“Stop doing ultra(s), it’s for old people and it will break your knees”, a coach friend of mine said.
I tried to make sense of what he said and gave it a lot of thought. It’s both true and false. True, most people in the ultra community here, well at least in my group are in their late 30s and 40s (my dad has done ultras with me and he’s 60), so I guess that’s how one person can draw that conclusion that it’s for old people. I’m more or less in the younger age group in the ultra community, but most people my age are busy doing triathlons or are focused on short distance running with a good PR (like targeting a sub 40 in a 10km run). True that a lot of my teammates have been getting a lot of knee issues, but I don’t think we can quickly conclude that it’s from running too much. Hmm or am I just in denial? I’d like to think that it’s from too much running with no recovery, lacking in mobility and strength exercises, or from the wrong shoe? Although after reading Born to Run, I have believed that we shouldn’t be depending too much on shoes, that it’s a matter of correcting your form. A lot of triathletes also get a lot of knee injuries, but I don’t hear the coaches say “Stop doing triathlon, that’s harmful for your knees!”. Is there just plain bias here?
For a long time, I’ve been a little narrow headed in the idea of a triathlon. I’ve never gushed about it the same way trailrunning/ultrarunning would give me shivers of excitement. And in my experience in racing, I’ve notice that the two teams (Triathletes and ultrarunners) don’t really get along; they just don’t get each other. I was actually one of those. For a time, I was so sure triathlon was unnecessary in my life, I found it too serious and not fun at all. I have to admit, I did find it very exclusive, thus I’ve always felt like an outsider, or maybe I just did not get it or I was not willing to enjoy it. I’ve been running ultras since 2007, but only last year did I join my first legitimate (I’ve done little sprint events that were just for fun before, but I’m not counting those) triathlon– Ironman 70.3. The whole training part of it was not fun at all. I really felt like it was a calculated routine, not like how I would simply enjoy running while training for an ultra. I love cycling and swimming, but to actually incorporate a program really felt like it was becoming a responsibility. For a time, I felt that I was just forcing myself. I lost the indulgence part of it. I was so sure it wasn’t for me.
Ok, fast forward. I nailed Ironman 70.3 with flying colors, and I actually crossed the finish line with a smile. It’s not that bad! It had its highs and lows, but overall, I enjoyed it. Personally, I felt like my background in ultra, had a lot to do with it. Compared to ultra, it was more intense, and of course a lot shorter in terms of time spent and I guess thinking that I had more to give, I was able to push myself. The culture may be very different from what I was used to, but I was able to zone out and forget about all those stuff.
So going back to my coach friend, he advised me that maybe I should start rethinking about my path, that I should start focusing on triathlons instead of ultras. I told him that I can never let go of ultra. Its my first love. But I will not close my doors on a little triathlon every once in a while. It can actually compliment each other.
I am still a trail runner, an ultra runner, but I can also enjoy other sports that might be on the opposite spectrum in my community which is triathlon.I have learned to appreciate both. In my usual trail runs, I have fused what I learned in triathlon– a lot of intervals and speed training. In my recent runs, I saw the improvement in my time, whereas before, it was just stable and consistent, and I saw little change. In the few triathlons that I’ve participated in, the ultra runner in me did come out. Mentally and physically, I felt like I had more to give. I had a lot of push and strength to release. I am fortunate that I got to appreciate both.
I would still prefer people to do a lot of trail running, and to actually understand and accept ultra as a real sport. We all have different definitions of running. It can be very scientific to some, or very personal (to me). It doesn’t matter if your 10km is a sub-40, or if you did 50km in 9 hours. No one can say that one is better or more acceptable than the other. No one can define running for you, we all have a different way of looking at it. At the end of the day, only you, will decide how running is significant for you.
Keep an open mind. Just keep on running and enjoy every moment of it.