Here’s a treat for La Chica Runs readers: My friend and running mentor Brandess is guest hosting today. She has a great story to share. Enjoy!
By Brandess Wallace
My name is Brandess and I am an ultramarathon runner. For those of you unfamiliar, an ultramarathon is any race distance longer than the traditional 26.2 miles of a marathon. They usually start at 50K (31.1 miles) but can include distances up to and beyond 100 miles. I love ultra-running, and if you ask me about it, I will hold you hostage for the next hour talking about it.
If you are already a runner, it’s even more likely that at some point during the conversation I will try to convince you to take up ultra-running as a hobby. Why would anyone with sound mind and body actually choose to run that far?
I can think of at least seven reasons:
1. The Mindset. I often say that ultramarathons are the hippie version of racing. I love ultras because I feel free of the pressure that often comes with running shorter distances. Instead, I find myself focusing on the total experience — my fellow runners, the feel of the trail beneath my feet, the sounds of nature around me…the beer at the end of the race. I do it purely for the love of the sport (and sometimes for the belt buckle they hand out at the end!). I don’t enter races with the hope of age placing or even getting a personal best. I do, however, enter with the hope that I will leave with some great stories to tell my friends.2. The Food. If you run because you love to eat, then ultramarathons might be your spirit animal. While your average race provides runners with water, Gatorade, Gu and maybe some oranges, ultramarathons offer a virtual smorgasbord of goodies, including chips, cookies, candy, soda, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken broth, even baked potatoes. It’s like Old Country Buffet without the shame! Of course, I could easily drive to a nearby convenience store and buy Coca-Cola and Oreos, but a cold cup of Coke 34 miles into a 50 miler is about as close to heaven as you can get on earth.
3. The Walking. Fact: Many of the best ultra-runners in the world walk during their races. You read that right….they WALK. Once I discovered that walking hills and inclines is not only OK, but encouraged during ultra-races, I knew that I had found my running niche. While the thought of running 40 or 50 miles can seem daunting, knowing that I have the option to walk at any point has gotten me to the finish line of some of my toughest runs.
4. The Views. Last year at Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake 50K in Wisconsin I ran some of the most beautiful trails in the Midwest. The trails wound through Devil’s Lake State Park, eventually leading us to a breathtaking bluff overlooking lakes and forest for as far as the eye could see. Ultra running has allowed me to experience the beauty of nature without the commitment of camping in a tent for a week.5. The Volunteers. Ultramarathon volunteers can easily spend just as much or more time on the course as runners. With many ultramarathon courses featuring multiple loops, runners get a chance to get to know race volunteers. While refueling at the “buffet,” which can last anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, we chat about the weather, other races, even each other’s families. They take water bottles and hydration packs right off your back and refill them for you. They even massage your legs if you are experiencing cramping. They always give words of encouragement and tell you you look great…even when you don’t (which is usually the case). Basically, these people are saints. Make sure you thank them!
6. The Camaraderie. I have yet to meet an ultra-runner that I didn’t like. And though running tends to be thought of as a solitary sport, it could not be farther from the truth when it comes to ultramarathons. Over the course of the race, I always end up falling into pace with a few strangers. Sometimes we talk and get to know one another, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when you are struggling it’s just comforting to have someone beside you, even when no words are said. Sometimes you share mile after mile together; sometimes only a few hundred feet. Sometimes you find each other after the finish line and congratulate each other. Sometimes that stranger becomes a friend.7. The Accomplishment. There is nothing like pushing yourself to the brink of what you think you can do and finding out that you are capable of much more. Ultramarathons have taught me to never underestimate what my mind and body are capable of. The sense of accomplishment transcends running, giving me the strength and courage to set goals and conquer my fears in daily life.
Brandess Wallace of Lansing, Mich., has lost 106lbs. over the past five years and gone from barely being able to complete a 5K to completing two triathlons, 23 half marathons, seven marathons and five ultramarathons. She is a mom of two and a proud military wife. She has a master’s degree in public health and is currently a Spin instructor. Brandess is also the founding member of the Lansing chapter of Black Girls RUN! and a member of the Training Academy for Badass Warrior Goddesses. She loves to empower other women to achieve their goals.