Ultra-running: a little naivety goes a long way

I can hardly call myself a real ultra-runner, having only completed one two-day ultra and 100k in a local backyard ultra. I am certainly in no position to give anyone any advice on how to run an ultra marathon (unless it’s a stranger on the Internet who is looking for an advice from strangers on the Internet). Having said that, there is one piece of wisdom, or rather an observation, that I would like to share:

Naivety is the way to success!

A controversial statement, I know. But think about the best things you’ve ever achieved – about the things you’re the most proud of. For me it is moving to a country without speaking its language (twice), taking the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, smashing my first ever ultra and winning my first ever backyard ultra. All these achievements have two things in common: 1) they were bloody hard; 2) at the beginning, I didn’t have the slightest idea how hard they will actually be.

If I knew in advance about the difficulties I’ll have to endure, the pain and struggles I’ll have to push through, would I (would I really) go for it? Would I truly have the courage to jump right in at the deep end? Or, would I be simply served with a plethora of reasons why I should not even try…

I’m leaning towards the latter.

In all cases, I was well-prepared, but, at the same time, totally oblivious to the difficulties I’ll face. Sometimes the less one knows, the better. It gives one edge and courage. They don’t call it beginners “luck” for nothing.

Before my first ultra, I kept amusing my fellow runners saying silly things like: “How difficult can it be? You just run a little farther than usual, until you get to the finish.” And that’s exactly what I did. Before my first backyard ultra I naively kept saying: “It’s essentially very simple – I’ll carry on running until I’m the last one standing.” I was certain I was going to hold that trophy at the end – no matter what. You can call it naivety. Or, you can call it positive thinking or visualisation. Arguably, it’s a mix of both.

Either way, I could see myself running all the way to the finish line way before the event took place. I could feel my legs working, my muscles engaging when conquering hills, I could feel the sweat on my face and taste the endorphins taking my pain away. Every night, when I lay down to sleep, I envisaged myself running far and achieving something incredible. I could smell the success, the personal victory, and I knew that no obstacle would be too big to stop me.

Recently, I read an interesting column in the Trail Running magazine. It spoke about something called “functional imagery training”. Aparently, one can think their way into finishing an ultra! They compared runners who used “motivational interviewing” against runners who used “functional imagery training”. In the first group, four participants embarked on their ultra and two of them finished, while in the second group all seven runners started and six finished. Coincidence? Perhaps. Whenever I confidently claimed I was going to win a backyard ultra, usual reaction was a hesitant laugh. Well, who’s laughing now?

So before your next ultra try this: Forget the distance. 50 miles? 100K? It’s a tad far, true, but it’s not really that far, is it? One just needs to keep going, putting one foot in front the other, one step at a time, just like on every single training run. So how difficult can that really be, huh? Victory is just around the corner. All you need to do is close your eyes and imagine reaching for that trophy! I promise you, if you are naive enough and determined enough, your dreams will come true…

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