Lessons I learned in ultra running

  1. If not now, when?

Some say racing should be a progression. In fact, there are ultras that require you to finish certain distances before you can join them. 42K before 50K. 50K before 50 miles. 50 miles before 100K. In my opinion, ultra running is not about timing or muscle maturity. It’s about heart and commitment. In the last few kilometers of the race, you won’t be thinking about cadence or heart rate or footwork. All you’ll think about is finishing the goddamn race! So why wait for someone to tell you that you are finally ready or qualified to run that ultra? Besides, last time I checked, craziness and suffering is still something personal. There is no perfect time and conditions, only a moment of unbridled enthusiasm.

  1. Take it by feel.

When I downloaded Sage Canaday’s 50K training program, I took comfort in the fact that despite the prescribed miles and workout, I can always go “by feel.” I think essentially running is supposed to be that way in order to be enjoyable. I think what attracted most of us to this sport is the freedom that it offers. We do not have to wait for teammates (or have them wait for us). We do not have to wear a uniform. We do not have to maintain any equipment or reserve a venue/court/field. We do not need an opponent. We run because we just feel like running. So, it is really important to listen to your body and to pursue running only when it is still pleasurable. My favorite ultra runner, François D’haene, said it best: “Motivation and performance, for me, is linked with pleasure so I don’t abstain from things that I enjoy. Let’s take pleasure in our activity, our life and our few guilty pleasures, too.”

  1. Simulate.

It’s not enough that you log in the hours that you are on your feet or increase the distance that you cover. Preparation for a race, especially an ultra, is all about race-specific training. You must simulate race day – course, food, hydration, even the outfit and gears. If it is a mountain race, find a mountain with a similar altitude and trail. If it is a road ultra, run the highway stretch with the same undulation. If it is a night race, run at night. If you expect scorching hot temperatures on race day, run at high noon during training. Aside from increasing your confidence, simulation will make certain skills instinctive and certain instincts controllable.

  1. Slow and steady finishes the race.

Arguably, no one wins a race by being slow, but definitely, one can only finish an ultra by being persistent. The basic element of running is movement. No matter how excruciating or gradual, you must move. Put that foot in front of the other, because every step counts. At 50K, you will thank your 30K self for being deliberate and motivated. This also goes for all other aspects of ultra. You must steadily nourish and hydrate yourself. You cannot wait for a stimulus. Be consistent. Be relentless.

  1. Runners are kindred spirits.

Runners toe the ultra line for the same reason: they trained and believed that they deserve to know if every minute of their preparation is worth it. There is collective respect and empathy among ultra runners. If misery loves company, suffering breeds cooperation. In my first ultra, I was handed a banana and offered a bowl of porridge (by another runner’s crew) without my solicitation. I, in the same vein, gave my last energy gel to a fellow runner who I thought needed it more than I did. It is this sense of community that makes runners return year after year to races which they have already finished or won.

  1. Appreciate the lowest low and highest high.

They say ultra goes beyond the capabilities of the flesh. It is in the realm of the mind that one’s endurance is determined. If marathons give runners the “wall,” ultras will give runners “delusions.” Initially, the delusion that you will be able to finish the race as strong and good as you started it. Then, the delusion that you can still make up for the time you spent at the aid stations or over-thinking the race. Eventually, the delusion (or truth) that you have not prepared hard enough for the race. The pits of sadness and self-doubt are so strong that others may not be able to recover from them. But there is also the promise of the “second wind,” that moment of complete commitment. Ultra runner extraordinaire, Jared Campbell, perfectly described it in this wise: “Once this state is reached, one can focus on moving through the motions and not get stressed by the minutia, knowing that stress won’t render anything constructive. Find the silver lining and press onward.” It is this feeling of extreme depression and elation that makes ultra so alluring, empowering, and addicting.

  1. You could get hurt, so what?

Sure, you will be sleep-deprived, develop wrinkles, get dead toes, experience chafing, sunburn, muscle pain, blisters, bonking, hypo- whatever, etc. The suffering is infinite and diverse. But those are certain and foreseeable in what you have signed up for. If you have anticipated and prepared for them well enough, you may be able to avoid them, but the likelihood of that is nil. I suggest that you don’t fret about it and just suck it up. Besides, all wounds heal and leave a scar. It’s up to you if you make it a badge of honor or a sorry remembrance of your craziness.

