The Ultra Ethos

Why do ultras?

The ultra-ethos:

Get yourself strong, start something you might not be able to do.

When the going gets tough, go on; when it gets tougher dig deeper;  go on until you finish it.

Not because you have to, were told or paid to, not because there is a crisis or a medal you can show or a reward

Go on because you choose to.


The engagement, you get to understand, creates good in you.

Logic of Running

The logic of running:

Running strength grows only if enough recovery and adaptation is allowed between runs.

I know I should rest tomorrow.

I know too I won’t. Gotta feel I’m working and not indulging as I might easily do.

Comrades 2012 training: Gotta get serious now

Well not too serious.

More like focusing a little more

Last year (2010) this time: recovering from a seriously twisted ankle. Gingerly running maybe 7 km a day, 3 and if I could, 4 times a week. I had my focus and inspiration: in deference to getting older, I wanted just one more medal; one more finish within the cut-off time. I wasn’t sure I would get it but I had the hunger.

This year (2011) this time;-) I have a comfortable base of over 40 km per week and a good 5 day-a-week pattern. I’m not pushing anything much, just strengthening my base so that I can build up from early next year. My internal system are much more in tune after all the consistent running. That makes it easy to find a pace that I can sustain for a couple of hours without any oxygen debt – or quickly recovering on a downhill after the effort of a long up. My comrades quest doesn’t have a focus yet but I’m not worried about that. I know I can do it and if I stay uninjured and healthy things will be just fine and I might even get to the end an hour faster.

Plus warmer weather is coming, I’ll get sunrises on my run. That’s enough to get me out the door.

Plans: lengthen on of my midweek runs; run a 42.2km marathon in November.


Ultras and rationality

Running has a logic that is simple rational and gets you where you want to go.

It is possible to apply a rational logic to what can appear to be an irrational activity. The logic of running doesn’t require irrationality because the activity of ultra-running can appear irrational.

In any event all it takes to change ultra-running to a rational activity is to extend the context in which to judge it  far enough. That which in normal terms looks irrational, becomes, on a grander stage, rational.

Sometimes when running you have to remind yourself of this. Sometimes deep in training you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself of this. Sometimes deep in a long run, you should forget all this and focus on running.


Running ages-10

The 10 year-old in me enjoys my running antics. His cheers are loud. He finds my name in the results; not worrying I don’t make the headlines.

He loves the peeling naartjie smell, how his mouth sucks at its taste-burst after a run.

The taste is as fresh as that of the ones he used to take from Mr le Roux’s orchard next door, even when he shot near us with his pellet gun; teaching us to run and hurdle fences.

Oh and naartjies are great with an espresso.

(a naartjie is South African word for an easy peeling, if it gets enough water during growing, citrus fruit also known as a mandarin,  tangerine and Citrus reticulata; perfect for maintaining post or during run hydration or for stealing from the neighbour)

Boys in the rain

On the past weekend’s little trail runs I remembered (a long ago running partner) Rick Shaeffer’s comment: When I was little. my mom shouted “Come out of the rain, stop jumping in puddles, you’ll get wet and dirty.” Now I run in the rain, jump in the puddles and take photos of mud-splats all over me”. Okay maybe I made up some of the words but you get the idea. I imagined the light in his grin.

For the last gasp

Back in the city-grime on its hard roads. Long weekend treat in a nature reserve: what of those riverside trails in the earliest light, mist on the water; hands-in-sleeves cold, grass wet, leaves drip, grin stretched up to the snow-topped mountains? Well they’re etched deep enough to last past my last gasp.

2011 digestion: Motivation,faith, trepidation

Done, nearly done in

A good reason to run, strong motivation, is a great help in getting through the training and then through the run on the day.

My motivation this year came from the doom that hangs over my running.

That I’m getting older is a part of it. The set-backs that made it a struggle to build a 4-5 day a week running habit are also part of the doom: a badly twisted ankle, a cold, bad weather, a family crisis. Part of it too is the feeling that I have nothing to prove.

Mostly though it’s knowing that the knee-surgeon who tidied the torn cartilage in my right knee said the damage to the bones meant my ultra-career was over – especially long distances on tar. If I feel a deep ache in knee bones, any joint in fact, I will stop running.

That doom is a short cut to laziness.


I also nearly knew that I could do another Comrades, something grand. Not just a marathon nor just a hike. If I trained enough and ran carefully I could do it.

