A surprising benefit of running the Desert Solstice race a few weeks ago was the goodie bag, which had a copy of the DVD “Forever Running,” featuring Yiannis Kouros. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Yiannis, he is the best ultrarunner ever, holding many records including the World’s 24-hour record at 188 miles. He set that record in 1997 and many believe it is untouchable.
After returning from the race, while procrastinating over writing out holiday cards, I decided to distract myself and popped in the DVD to check it out. Not knowing what to expect, I quickly became engrossed in this seemingly low-budget movie shot in Greek with English subtitles. Most of the DVD is Yiannis either running or providing insights into his philosophy of running and training, etc.
It is hard to compare myself to Yiannis. I require more that 2 ½ hours of sleep a night. I also do not run marathons in sub-3 hours. I also do not have 150-plus World records!
It turns out, however, that Yiannis and I do have a few things in common. Unwittingly, over the years, I have subscribed to some of his training philosophy. I wholeheartedly agree with Yiannis’ observation that “some runners worship the body, simply run all day. If I am to do this, I shall become inhuman and will not find inspiration in the race. I practice a couple of hours morning and evening with many breaks. Run too much, where is time for something else? … I disagree with speed and quantities; I do quality training with rhythm depending on the race’s needs.”
I am also in the less is more camp. Unlike many runners I know who spend their entire weekend running, I spend very little time running but instead enjoy time with family, friends and other hobbies. Then, when I actually run a 24-hour race, the experience is very fresh since going into the race I haven’t run for more than 4-5 hours at a time. For my preparation for my last 24-hour race at the North Coast 24 in September, I concentrated on speed work and running twice a day and had my best race ever!
Yiannis also comments on the concept of patience in an ultra race. “The verb ‘endure’ is not a physical verb, it’s a spiritual one. Endure means to withstand…you must be patient and then do solid training. Without patience, you will never conquer endurance.” Also, “No one completes a race via his body but with his mind.”
I too think of the 24-hour race as more of a spiritual experience than a physical one. I find it to be a form a meditation. In a 24-hour race, there are no physical obstacles, no need to pay attention to rocks, roots or see if you’re still on the course. It is just running and, at its best, I tune out everything and just concentrate on running. I ignore other runners since, as Yiannis also says, “we are not racing against co-runners but we are racing against nature, clock, time, distance.” Those are the only thoughts that cross my mind as well. I know that at the end of the race many runners who are faster and much more talented than me will have faltered so I do not pay any attention to them but only to the clock, time and distance…. You can be well trained but if your mind is not focused – a certain mental toughness – your body will not cooperate.
Finally Yiannis sums up why ultrarunners run. “The rational in doing such a sport is to experience the extraordinary moments of ‘exceeding.’ You cannot experience them in normal life.” Ultras are truly extraordinary events and it is for this reason that we all keep returning to run them again and again.