Ultramarathoner Katie Arnold in memoir 'Running Home' writes 'almost anything is easier than natural childbirth'

Steve Barrett

Katie Arnold is the 2018 Leadville Trail 100 Run women's champion, and in her memoir "Running Home" she writes on how ultrarunning tests the limits of "human endurance over seemingly inhuman distances."

Excerpted from book "Running Home" by Katie Arnold. Copyright © 2019 by Paper Sky LLC. Reprinted by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Rights Reserved. The book released in March 2019.

Fifty kilometers is 31 miles.

Thirty-one miles is only five miles longer than the marathon I'd accidentally run with [fellow runner] Dean five years earlier. If I have to, I can always walk the last five miles.

Aside from Dean's can-do mantra --"Just run to the next tree" -- my only training advice comes from a professional ultrarunner named Darcy Piceu, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, and whom I'd recently interviewed for a magazine story. Darcy has a young daughter and a full-time job. She told me that the only thing that really matters when training for an ultra is your long run each week. She ran for six or seven hours every Saturday, trading childcare duties with her husband, who was also an endurance athlete. During the workweek, she said, as long as you get in some "short" runs, you'll be fine. I figured Darcy must know what she was doing, because she'd finished fourth overall at the toughest mountain ultra in the country, the Hardrock 100, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Paper Sky LLC/Random House

According to author Katie Arnold, "Running Home" is a memoir about the "stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world."

Ultrarunning is one of the rare sports in which, at the highest level, women are physiologically capable of beating men; ultrarunners of both genders call this getting "chicked" The longer the distance, the greater a female runner's advantage. In the '90s, ultra-legend Ann Trason won the women's division at [the] Western States 100 [endurance run] 14 times; she twice came in 2nd place overall and finished in the top ten 11 times. While there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of rampant chicking in the sport, there's little hard science to explain why females fare so well in extreme endurance. The most widespread speculation is that women's innate ability to withstand the ardors of childbirth also enables them to keep going for hours in other pursuits, even when they feel that they will surely perish from the effort.

My own labor with Pippa lasted 30 hours, an ultramarathon of childbirth. I subsisted on Popsicles and contraband energy bars [my husband] Steve smuggled in when the nurses weren't looking. People kept handing me giant plastic cups of water and begging me to drink. I declined an epidural; I'd decided to do it naturally, as my mother had with me. ("I don't remember any pain!" she reassured me, with a straight face.) The pain was outrageous and unrelenting, huge horizontal waves that crested and broke, only to rise again almost immediately. Steve and my birthing coach, Simone, slumped on plastic chairs while searing blades of agony tore me in two. A living, breathing creature was trying to claw its way out of me.

"I can't do this," I moaned.

"You are doing it," Simone corrected me. "The only way out of this is through it."

I burrowed in. You're stronger than you think you are.

Finally, at the end of the second day, Pippa scrabbled into the world. I held her and looked around the room, marveling at how different it appeared. It was much smaller than I remembered. The walls pressed in, and the bed was narrower and seemed to be oriented in a different direction, though I knew it hadn't moved. I felt like I'd been away on a long journey, traveling vast distances, when in fact I'd been here all along. It was my mind that had left -- it had to, to escape the torments of my body.

I tell myself that if I can withstand 30 hours of labor, then surely I can run for six or seven. This shouldn't be consoling -- almost anything is easier than a day and a half of natural childbirth -- but somehow it is.

Katie Arnold is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine. She has written for The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Sunset, Runner's World, ESPN, The Magazine, Elle and many other publications. 

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