I read Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner this weekend and could hardly put it down. I’m always drawn to stories about running, probably because I’ve always been scared of running.
I suppose that fear originated in elementary school, where we had to do 12 minute runs every year. Even though we worked up to the 12 minutes gradually in the preceding weeks, I never had the stamina to run 12 minutes without stopping. That, plus having to do it in the gym, crowded by other students, many of whom seemed to run effortlessly, made it the opposite of fun, as did the switch the teacher would flick at us if she saw we were being sluggish.
After one of those 12 minute runs my teacher the next period was so alarmed by my flushed cheeks she wondered if I should go to the nurse’s office and possibly be sent home. From that point on I believed that I just wasn’t cut out for running, that maybe something was wrong with my body in that regard.
Then came junior high and the basketball team. I loved basketball but the brutally long stair lap workouts dehydrated me to such a point that it damaged my body and I had to quit the team.
I had to confront my running fear yet again in high school as the track coach approached me every year and asked me to join the team because he thought I had the right physique for hurdles. When I found out the practices included long grueling runs, I had flashbacks to the 12 minute run and the basketball stair laps and declined.
I happily never had to confront running again, until last summer when I discovered barefoot running. Although I only ran short sprints, I found it very energizing – and painless – to run in bare feet on grass. But I still wasn’t convinced my body could handle anything more than sprints.
In UltraMarathon, Dean Karnazes said his high school cross country coach told him after he won a big race, “If it feels good, you’re doing something wrong. It’s supposed to hurt like hell.” In the middle of a 100 mile ultramarthon a few decades later, an Indian chief told him, “Pain is the body’s way of ridding itself of weakness.”
This reminded of what author and Jungian analyst James Hollis says: “Surely one of the most telling tests of our lives is whether we are living in a way which is driven more by challenge than by comfort, one which asks more of us than we had planned to offer.”
So I’m going to try to run my own “ultramarthon” – a 12 minute run. Following this 9 week guide, and using a treadmill, I should be able to run 12 consecutive minutes in five weeks. We’ll see.