Thursday, January 28, 2010


A couple weeks ago, I made a decision. A big one.

I have decided that running the Portland Marathon this year will occur.

So, yeah! The marathon. The Distance. The Big Kahuna. The Whole Nine Yards...well, considerably more than nine yards. I'm sure you get my drift here. It remains the only "standard" distance running event I've not tackled. I've tried twice. They say third time's the charm, though, and I hope they're right (whoever they are.)

The marathon has long been on my "gotta do it at least once before I die" list. Some people have sky-diving, some folks have mountain-climbing, others strive for that once-in-a-lifetime journey around the world - but for me, being able to run one mile exactly 26.2 times has always been the absolute pinnacle of what I think I can do, a lofty goal that seems the greatest physical feat I could ever accomplish. I think a lot of people probably have this same idea, which is fantastic. At least I'm not alone.

One thing I have learned over the years, however, is that the wagon-train of human potential never stops. If a certain feat is accomplished by an individual, especially one that has been extraordinarily difficult to bring to fruition, it won't be long before another person will attempt to better it, and will also eventually succeed. One can see this in almost every aspect of life, and sports is no exception, if not literally the rule itself. In the case of the marathon, even though it still is considered by most to be physically gruelling and a genuine test of determination and grit, there are distance events that have eclipsed it as the be-all and end-all challenge for the distance runner.

Enter the ultramarathon.

An ultramarathon is classified as a "footrace of more than 50 miles." Personally, I think running more than 20 feet beyond the original 26.2 miles of a standard marathon would be a pretty amazing thing, but most ultras I've seen advertised are close to or exceed 50 miles. While they aren't totally mainstream at this point, they are becoming much more commonplace - or at least, they're coming out of the shadows where perhaps they've been hidden away for years, reserved for the craziest of the crazy - kind of like that "special Uncle" no one ever wants to mention at family reunions. In fact, there are now 100-mile races to choose from that are held across the country - and for those who simply cannot abuse themselves any harder - there is the 135-mile Badwater Ultra. This little gem, considered to be the toughest race in the world, is held in Death Valley during the height of the summer season. That's insanity. Really, it is.

But here's the thing. There was a point in my life where I thought running ten miles was out of the question - a totally stupid and nutzoid thing that I would never do. Why in the world would I want to subject myself to that kind of torture? However, as I grew stronger, that perception changed and now, while they aren't easy, ten-milers aren't really that hard either. Even half-marathons are totally doable - in fact, the more of those I run, the more I find I really like that distance, especially on the trail.  And the marathon? It's still a scary concept in some ways, but the more I work and visualize myself actually doing it, the less daunting it seems. I'm sure that on that glorious day, when I've hit about the 20-22 mile mark, the only thing going through my head will be the admonition that I will never, ever, EVER run that distance again. But I have a lot of hope that running Portland this year will be the first of many marathon experiences to come.

That being said, the whole idea of ultrarunning doesn't really sound all that crazy to me anymore. To be quite honest, I have no concept of my true potential. I've spent so many years so far removed from what I've become, even at this point, there's no telling how far I could go with proper and prudent training. I don't think I would ever do Badwater, and obviously, I've not conquered the marathon just yet, but who's to say that perhaps a nice little 50-miler shouldn't be next on my list...?