Ultrarunning: join the crazy, peripatetic tribe

By July 16, 2015Run, Ultrarunning

Post by: Matt Flaherty, Swiftwick sponsored athlete.  

Last fall, I found myself staring down the barrel of an injury, as we runners inevitably do from time to time. What had started as a rarely-felt shooting pain beneath my second metatarsal had grown to an occasional pain. And then a frequent pain. By the 100km World Championships in Doha, Qatar in November (run mostly on tile surface for reasons beyond my understanding), I was limping to a DNF. An initial month off did little to heal me. Five months, a misdiagnosis and many treatments later, I finally began running again.

While the injury is still a concern, I’m on the way back to healthy. It came as no surprise to me that the simple act of running again was renewing and vivifying. In my absence from doing the thing I love, I had gotten myself into more of a blue funk than I realized. And after nearly two decades as a runner, I know too well the transformative power of my steps.

What did surprise me was how much renewal and joy I experienced in attending the Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile in late June, where I crewed for my friend Justin Houck. If anything, I would have guessed that watching a bunch of healthy ultrarunners race the most iconic 100 miler in the world might leave me a touch bitter or sad. But instead, I left California refreshed and more excited about running than I had been in a long time.

At its core, the Western States 100—and running and racing in general—is a celebration. But it’s not simply a celebration of the runners themselves. When runners compete, it is a culmination of years of effort, but also of support from family and friends, crews and pacers, aid station volunteers and even those offering words of encouragement. The celebration is felt by all; it is a triumph of spirit in a beautiful landscape.

Sometimes the examples are almost impossibly salient—e.g. 70-year-old Gunhild Swanson’s epic finish with six seconds to spare before the 30-hour time cutoff. But even outside of a headline such as this, the snapshots of passion and heartbreak you see along a ultrarunning course are incredible. Racers’ iron-willed commitment to finish what they started; the delicate insistence by a spouse that yes, you can do this; the anguish in realizing that today is not the day you finish the race; the decision to drop out and fight another day, another Western States.

We are a crazy, peripatetic tribe, we ultrarunners. And whether you’re racing at the front or back of the pack, supporting a friend, volunteering, or simply spectating, we are an inclusive, incredible community. Being around these folks makes me smile.

Matt Flaherty is a professional runner, personal running coach, and freelance writer. “I love racing all distances and terrains, though the 50 mile distance is my forte.” Matt is the 2013 U.S. 50 Mile Road National Champion and is gunning for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon standard of 2:18:00.