Ultra Grateful

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.”

– Greg Anderson

I think everyone here would agree that running is mental, in every possible way. Does it follow then, than ultramarathon running is ultra mental? I guess I’m about to find out.

I admit that when I first looked at my training schedule for the next twelve weeks in its entirety, I promptly had to spend the next few minutes breathing rapidly into a paper bag. The usual “what I have done?” freak-out had definitely taken on ultra proportions.

However, as with all things in life, I’ve once again found that everything is temporary if you give it enough time. Now that I’m two weeks into my ultramarathon training, I couldn’t be more excited about finding myself in all the weird and wonderful places this journey is yet to take me.

Sadly, a significant contributing factor to this change in attitude has been a very sombre event. Ten days ago I lost someone very dear to me in a cruel car accident. I can’t say that I’ve come to terms with the loss at all yet, but for now this brutal reminder of the finality of life has made me all the more adamant to live mine to the fullest.

Right now, I can’t think of anything that makes me feel more alive and happy than being in the wilderness. It’s beautiful, powerful, healthy and life-affirming. It gives me space to think and breathe. And with the arrival of spring, the trails have never felt more wonderful and alive. As such, I’m really happy that the looming ultramarathon in June is only another reason for me to spend much time on the wicked and wonderful trails that Scotland has to offer.

But there’s more to any running training than merely clocking the miles, of course. One of the best parts of spending much time alone in the wilderness is that I keep getting to know myself a little bit better every time. By venturing further than ever before, even after 10 years of running, I’m not only learning valuable new things about how my mind and body work on the run, but also about the extremes of feeling tired, content, ecstatic, fed up, and all the other emotions that come out in the safe solitude that mother nature offers.

By definition, endurance events should involve an aspect of carrying on regardless of feeling a various degrees of fatigue, ranging from weary legs to a full blown death-grip bonk. In those battles, the mind can be either a dangerous master or a beautiful servant. In shorter races, I find that my usual strategy for dealing with any signs of trouble is to keep telling myself that it’ll be over soon al while clinging on until the bitter end. However, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that in an ultramarathon this strategy would at best result in an abysmally miserable run, and at worst – and far more likely – result in the sobbing mess of a runner in need of urgent trailside rescue (and possibly therapy). Of course I accept that parts of the run (and life!) will be gloomy, but also that it’s up to me to banish the negative thoughts over and over again. In that sense, running is once again a great metaphor for life.

My recent brush with the frailty of life has reminded me of something very important, which I am sure can help me out in darker times. At the moment, I am just grateful to be able to run at all: grateful to have this life, grateful for my health, grateful to live in such a beautiful place, grateful for this powerful body that puts up with all the nonsense I inflict upon it, and ultimately, incredibly grateful for this opportunity to run and learn and grow.

If this all sounds very fatalistic or depressing, let me assure you, it’s not. In fact, when I did a terrible job at awkwardly trying to explain all of this to a wonderfully eloquent friend this morning, he eventually described it as “relentless positivity”. It sure works for me!

I hope you are all moving forward as well, whatever your purpose or pace. 🙂


(A relentless optimist on the run:

contemplating the meaning of life while clocking a parkrun PB of 22:10 this morning)

24 thoughts on “Ultra Grateful

  1. Trails and Ultras says:

    Hi Julia, sorry to hear your news. Hope you’re OK. I often find it hard to articulate the journey I go on with ultra running, you’ve done a much better job of summing it up. I often think there’s something cathartic about it. I’m not religious but I often think about the story of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert. There’s an element of that in ultra running: go forth and meet your demons. Ultra running hasn’t just deepened my relationship with the landscape, but also given me a greater understanding of myself. Wow, that’s a bit deep. Can you tell that I’m in the delusional zombieland that is working night shifts?

    • Thank you so much, Becky! I agree, and at the risk of sounding all new-agey and ethereal, I’m finding that it’s a very personal journey of growth and learning. I guess I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the mental journey, but that’s not a bad thing at all. I’m so grateful that I get to experience it. I like the “go forth and meet your demons” idea, it sounds bang on to me! At least I quite like myself (at least most of the time), so the company is usually tolerable. 🙂

  2. Kerrie says:

    Congratulations on the new PB. I know I’ve just starting following but, I am sorry for the loss. Have fun with the ultra training, I wish I had what it takes for that! I’m still learning the ropes 🙂

    • Hi Kerrie, thank you for stopping by and for your kind words. I just had a look at your blog too, and you’re a runner through and through! I’m certain that you’ve got everything it takes to run whatever you like, you just have to believe it yourself. 😉 I look forward to following your running adventures!