  1. You don’t need a race.

Ultra running is basically running more than 42K. That’s it, pure and simple. Whether you achieve that during a weekend fat ass run or in a lottery-based, elite field race, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be “officially” an ultra runner to run ultras. Ultra is just a distance, not a status to be conferred or a position in the hierarchy of runners. You run ultras because you want to and you can.

NOTE: As I run more and longer ultras, I know I will learn more lessons and will probably change my views here. For now, let’s pretend that I know what I’m saying. LOL


Cold turkey

What makes you veer away from what you are aiming for?

Rejection. Disappointment. Failure. Truth.

Perhaps all of those. But for me, truth is my way of convincing myself that I should give up on something (or someone, as the case may be). I like to know, because it is only through knowing that I can understand. When I am denied of something, I persist. When things do not turn out the way I planned them, I adapt and improvise. When life fails me, I bounce back. But when truth refutes my belief or my argument, it is hard to persist, adapt, and bounce back.

In this sense, I think my curiosity is both a gift and a curse. It is a gift because knowing I can only be swayed by facts, my curiosity means I do not have to live in a make-believe world. It is a curse because it makes me want to subject myself to extreme emotions in a very short span of time. But I will take this curse any time, if only to free myself from daydreaming or an illusion. I will take truth any time, if only to release someone from an undeserved anxiety. Pardon the cliche, but in this particular case, truth will truly set every one free.

And so, to you (who inspired me to travel more, to take on new adventures, to embrace other cultures, to climb a mountain, and to join a race and run again), if you are reading this (and I sincerely hope you stumble upon this blog), I am deeply sorry. I did not know. But now that I do, I will understand and respect the truth. I thank you though for pushing me to be the best in what I do, teaching me to be self-forgiving when I fucked up things, and inspiring me to be awesome in my personal life.

“If those whom we begin to love could know us as we were before meeting them… they could perceive what they have made of us.” – Albert Camus

Shoes separation anxiety

Nike Lunarswift2, you served me well. Thank you.
Nike Lunarswift2, you served me well. Thank you.

This is the fourth time that I am retiring a pair of running shoes. The process does not get easy with every pair though. In fact, I still have my first two pairs with me. I stopped using them, but I still keep them in their boxes. Once in a while, if my bib wall is not enough to motivate me to run, I would open the boxes and think of all the miles I have conquered with those shoes. Yes, I am sentimental like that.

So I knew that when I finished the Angkor race, I had to leave my Lunarswift in Siem Reap. Otherwise, I would still be using them until the whole thing fall off my feet. After all, this is my favorite pair. It was given to me as a Christmas gift by Ate Lala (yes, they were shipped all the way from the States). It had all the specs I wanted at the time – sensor slots, reflectors, fitsole, adequate toe box, and in hot pink color. I did not even mind that they had tears on the sides when I ran in them during the race. I figured it is better to run adapted than unaccustomed with my gear. Anyway, a healthy pair of legs and a decent pair of running shoes are all that I need when running.

If Nike still makes this shoe model, I will really buy another pair… or two for posterity. Right now, my two other functional running shoes pale in comparison to the Lunarswift in terms of design and performance. They are good enough for practice runs, but I probably will not be as confident to run in them as I did with the Lunarswift during a race. I know it will take time for me to move on and love another pair in the same (or greater) feeling, but I have been through this and as all runners know, the love for running transcends anything, including the pair of shoes that inspired me to love the sport.

The value of worrying

People always say that worrying is unproductive. It does not add to the solution and in fact, hampers the thought process of a person in arriving at a solution. But one thing is certain, worrying is an immediate response to any given problem. Even the most optimistic person cannot deny the existence of this emotional reflex.

I think worrying is what makes a person evaluate the situation. In a fast life, worrying gives a person that much needed break from a life on auto-pilot mode. Worrying forces a person to put things in perspective. It contextualizes the problem and prepares the person for the eventual acceptance of the situation. The most effective reality check as I call it.

I believe that worrying can also be a motivation to move forward. Because worrying is usually coupled with panic and self-doubt, people tend to get uncomfortable at this stage. Thus, nobody really wants to linger in worrying, unless of course a person is a masochist or a chronic worrywart. Worrying compels a person to decide whether to progress or regress. A fork in the road that one has to take.

Lastly, and on a more personal note, worrying celebrates our humanity. We are not invincible or perfect or a robot who acts under a given set of instructions. There are things that are valuable and meaningful to us, which cause us to worry more about them than with other things. To worry is to acknowledge that our lives truly matter.

