Let’s set one thing straight and upfront before I even start: there is no answer to either ‘how’ or ‘why’, especially considering that almost everyone in my life just says ‘because you are crazy’ as an explanation. Anyway, if you want to know more about my ultramarathon story despite the craziness, keep on reading!
Okay, first things first: what did I exactly do?
Three years ago, at the age of 21, I participated in a long-distance running race called Forrest Gump Ultramarathon in the city of Zagreb, Croatia. The whole concept is time-determined rather than running from point A to point B, meaning this: every runner is given 12 hours (from 9am til 9pm) to run as many predetermined laps as they wanted to (every lap was about 3,5k long).
To earn a medal for finishing this ultramarathon, it was necessary to complete 75 kilometers. Running, walking, sitting, resting, eating, toilet breaks – it is all allowed. You do your pace, your plan, your rests as you wish. You can also end your race at any time – you obviously don’t need to keep moving until 9 pm if you can’t/don’t want to.
So that’s what I did: for the full 12 hours I was running (and occasionally walking in the second half of the run), and it all summed up in the end as 100 kilometers and 150 meters altogether (feel free to look at my GPS log from the run up to the point when my Garmin watch ran out of battery). This was my first run longer than 42 kilometers or 4 hours and up to that point, I have only been a long-distance runner for about nine months.
What has lead up to me running an ultramarathon?
Let’s make one thing clear: I have been into sports my whole life. My running stories began after 13 years of playing handball (I started when I was 7 years old) and when I couldn’t keep up with frequent games and travels (after moving for my studies), I left handball and some months later I started running.
My first reason to run was to try to prepare for a half marathon, and I still remember saying that to my mom, kind of wondering how she will react to what seemed so extreme. She (and the rest of my family) supported it, just as anything else in my life, as long as I managed to keep myself healthy.
Related: Top 10 Marathons to Book in 2016
So in November 2011, I joined a running team in Zagreb (AK Sljeme/Brooks Running Team) to go through a half marathon training program that I was supposed to run in March 2012. However, some of my fellow runners realized I am successfully following their marathon plan (for the same March 2012) and that I could try out the full marathon, which seemed unreal to me. So I ran a half marathon in February 2012 and with great success finished Ferrara Marathon 2012 in 4 hours and 7 minutes.
From then on, I just continued with marathon training regularly, with between 40 and 70 kilometers of training every week, preparing for autumn race season.
Was I physically prepared to run 100 kilometers?
Absolutely not. My body knew what it meant to run 3 hours slowly, or 2 hours a bit faster, or to run a marathon in a comfortable pace but still a bit faster than when training. It knew how to use and process food for a 4-hour effort, it knew how much sleep it needed, it knew when to stop and how much training and rest it needed for a physical stress of such kind.
It, however, had no idea how in the world to behave during 12 hours of running. I did nothing similar to that ever before, I didn’t know if I will faint, injure myself, I could not predict how will my body react to which food. I didn’t know how will my muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments react. I knew there will be pain, but I didn’t know what kind.
On the contrary, I felt more mentally prepared for it than for anything else in my life, but more on that in a minute.
So if I knew it’s going to hurt, why did I do it?
This might or might not sound ridiculous and stupid and touchy-feely but it’s true: I take running very emotionally. Not because I decided to, but because that’s how it affects me. Probably any long-distance race I’ve finished has led up to my tears (of joy, of course) and my brain not being aware of why am I SO happy.
About a month before Forrest Gump Ultramarathon, I was speaking with my coach and I asked him what does he think about me attempting to run that. He said I should definitely do it because of how well I mentally take long-distance running. And to back this up, just a side note: when I first started running under his supervision, and when I had my first 30k run, after finishing I came up to him and said “This was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life”, after which he said “We found another one“, referring to me so naturally wanting to run 3 hours and being happy afterwards.
So, yes, that’s why I did it: I wanted to find my limits and move them further. I wanted to be able to say I’m a 21-year-old ultramarathon runner. I wanted to know how it all feels. I did it for the feeling and because I love it.
What have I learned from it?
First of all: I learned to listen to my body more. A few weeks after the ultramarathon, signs of injury started to show and I had to go through full recovery for about a month. However, I did learn what it means to be far out of your comfort zone (that’s where all the magic happens, by the way). I learned how to push myself when it’s hard and when it seems impossible.
I also learned that I can do (almost) anything I set my mind to if I want it badly and work for it hard. After 25 or 50 or 70 or however many kilometers, my mind took me to places I never knew existed, I felt emotions I never knew were there and I’ve seen people around me in a completely different way.
Yes, literally every inch of my body was painful for days to come, muscles I never knew I had, my ribs, toes, shoulders, spine, back, everything was horribly painful, and in case you were wondering – yes, I would do it all over again!
*Disclaimer: I am not a qualified trainer, sports scientist or expert of such kind. All of this is my own experience (just like anything else on the blog) and I highly recommend talking to an expert before taking up any new activities so you can stay healthy and enjoy physical activities without injuries.