Running up, over and through the cogs

The 2012 New Leaf Ultra Runs Windburn Six in the Stix 6-Hour Run

Running around a snowy 2.28 mile loop course for six straight hours against a relentlessly swirling 30 mph wind on a Saturday in January with about 50 or so other running fanatics is truly one of the most enjoyable activities I’ve ever participated in.

And I ain’t speakin’ in absolutes just to be speakin’ in absolutes.

I mean it.  I had a blast!

Chicagoland’s New Leaf Ultra Runs ultrarunning club has been a key component in my successful transition past 26.2 miles and into distances that would cause the casual 5K runner to pick his jaw up off the floor.  With several 50Ks under my belt and having just set a marathon PR, my focus turns to completing my first 50 mile race, the Ice Age Trail 50 in May.  So a six hour fun run couldn’t have been more timely!

The Windburn Six fat ass event — a run that I’d been gazing at on the calendar with a heightened sense of anticipation for many weeks prior — gave me a good idea of where I am physically, but, more importantly, it also gave me a good idea of where I’m about to go, how far I’ll have to dig, and a titillating glimpse at the raw me still yet to be fully discovered.

For me, that’s what running is all about: self-discovery.  And during the Windburn Six I discovered the following:

  • Ultrarunners are the kindest, most genuine, most non-judgmental people on the planet. Unlike the road racing community, no one is there to size you up, to “beat” you, to make you look stupid. Everyone’s on your team, raring to support you and one can never get enough of that. Your success is the community’s success. And the collective spirit generated from this worldview is as contagious as it is electrifying.
  • When it comes to running for six hours, snow ain’t a thing, but sunglasses would’ve been a smart idea. I spent the rest of my day doing my best Gizmo impression: Bright Light! Bright Light!
  • The joy that comes from suffering can often be the sweetest, most everlasting kind. It’s the kind that reminds you I’M ALIVE! The longer we ran in circles, the happier we all seemed. The volume and intensity of smiles and thumbs-ups and high-fives increased with each hour that passed. Sure my legs were feeling a bit heavy with only an hour to go, but I ran faster and stronger in that last hour than I did the previous five because the group mind was willing me to perform!
  • After several bundled up hours of running, nothing tastes quite as good as homemade chicken noodle soup!
  • Singing on the trail is not only allowed: IT’S ENCOURAGED! I got to hear a couple of sweet tunes sung by some very happy ultrarunners and they definitely served as highlights of the day.
  • If you’re feeling tired but want to go as fast as possible without it feeling bad, run with Tony Cesario for a mile or so. I did towards the end of the run and boy did he bring my legs back to life! I didn’t know they could do that!
  • I get sick of gels after a couple hours, so eating just a little bit of real food often seems to keep my engine running!
  • When you run on an exposed, markerless and snow covered loop over and over again, it’s hard to gauge exactly where you are at any given time. The only thing I could be sure of during the run was that I was indeed running. This put my mind exactly where I wanted it to be: totally immersed in the run. When everything else (negativity, self-doubt, reservations) was put aside, true introspection began to flourish. I was pleasantly surprised at what my mind thinks I’m capable of doing and I look forward to following it further.
  • No one will make fun of you if you decide to FLY down the downhills like a little kid, arms waving, battle cry roaring all the way.
  • At the zenith of any strenuous exercise, Oreo cookies are the bomb!!!
  • Running is the perfect ice breaker. I met a bunch of cool people whom I had never met before and the communitas born of our shared experience serves as a special bond.

Most of all, I discovered what I already knew to be even more true: running long boosts my serotonin levels and fills me with satisfaction. And running long with like-minded, friendly folks sends me to the proverbial moon of happiness.

Total distance covered for the six hour run was 31.64 miles.

*Special thanks to Brian and Kelly for their impeccable organization skills and also to those who didn’t run but who were manning the aid station, eager to lend a helping hand. It’s people like you who make ours a paragon of the running community!

(Image courtesy of Kelly Gaines)

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5 responses

  1. Excellent insight — I’ve kept my experiences comfortably within the 26.2-mile distance, though my ambitions to break that barrier get louder and louder every year. Who knows when I’ll decide to go for it, but it’s not this year.

    How long did you end up running in those six hours?

    January 31, 2012 at 15:48

  2. Thanks! Good call on the total distance. I just updated to show I logged 31.64 miles, just over a 50K. Once you’re ready to break into the ultra distances, know that a welcoming community is there to greet you!

    January 31, 2012 at 16:00

  3. Sometimes you make it sound like ultra running, for you, is like meditation. Would you agree with that? It really sounds like it. Like you’re turning your thoughts inward, focused on just being in the present, running, existing. Interesting.

    January 31, 2012 at 19:00

  4. Absolutely, Adam. And not just ultrarunning per se, but after about 2 hours of continuous motion, that’s when I start to crawl inside my mind. It’s fascinating. Sometimes frightening. But it is the clearest path I’ve found to reach that point of “being in the present”.

    February 1, 2012 at 08:07

  5. Pingback: The 2012 New Leaf Ultra Runs Sunburn 8-Hour Run « TheRunFactory.com

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