Knowing though, is not enough. Only doing counts. So  for a time now I wanted to do another Comrades, get a 13th medal. Through the start-stop efforts, the try-again-next-years, that want became a strong driver:  a need I wanted to satisfy; a want I needed to fulfill; a hole that needed plugging.

My effort focussed on a finisher’s medal. I wanted to taste success, a medal around my neck.

After the my failure in 2010 that medal became powerful. That medal got a life of its own. It pulled me out on the streets.  Despite another another twisted ankle running a mountain trail, come October 2010 I was running regularly. That got my heart strong, lungs open and ate a little of my excess fat – first rewards of effort.

Lucky it’s a small medal so it despite its power, it didn’t weigh heavy in my mind. Training, you see, gave me joy taking me into a lively world. In making me strong it helped slow  the decay of aging. Starlight brightened my grin.


I had to run in faith. Not that I was looking for outside help. Comrades’ faith is that training has made one’s legs and mind are strong enough to reach our goal.  According to the books I had done enough to get through in the time allowed. Not much room for error, but enough.

But I never knew whether my legs, body, mind would last the whole way. Would blisters or a misplaced foot, stumble and fall damage one of my wonky ankles? Would what could go wrong actually go wrong. Would, in fact now, the remaining cartilage in my knees be enough to do its job for all that distance?

What if as the year before my legs just wouldn’t run anymore? Would I end up stranded outside a chicken farm, far up the road but too far from the end, trying to rationalise that finishing Comrades didn’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things.

Would I let go the dream?

I had to have faith.

The faith of doing the right things. A faith less of hope and more of action.


Last year I had enough of trepidation. The night before the run was a sleepless nightmare. I can say it now. But maybe it wasn’t trepidation; maybe it was the last night before execution doom.

The problem is that part of faith is precisely not knowing. With that comes trepidation.

Mild trepidation sure, a little gloom without the doom, a little fear without the trembling; knowing I could without knowing I would, excess adrenaline with the wooziness of a huge rush.

Rituals to care of worry that I had forgotten something:  a chair dress in what I would wear; checklist to check the checklist . The three essentials always close at hand – timing chip, shoes, electrolyte pills.

The last of the trepidation faded on the the run down to half-way. Deep into the run i had room for only constant effort. From the it was only a question of whether my legs would last a.

Next year

The balance will be different. No fear in my pocket, just the 2011 medal. If my training builds on these last two years, I will sweat less. My motivation will be as strong. I’ll get more of the Comrades spirit and I’ll have faith in a faster time.



Moon high, Venus bright in a clear sky, city still; mountain quiet under its cloud; silence of a crisp morning before the first bird. Three joys of winter. Focus: car backs from garage at me padding the middle road, bright headlights rush at us. Three beings at the same place and time. Eyes brighten, breathing deepens, the road softens.


Comrades 2011 digestion

Part of perfect ultra-running is being able to run with, let’s say, ultra-efficiency for hours on end. The best I got to was maybe 6 hours on tar with hills; maybe 10 hours on a paved, flat 100-miler; and, around 14 hours on mountain trails as long as I didn’t twist an ankle or two.

At the right effort level, wear on body-legs-mind is minimal. With a little refuelling and good hydration, the effort is, let’s say again, near-effortlessly sustainable. No recovery required besides maybe an espresso, maybe a beer, a little snack and dreamy snooze.

Body-in-motion, every system functioning strongly and in harmony, active, meditative, soul-filling, spirit free – a kind of the fullest being, a kind of perfection.

It takes a while and lots of running to get there. No doubt about that. For 2 ½ years I’ve been trying. While I’m on my way back – I can get into that zone for maybe an hour if the route is flat or down, I’ve still got some way to go to keep it up for most of a day.

In a way it’s a pity. The Comrades Marathon is much more enjoyable running in that easy, effortless state for maybe half the run. That means only half a run of concentration, effort, discomfort. Because of what Comrades embodies – a race, a culmination, a goal – I run a little faster and the effortless state ends earlier anyway.

Not that I mind. I like the idea of all the easier work in training – lots of spirit-free running  – and then to race, to get there in close to the best time possible on the day with the training done. Racing has its own riches.

Reflection: Maybe I could have gone a faster this year. But it wouldn’t have been much – not much more than 20 min. But  faster increases the risk of failing. I wanted a finish, a medal. I played it safe. Given how glad I was that the race ended there in Alexandra Park and not up in Hilton I was pretty close to being finished by Comrades even if I finished it. And now it strikes me that I’m glad Vic Clapham lived in Pietermaritzburg and not in Howick – another giant climbs and a good few kilometres further.