Lessons Learned from Ultra Distance Running


I ran my first 50K ultra trail race in December 2011. Among ultra-distance runners this is a small accomplishment, but among the rest of the human population it’s a seriously daunting goal and amazing achievement. I had just taken up running and never run over 18 miles on a trail. A 50K is 31.5 miles and the race I chose had over 6500 feet of elevation gain! However, I managed to complete the race and it was an amazing experience that left me with a strong sense of

Early 2012, I was invited to join the United States Association of Track and Field (USATF) Quicksilver Ultra-Running Team. When I began to have second thoughts, I saw an email had been sent to the members of the team welcoming me. At that point, I saw no turning back. I had basically committed to complete three more 50K trail races before December 2012. I “honestly” didn’t know if I could achieve this goal, but I took it one race at a time, and in October I managed to complete my fourth 50K in 12 months.

Early April 2012, I completed my first 50-mile event. I maintained a steady pace, had no low points, and surpassed my goals, qualifying for the Western States 100-mile event. I began to realize that in running mileage is relative. A 50K now seemed like a “short” race. I completed one in January, February, March and May then completed a 50- mile event in October as well with over 10,000 feet of climbing. Since then, I have completed both the 100- kilometer as well as the 100-mile distance event – two achievements I never even thought remotely possible!

I must admit, there are days I question why I engaged in this crazy sport, but what I’ve come to realize, is trail running helped me find the tools and build the strength to overcome many difficult life experiences. Part of the human experience is about finding your purpose, achieving what you set your mind to, and letting nothing stand in your way (especially yourself)! On the trails there are so many parallels I aim to bring back into my daily life.

What I’ve learned from my Ultra-Running experience:

  1. Pain is part of the experience, but suffering is optional. The more you resist the obstacles that you are bound to encounter, the more difficult your experience will be. Always have gratitude for what is going right rather than focusing on what is going wrong. When necessary, remember the saying, “This too shall pass.” Stay optimistic and persevere. With this perseverance and optimism, you may often find things turn around, and in the end, ultimately make you stronger.
  2. Stay present at all times. Live in the now. You can’t change what’s already past, and you can’t foresee what’s to come (and it’s pointless to waste your energy worrying about either.) Take the experience one step at a time. Worrying about what’s ahead and getting upset about something that has happened is a waste of precious time and energy.
  3. Don’t compare yourself to others. Do the best “you” can do. Allow the strong sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing you gave something your all. The competition is truly within, not outside, of yourself. Even if you are unable to complete what you set out to accomplish, remember there is always next time, and be proud that you took the risk to try. Accomplishment comes from knowing you gave something everything you have.
  4. Enjoy the process of each individual achievement on your path to completing your objective, because ultimately this is more rewarding than reaching the goal itself. Each step toward your final goal counts, so enjoy each of them fully. It’s not about the ultimate achievement as much as staying fully present and enjoying the process you go through in reaching it.
  5. Health and nutrition are a key component in how you feel on a daily basis and how you perform. The nutrients (or lack of) we put in our body can truly change how we feel both emotionally and physically.
  6. Physical exertion is one of the best forms of therapy. Stay active. Push the limits of what you think your body can accomplish, but always treat your body with the upmost respect. It is the home you will live in for the rest of your life. Know when to push and when to rest & recover. You are no longer running if you are injured, but it’s healthy to occasionally question your “perceived” limitations.
  7. There is the chance something will go wrong: In a race, as in life, there will be many obstacles and not everything always goes the way you’d like. Whatever may occur, it’s about how you overcome the challenges and obstacles that arise. It’s these times that truly define you. You can let these incidents bring you down, make judgments, dwell on the negatives – or move forward, treat them as a challenge, and persevere. True strength lies in one’s response to a situation and attitude around it.
  8. Spend time in the wilderness and around nature. It’s calming for the mind and body and it’s where the human race originated and still belongs. There is an instinctual calm that is found in nature on the trails. Let it be a part of your daily existence.
  9. There is a reason Ultra Running is called an “endurance” sport. There are times with endurance training that you must learn to hold back and there are times you must push forward. Often you must learn to endure some pain. Endurance is tricky and applies to all area of life. Extreme excess can diminish performance, yet if you don’t test the boundaries, you may never become the best you can be. It’s all about finding balance.
  10. Always look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. You can prepare for the future and learn from the past, but ultimately focusing on the present is what will truly bring peace of mind.

    By, Lisa Decker
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Aligned Fitness

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