Heels over Head: We run ultras. We’re not normal

2014-01-19 06:00

It is something I have suspected for a while, but it only really sank in when a fellow ultrarunning friend drew my attention to this blog on the New York Times website.

It’s a study about the effects of ultramarathon running on people’s health.

The study compares such runners with sedentary adults and “recreational” runners.

The news was all good (slow, long runners are pretty healthy), but it dawned on me that us ultrarunners are still fairly rare and outside what is considered normal – normal being either lazy slobs or those who would get out of bed for a mere 5km.

Normal people, for instance, have lives. They don’t go to bed regularly at 8pm on Saturday evenings to be fresh for their race or nice 28km-plus long run the next morning.

They don’t say no to all-night drinking binges or wild sex just because they’d rather save their energy for that hill-sprinting session in the morning.

They don’t graze all day and still fit into their jeans at the end of it.

Their toes don’t tingle when they drive on the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

They don’t become potential serial murderers when a physio or doctor tells them to rest a while.

They’re not late for work because they, at an impulse, decided to add an extra five or 10km to their run.

They have perspective. They’d consider a 13km run adequate for the day without feeling compelled to do another hour of spinning, swimming or ab crunches to give the work-out a respectable edge.

I figure that is why the Comrades organisers are so successful in attracting people to do it year after year.

With all the hours shedding sweat and some tears in preparation for the race, you make a lot of fellow abnormal friends.

Soon after the Comrades, they will ask you if you’re doing it again the next year. Of course the answer can’t be no.

It’s like moving in a circle of dagga-smoking, coke-snorting friends and then being unable to kick the habit for fear of being ostracised.

Comrades organisers themselves, like drug dealers, lure people back with incentives.

For example, the back-to-back medal (if you do your first and second races in consecutive years), or the green number (after 10 races).

There is also the lure of round numbers. Once you do a back-to-back, you might as well continue to your third, and then your fifth, and your tenth, and so forth.

I’ve entered the Comrades again this year because it’s my fifth. And because some of my friends are doing it, again.

Until June, there’s no having a real life, again.

But with friends like these, who needs to be normal?

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