When I started running, about 20 years ago, I ran to help me deal with stress and anxiety which was taking over my life. I began running with a friend I met at the health club, who was also training to be a personal trainer. She was really athletic and decided to train for the Chicago Marathon. Back then, I didn't know anyone who ran marathons. It really wasn't a common thing. I ran a lot of 5Ks and 10ks, which were really popular, but still so small, and certainly not the spectacle they are today. There were no color runs, no tough mudders! Half marathons weren't even heard of. A full marathon seemed overwhelming and out of reach to me.
As I eased back into racing, about 5 years ago, I found that the racing scene had changed dramatically. Half marathons were growing in popularity. I decided to run my first half marathon in Door County Wisconsin, a beautiful peninsula where I had spent my childhood summers. This was at the urging of my mother, who I am sure wanted bragging rights that one of her daughters ran this "hometown" race. And there's nothing better than making your parents proud, no matter how old you might be! The Door County half marathon is a pretty big deal up there, and the year I ran it was only the 3rd year for the race. I cried when I crossed the finish line, because it was the farthest I had ever run in my life. But instead of feeling content, I wanted to do more. I fell in love with long distance running.
The following year, I ran several half marathons and the Chicago Marathon. I was anxious from the moment I signed up for the marathon. Every time I thought about the marathon, I felt panicked. I carefully selected my training plan from Hal Higdon's vast selection of training plans, choosing Novice 2. I followed the plan religiously, which really helped boost my confidence and reduce my nervousness. I promised my husband (and myself) that with the marathon, it was one and done. But is was important to me to run it. I just didn't want to go through my life as a runner, without running "all" the distances.
Well, as you well know, that marathon wasn't exactly a success but I did finish and got my medal. I had bragging rights. I was a marathoner! And I never had to do THAT again. Right?
But then I started to hear about people running multiple marathons. Apparently, running one marathon wasn't enough. I saw people wearing Marathon Maniac shirts, which meant they ran multiple marathons within a short time frame. And ultras.
When did running an ultra become "a thing"? I worked with a woman who runs ultras, who one year actually was one of 2 women from Illinois who qualified for Western States, a 100 mile race. She's several years older than me. I asked her how she trained for her races, and she told me she really didn't, that she just ran a lot of marathons and long races throughout the year. I always had this perception of ultramarathoners as a little bit out there. She's really quiet and soft spoken, humble, actually. However, there is another woman who lives near me, who also runs ultras. She runs in a sports bra and short shorts all year round. It could be 20 degrees and snowing, and I see her scantily dressed, running down the street. Maybe on those days, I've seen her wearing arm warmers. I've met her at a couple of my yoga classes, and she's what my mom would call "a character". This is how I viewed ultramarathoners.
Until recently. Now on my facebook feed, I have posts appearing regularly from friends who are training for ultras. Who have completed ultras. Normal, everyday moms and dads. And I ask myself, when did this happen? When did the marathon distance not become far enough? And what if a 50K (31 miles) isn't enough? Then what? A 50 miler? When do you decide to do 100? And finally, what kind of toll does all this running take on your body?
I've been running for a long time, and I've chronicled some of the problems I've had with my feet over the past couple of years. Marathon training--my one and only--took a huge toll on my feet. I can do strength work to support my knees and hips. But my feet? My most recent injury to my foot was caused by a well meaning podiatrist, who I sought out after the marathon, and who put me in orthotics. Those orthotics directly caused the injury to my big toe due to the stiffness in the midfoot, which forced me to land on that joint. This is an injury that has become chronic and most likely will plague me for the rest of my life. I've been thinking about another marathon. That's no secret. But could my feet survive the training?
And an ultra? I have to admit that I have absolutely no desire to run that far. Even another marathon isn't all that appealing to me. But as much as I'm not one to succumb to peer pressure, reading about everyone's accomplishments makes me sort of wish I was younger...had fresher legs and feet...and could push my limits a little bit more.
For now, I have to be content with what I can do. After all, I'm still running! I also have to put it all in perspective. When I saw the orthopedic surgeon, who sorted out my whole foot injury thing, he reminded me that the amount of running I actually do is a lot. When I talk with people at work, and they ask me how far I ran, "just 4" always makes them laugh. To people who don't run, 4 miles sounds like a lot. But in the company I keep, my friends, the runners who post on my facebook feed, and those whose blogs I follow, 4 miles is a warm up.