If it's a nod from society you're looking for, run a marathon. But if it's a life-changing experience of personal strength and perseverance that you want, finish an ultra.
7. It doesn't appear that anyone else is struggling as much as I am. I must not belong.
There was a video I saw a few weeks back that completely changed my perspective on everything. I can't remember where I saw it, much less the link. It was one of those things you watch casually, and don't realize until weeks later that it was actually a turning point for you.
This video was an interview with a seasoned, elite ultra runner talking about a 100-mile race. He talked about finishing the first 26 miles, and feeling wiped. He casually mentioned being tired as if it was a normal thing, but I thought, "Wait a minute. He's an ultra elite. He gets tired after a marathon?"
When I get tired at 26 miles, I used to attribute it to the fact that I wasn't conditioned. I was a newbie and probably out of shape. I was in over my head. But here was a veteran with solid races under his belt, still feeling tired at 26 miles. It forced me to change my perspective.
Around the same time, I read the book AWOL on the Appalachian Trail,where David Miller recounts his experience hiking the entire Appalachian. He recalls a day when he was struggling up a hill, passed some other hikers, and was shocked to hear them admire his speed and agility. He felt like crap.
Everyone sweats; everyone pants for breath. The person who is in better shape will usually push himself to hike more quickly and bump into the same limitations. But when a fit person is stressed, he is less likely to attribute the difficulty to his shortcomings … Obviously conditioning is advantageous, but the perception of disadvantage can be more debilitating than the actual disadvantage.
Ultras are hard for everyone. Ultras are just plain hard. Everyone struggles up that hill. Everyone has trouble breathing. Everyone feels the hot sun. Everyone is sweating. Everyone wants to sit down.
More: Learn How to Persevere From Ultra Elite Michael Wardian
You—sitting at your computer and reading this—would not be any worse off than I am on a steep, rocky hill. Trails can't tell whether you're an elite or a newbie. They'll kick your ass just the same. So you belong here just as much as I do. And I belong here just as much as the dude who wins first place.
The ultra distance is hard to get your mind around. That's why people give ultra runners puzzled looks. But once you break down that wall, run your first ultra, run your second ultra, and then realize you're hooked—all those lies you believed about yourself are exposed. And it's easier to see yourself as you really are: strong, courageous and able.
More: Transition to Ultrarunning: What You Need to Know
Sign up for your next ultra race.