The now-or-never attitude

In the very few instances that I shop for clothes, I always know when I see the right one. Not the perfect one (because there is no such thing), but just the right one. The price justifies the quality. The color complements the style. The fit feels comfy. The design captures the need. I proceed to buying the item, then I immediately leave the mall. I always make sure not to look at any shops thereafter, because I know that even the feeling of being “right” is not absolute. I will always find something “more right.” I know that ultimately, I control the chase for the right one.

In the bigger scheme of things, i realize that this is how I live my life. The feeling that something is right is so hard to come by that when it hits me, I know I have to do something. I have to make a decision. It is now or never. There is no later, because “later” will give me another perspective, which could alter the “right-ness” of the initial feeling. No, this is not about being impulsive. As you can see in my above decision-making process, a lot of things were considered in arriving with the conclusion that indeed something is right. It was not done in haste. It was not borne out of impatience. It was a solid decision.

Finally, when something is right, the decision to pursue it must be supported with conviction. A conviction that requires adaptation though. Like when the fabric is too sheer to keep me warm, I would put on a coat. Or like when the color is two shades off the motif, I would accent the dress with accessories in the right shade of color. Despite such, I must come to a resolution that I will stand by it; that when something else suddenly feels “more right,” I will not be swayed; and that when the right ceases to be so, I will adapt.

PS – This post is just about the hiking/rappelling gloves that I bought, which I felt was the “right” hiking/rappelling gloves at the time. Then I later realize that they do not match (in color at least) with my other gear. Yes, I over-analyze everything like that. LOL

10 perks of solo travel

Some think that traveling alone makes the traveler lonely and helpless. On the contrary, solo travel has its advantages. And I must say, the advantages truly outweigh my fears and doubts in going on my own. Below are just some silver linings that I have pondered on:

  1.  You do not have to wait for the other person to finish his/her affairs (i.e., getting dressed, shopping, taking pictures, etc.). Corollary, you can also take your time.
  2. You do not have to agree to anything (i.e., where to go, what to eat, how to get to wherever, etc.).
  3. You do not have to consider moods, opinions, and beliefs other than your own. You push and drag your own happiness and journey.
  4. You will be more responsible with your things and money. You know you are on your own. You have no one to depend on or to blame but yourself.
  5. You will improve on your communication skills. You will be forced to use them when boredom or ignorance hits you.
  6. You will develop a unique way of making decisions. One that is fast, intuitive, and confident.
  7. You will gain a sense of self-pride by accomplishing things on your own.
  8. You will look forward to socializing with others. Others will not pass prejudice based on the crowd that you are with. There is always a chance to reinvent one’s self for first impressions.
  9. You will be thrilled doing things, even the mundane kind. Riding a taxi… at midnight… in a “no-English” place… with a “no-English” driver? Exactly.
  10. You will discover something about yourself. Your peeves, your patience, your limitations will all be interestingly unravelled and you cannot help but be amazed.

Taking risks

Walter Mitty-ed my office window
Walter Mitty-ed my office window

My compulsion to travel started after I watched the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In fact, I only have one scheduled trip prior to it, but I decided to book five additional flights and exhaust all my vacation leaves thereafter. I even Walter Mitty-ed my office window to inspire and remind me everyday that I will get the chance to do what I love someday, or in this case, when I go on vacations.

Which brings me to the question, “What do I love to do?” For someone who had been brainwashed by her parents to think that she can be anything she wants to be, I was pretty conservative with my choices. But if there is anything I regret not doing, it is taking more risks.

I am the plan-and-checklist kind of person. I will not enter something without calculating the chances of success or failure. I feel a sense of achievement in ticking off one-by-one the items in my checklist. I dread spontaneity because in that respect, you don’t really know what you have accomplished. There is no way to measure success and thus, it only feels like a waste of time.

However, it is only through being spontaneous that I can increase the risk of my choices. I want to be able to talk to strangers before I realize that I am in bad or good company. I want to be able to eat food before I decide that it tastes awful or delicious. I want to be able to explore a place to find my way around or get lost. I want to be able to do the normal and ordinary things (e.g., jogging, watching movies, listening to classical music, eating froyo) and feel like as if I am doing them for the first time and giving them special meaning.

This is my mantra for this year: to take more risks. And like Walter Mitty, I shall seek this purpose:

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.