  3. Chris P says:

    I am very sorry for your loss. I wish there was something I could do to take away the pain. This couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. I always enjoy your running stories and I appreciate your thoughtful contributions to my blog. I don’t know you that well, but it sometimes seems all us runners have that same “essence” within us, that we are all connected somehow through our running.

    To maintain a positive attitude in the face of such a tragic loss is truly inspiring. I really don’t know how you do it. I don’t think I would be so resilient after something like this. Hopefully, it is infectious, even through the internet. I’m wishing you the best, good luck on this ultramarathon and with life in general. Congratulations on the PB.

    I am so sorry. I hope you continue ultrarunning, blogging and being you.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and heartfelt words, Chris! It’s really soothing to know that people care, even if they are far away! I’m not always positive or happy, but I’m determined to keep moving forward and am more than happy to share my journey! It’s as you say, I think – there’s something very powerful and uniting about running, and it’s great to be part of that. 🙂

  4. Angie says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. It is good that you have running to help cope with all this. It is always good to be grateful for what we have and we can do because you just never know. Congrats on the PB too!

    • Thank you so much, Angie. Sometimes, life just gets in the way. Although I’m very sad about the loss, it’s also been a reminder to cherish what I have while I have it, because nothing lasts forever. That’s not a bad thing to reminded of!

  5. I’m sorry for your loss Julia. I totally agree with embracing life and what you have, and just going for it.

    While I’ve not even run a full marathon, let alone an ultra, I do know what you mean about learning so much more about yourself during the training. You realise your limits aren’t as close as you thought they were, and above all, you learn to dig deep and persevere, because, as sympathy cards say (bad analogy! but it works..) ‘this too shall pass.’

    Way to keep persevering 🙂

    • To echo what everyone else has already articulated much better than I will, I’m very sorry to hear about your loss and really admire your positive approach to life and running. I think people who don’t run would be very surprised to hear the profound realisations that can come while running but it does seem to have a way to put life into a new perspective, doesn’t it?

      • Thank you so much – it’s so lovely to hear from you again! Running is amazing for sorting out my head and heart in all sorts of ways… I often find that there’s a powerful, positive mental clarity that comes while running that really helps me make sense of all sorts of stuff. I’m still moving forward, which is the main thing, always!

    • Thank you Danielle! Running really is a great metaphor for life sometimes, isn’t it? Sometimes, it’s just about making it through that next mile, as things will get better eventually – they always do! 🙂

  6. Sorry to hear of your loss Julia, however channelling you emotions into running is always one of the most healthy, motivating and cathartic things you can do so keep on running and being strong.
    I am always reminded of the following: we don’t HAVE to run, we GET to run. You get to run right now, so keep on doing it. 🙂

    • Thank you, Allison – the idea that running is a privilege that we get to enjoy right now is what I was trying to get at. You never know what is around the corner, so I agree completely that we just have to enjoy what we’ve got and make the most of it while we have it. And yes, of all the things one can do to deal with bereavement, running is probably amongst the healthiest, which is yet another reason to keep going. Thank you! Upwards and onwards.

      • Absolutely. It was bereavement which led me to running in the first place and bereavement which inspired our big fundraising challenge this year. We have to enjoy life while we can and make the most of every single day.

  7. Jim Brennan says:

    Fullmoonrunner, my condolences on losing a dear friend. You have the right formula for feeling alive, and I completely relate to the positive affect endurance running has on your body, mind and soul. I can tell you from the experience of forty years on the trail that you never stop learning about yourself. I still hit the trail to figure out the tough crap even as I approach sixty. Stay with it. Running is the gift that never stops giving.

    • Thank you so much, Jim! That’s just about the most inspirational thing anyone could say to me… I always say that the runners I admire the most, as those who keep the passion alive through the years. I’m so glad it helps you and that you never stop learning. I hope that’s where I’ll be as well on my journey when I approach 60!

  8. I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. You have a wonderful outlook and I think this is great post.

  9. I’m sorry to hear about your loss and am glad you are finding zen through running.

  10. jeffthomsan1 says:

    Sorry to hear about the loss! You seem like a strong woman who has the caliber to handle things with quite maturity. Keep that up! I am sure you will understand that this is the way life goes and we have to keep going with it. After all you are a runner and running is the best way to purify your body, mind and soul 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words, Jeff! I can’t help but draw comparisons between running and life in general. Sometimes, it gets hard and we ask difficult questions. It’s good to do that and to experience everything that comes with it. But ultimately, we keep going, and somewhere along the line we realise that we are stronger than before.

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