It’s my contention, especially after having varied my activities greatly over the last few months, that while there is great variety in ultrarunners and ultrarunning participant intent, none of it really has much to do with health and fitness.
“What? He’s an idiot”, you might be saying. That’s ok, you’re kinda right, I’m not very smart, but I digress…
Let’s look at a 50-mile ultra. While there is an elite field, typically of very small, efficient runners, running continuously for the duration of the event, and doing so without tremendous trauma to the body, the majority of runners on the course are either shot-out by 30 miles in, walking a ton, maybe limping, or at the very least, working around some kind of overuse injury that’s flaring up.
They may or may not choose to continue to endure this trauma until the finish.
Depends on how bad they want it.
Fitness or Fight?
In my opinion of one, this is not participating in activity for health and fitness benefit. Nor is training like this a key to improved health and fitness.
Does it make one stronger?
Depends on your definition of “stronger”. If stronger means both physical and mental ability to endure pain, then yea, I guess so – but if stronger means better and more efficient adaptation to perform well, then I would say, no. Instead, you put yourself in a position of needing more recovery, allowing for less quality workouts, and thus a sort of stagnant athletic performance improvement.
Room with a View
Standing on the outside a little now, I see the close relationship between ultrarunning and addiction. NOT EVERYONE, but I do see the undertones that I perhaps did not recognize before. From the social aspects, to feeling a need to abuse oneself within a venue of others, who are also absuing themselves and thus making it seem ok – or even better, “as an extreme sport”
But like the Jurek article showcased a few years ago in Runners World, its hard to view it as sport from the outside perspective, late in a race, when physical bodies, in poor, untrained physical shape, are walking and leaning, barely covering ground, and simply enduring for hours on end.
It’s a resilience and determination worth applauding, but is it athletic sport? Is it performance?
This is the grey area where a lot of ultrarunners stand up and start screaming - “who are you to tell me how to enjoy my sport?!” – and - “Ultraunning is very personal and can be defined however I want”
And flames start between the “yea, leave us alone” crowd, and the “well, you know, 15 hours on a 50 mile course is not racing” crowd.
Fragmentation of “Sport”
I believe this is what makes ultrarunning a very fragmented, varied sport. Less respected by athletes of the popular definition, and way respected by those who only have a very small understanding of what true ultra event participation isreally like, and what really goes on.
In the end, I guess its true. It’s a personal thing. Some, like me and my experiences, have addictive personalities and dove head first into ultrarunning, seem to progress a little, but suffer a lot, and flame out over and over (just like Rob Y. warned me).
Others, take to the sport, learn they have a knack for it up front, in the elite pack, and choose to become racers – but always struggle with the “when will we be recognized as real athletes with real winnings?” — interestingly, there appears to be a lot of burn-out and injury here, too.
Then, there is a more “life long” crowd. These people stay attached to the sport because they genuinely like it – the people, the challenges, the long excursions outdoors – but they never seem to take it too seriously. The non-addicts. They jump in and out when the feeling hits, try to train reasonably for a finish, and rarely judge the performance based on anything other than how they felt about the entire experience.
I guess, in 2013, this is the ultrarunner I strive to be. There are some events, like Zane Grey 50-mile, like Fuego Y Agua 100K, that I want to do for very personal reasons, knowing full well I will have a mind-blowing experience that will wreck me to complete exhaustion, regardless of how well I’m trained.
But, not for one single second will I believe that any of my training beyond 20 miles is really fitness training – and in fact, I will view it as counterproductive to becoming the strongest, fittest and healthiest that I can become.
With regards to physical movement (i.e. exercise), strength, fitness and optimal health comes from a variety of functional training, from a variety of styles and adaption, and NOT specialization in one movement or activity.