BY: DEVON YANKO
Everyone, anyone CAN run 100 miles. In fact, I feel that of all the distances, 100 miles can be distilled down to a most primal level, the most simple. The task for most seems impossible to wrap your head around, impossible to even consider. The reality of running 100 miles or any big audacious goal is that our perceptions of our own capabilities, our own limits stand in the way. The reality is that we are often scared, soft, entitled, seeking the easiest way, avoiding failure at all costs. We don’t ever get close to our limits and so we cannot fathom even coming close.
But anyone can run 100 miles, it is simply a matter of changing your mind.
I didn’t start my ultra career liking the 100 mile distance. And still even now, my favorite distance is 50 miles. But the 100 mile distance has taught me the most about myself, who I am as a runner and what I am capable of as a human being. Running 100 miles, I have broken through my greatest mental barriers, solved the most complex questions and faced down the most impenetrable darkness.
Step one to running 100 miles is becoming 100% comfortable with the uncomfortable realities of failure.
None of my 100 mile races have been easy or come together perfectly. I have finished, I have dropped, I have fought back and triumphed, I have failed. And each of these experiences have been a cost I have been willing to pay. Failure, risking it, accepting it, being knee deep in it, is a part of it. It is a feature of almost everything worth doing.
Step two, be all in.
One of the most important things that I was ever told about running 100 miles, and has stayed with me and guided me through my career was “never start a 100 mile race that you aren’t 100% committed to doing everything and anything it takes to get to the finish line”. Its easy to be committed when we imagine a perfect day, where nothing goes wrong. But we must commit to face down anything that may come. Commit to walking it in. Commit to sitting in the chair for hours and getting back up. Be all in. Because if you aren’t, when things go sideways- and they will- you will not do whatever it takes to work through the problems. You will give in before you need to, you will not see your immense ability to fight, you will not see how deep your reserves truly are.
Step three, embrace your inner pessimist.
Part of that commitment and the action that follows it can be greatly aided by anticipations. The premeditations of evils is an ancient technique and does have magical powers even if it doesn’t actually make things easier. By anticipating the things that could go wrong- your stomach gives, you miss your crew, you are dehydrated, you just mentally don’t want to do this any more… you prepare yourself for things to be as hard as they need to be, how hard they actually are. This past year before WS100, I ran the canyon section of the course multiple times before the race. Each excursion sucked, it never got easier, I never had a single good training run on that section. So on race day, when things went south before I even go to the canyons and I willed myself forward into them, I knew it was going to suck. And surprisingly, it sucked but not nearly as bad as it had in every training run. So I emerged from them with momentum and strength, ready to run. When I stand on the line of 100 mile race, I have anticipated that in every single step I take there could be hardship.
Step four, acknowledge it won't be easy. In fact, embrace it.
You can’t, in fact, make running 100 miles easier. Yes, you can train better, prepare well- which, side note, entails a great deal LESS than you are making up in your head- but you can’t actually make the distance less of a daunting, epic undertaking. That is a fact. But you can in fact toughen yourself up. You can summon an insane amount of toughness if you let yourself. When I’ve talked about cultivating badassery in the past, I am talking about being tougher and more resilient than I ever knew as possible. Obstacles are going to be as big and daunting and immense and difficult as they are going to be. And you can have the toughness to meet them.
Step five, persist. You must simply, keep going.
Part of toughness is simple perseverance. Life and running are not about one obstacle but many. As the Haitian proverb goes, “Behind the mountains are more mountains”. You will never have a life or a run free of obstacles and so you must relinquish your desire to be free of obstacles. Instead you must persist and persevere.
I’ve been told 1,000 or more times “I cannot imagine running 100 miles”, and honestly, neither can I. Running 100 miles like any undertaking is about the process, not the finish line. You cannot focus on the finish line, you can only focus on the step in front of you, what you need to do right now, in this very moment. Bring it back to the process- what do I need to do right now, do I need to eat, drink, push, pull back, take a deep breathe or just run? “Excellence is a matter of steps” (Ryan Holiday). And so you must must alter your perspective and choose how you will look at things. Where you head goes, the body will follow. Action follows the right perspective.
I don’t think, or even advocate that everyone must run 100 miles or even try, but running 100 miles is a metaphor for life as much as the experience of running 100 miles is distilling down a lifetime in a day. But everyone can become a person who could battle the distance, the obstacles, the journey. Anyone can genuinely learn how to seek and push their own limits. Because life might just be the greatest ultra of all.
Breathe deeply, steady yourself and step into the journey ahead.
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