The irresistible challenge of running an ultra

The lure of a difficult challenge is part of what drives runners to explore their limits. Author Tim Catalano has committed to running a 100-mile ultra. Illustration by Tim Catalano

What is the dumbest thing you did last week? For me that is an easy question. I let a friend I have never met in person talk me into running a 100-mile ultra-marathon three months from now. I have always been prone to making quick decisions and acting on a whim without much forethought. But as we get older, we are supposed to gain in maturity and common sense. Going from not even considering running an ultra-marathon to committing to one in less than 35 minutes demonstrates just how far I have come in my 40 years.

Here is how it happened:

My friend Adrian Belitu who runs the popular Facebook page I <3 To Run and website Benefits of Giving, just celebrated the birth of his first child one month ago. He is still getting used to the new schedule and middle of the night feedings. As if this is not enough of a challenge, he is also yearning to start running again after almost two years off while trying to start his family.

On April 28 Adrian called me on the phone. The conversation went something like this:

Adrian: We should run the Burning River 100.

Tim: Dude - I haven’t run over 15 miles in a week in almost nine months!

Adrian: I just ran 2.7 miles yesterday. My longest run in a year.

Tim: I have never run more than three hours in my life.

Adrian: That’s OK we have three months to prepare.

Tim: Well in that case, let’s do it!

OK, so the conversation was a bit longer than that, and it took a little more convincing, but that basically sums up what happened. Somewhere in our conversation Adrian, a veteran of several ultras, told me these two stories:

#1. Adrian: It’s great. You get to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows all in one day. Like Luis Escobar said, 'Training to run 100 miles is like training to get hit by a truck!'

#2. Adrian: After my first 100 miler, my wife was driving me home and had to stop the car, come around to my side, and help me uncross my legs.

With compelling arguments like that, how could I say “No.”?

If you are a runner, you understand the lure of doing hard things. As we state in Running the Edge:

“If running were easy, it would lose its seduction as an exclusive club reserved for the fit and tenacious. If it were easy, tens of thousands of people who pay money to register for local 10K runs or who commit huge chunks of time to train their bodies to withstand the pounding of an ultra-marathon would choose other, more challenging pursuits. Yes, running is hard, and that is exactly what makes it so irresistible to those of us lucky enough to understand.”

So we are committed. We want to see if it is possible to go from zero miles to a 100-mile race in three months. I have no idea what will happen between now and then but I know that I am excited to take on this challenge. My only regret is that Adam can’t do it with me. He is waiting until after the Olympics to have another knee surgery so he can run again. If he were healthy, I have no doubt I could have talked him into doing this with us. He is not that bright either!


**Look for more from Adrian and Tim by following Run The Edge on facebook.