Most stories follow a similar character path—a hero must overcome great obstacles to get what she wants, and a villain who will stop at nothing to make sure she fails. There is usually a mentor or guide who arms the hero with the strength and knowledge to defeat the villain, and then a climax where the hero either wins, or is tragically defeated.
Running an ultramarathon also has such a storyline.
Every runner plays the role of the hero, each having to overcome obstacles just to get to the starting line. Some have fought addiction, others have suffered personal loss, and many battle inner demons who tell them they just aren’t good enough.
The villain comes in all shapes and sizes, taking the form of injuries, work commitments, illness and acquaintances, who doubt the hero’s ability to reach her goal. During the race, the villain often resurfaces as fatigue, muscle cramps, vomiting or worst of all, excuses.
Fortunately, every runner encounters a mentor at some stage in their running journey, whether they recognize it or not. This might be a running coach, crew member, training partner, fellow racer, or an aid station volunteer who encourages the hero to keep going when she’s ready to throw in the towel and give up. It’s the runner’s responsibility to thank these guides for their support.
Every ultrarunner is familiar with the climax of the race. It’s that moment when you feel like you can’t take another step. Your body aches, your head is spinning and your stomach is fighting you from taking in a single calorie. In that moment, the hero glances at her watch, realizes she’s barely covered half the distance and thinks there’s no way she can finish.
But despite what looks like insurmountable odds, she somehow carries on. She fights back the urge to DNF, runs through the pain, defeats the villains and crosses the finish line. She gets her buckle, eats her burrito and celebrates her accomplishment with all of the other heroes who finished the race with her.
For many of us, running simply makes us better. It is a powerful force that leads to healthier lives, redirecting our negative compulsions into passions for something good and clean, and urging us to do something more while we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.
Running is not heroic (let’s not confuse the term heroic with those who truly deserve it like soldiers, first responders and aid workers on the front lines). But to be your own hero doesn’t mean you need to do something heroic, it just means that you need to try and be your best self while helping guide others in the same direction.
We all face similar villains in both life and running, and we all have those climatic moments when it would be easier to quit than to keep moving forward. We all have fears that try and keep us from pursuing our goals, people who doubt us, and obstacles that seem insurmountable. But we all have the ability to be heroes if we work hard, believe in ourselves and help out others along the way. So in 2020, be sure to write your own story and help someone else write theirs.