple a Day and a writer on medical transcriptionist training for Guide to Healthcare Schools

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