What goes on inside an ultra runner’s head?

What is actually going on inside an ultra runner’s head – when you are running mile after mile, for maybe 6, 12, 24 hours, or even more? What happens with your thoughts when the body gives you signals that you should have stopped long time ago…?

How to deal with this extraordinary situation?

Into another world

Ultra running makes you to become familiarised with your own body, for good and for bad. Mentally, you go far into a state of mind that you didn’t know existed. You get into a mental place and state of mind where you in some periods just want to stay, and in other periods just want to get out of to come back to reality. Some times you don’t get rid of the reality and do not get into the mode and state you want to be.

Clear your head in advance

Through numerous ultra runs I have experienced that the mind must be cleared and tidied up as much as possible before the race. Make sure to get done things that might disturb you when thinking and worrying about them, prior to the race. It might be unpaid bills, work related tasks of a certain importance or other things that should have been done, and which can be done prior to the race.  Then it is easier to keep focused and to get into the right mode. By doing this you will be better prepared to be “present” when you need to be there to fight against a tired and sore body. Because, even if it feels good in the start, you can be sure that the time comes when you will have to work with yourself to keep on. If you then have been working good with yourself, including consuming the right nutrition, the body will thank you by functioning better.

The mental fluctuations

In some parts of the race you might want to be social if you run together with others. Some like to talk while running, others not. This also depends on which phase you are in during the race. Emotions get amplified and fluctuates during such long lasting power consuming efforts. In one moment life feels overwhelmingly wonderful, in the next moment you just want to throw the shoes away and lie down crying in the ditch. You go into the inner deep of yourself. In periods, steps have to be taken one by one, minute by minute. It is extremely important not to think too far ahead in such long races. Set up short term sub targets and have focus on achieving these. Then give yourself a reward when these sub targets have passed. This may be something to eat or drink, have a walking pause or pay a visit to the toilet.

Focus on what happens NOW

Being at the heaviest, everything feels incredibly heavy and difficult, and you don’t know how to get out of it. Then it is important to focus on what happens here and  now, and work through itminute by minute. Because there is light in the end of the tunnel – the target is waiting for you, making it worth all the heavy efforts. When reaching it,, you can proudly tap yourself on the shoulder and say how good you were, being able to fight through the heavy periods and not giving up when all just seemed dark.

This is what ultra running is about. To conquer yourself and to sense the fantastic feeling of mastering when the target has been achived.

Read more on training for ultra running here:

Author: Gjermund Sørstad, ultra runner

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