Going the Distance
Going the DistanceNOVEMBER 2023
‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, and then projectile vomit at mile 38.’
So said Jack Kerouac in his best-selling book, Here Come the Ultra Psychos. And we feel the same way about those ‘mad ones’, who are mad to run further and longer than everybody else. Hell, we like them so much—we sponsor ‘em! The professional ones, that is. But for every professional ultra-runner, there’s a multitude of non-professionals with their own tales of great victory and harrowing DNFs, not to mention vomiting and headbutting rocks. For this Extreme Distance issue of POSSESSED, we reached out to our readers and said, ‘Hey. Weirdos. Did you ever run an ultramarathon? Tell us all about it.’ And they did.
LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: 2023 Pier-to-Pier 50 miler
I have an extra-large appetite for that sweet spot between pushing limits and having fun, so after hitting my speed goal for this year, I decided to take a bite out of distance and try my first ultra. Pier-to-Pier was an experiment born from mapping out the distance between the Santa Monica Pier and down the coast to the Huntington Beach Pier—50 miles, exactly. I rallied three close friends in Koreatown Run Club, and we showed up a couple of weeks later wildly unprepared and ready to roll. Things got crunchy fairly early when a bruise made a guest appearance on my foot/ankle at mile 20—I limp-ran with for 30 more miles. Despite the pain, I loved every single mile with these guys. In our playlist of 50 miles and 11 hours, you can hear laughing, beer cans cracking, yelling at cars, and the persistent shuffling of feet against pavement.
LOCATION: London, United Kingdom
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: 100KM Race to the Stones 2023
I started running in the middle of lockdown like many others, and 5km quickly escalated to half marathons, to marathons, to ultras! This was my first 100km, but this wasn't the race I was supposed to be debuting 100km in. The race I trained for, Race to the King (South Downs Ultramarathon), was scheduled a month before. I set off on Race to the King with a full support crew, and it was all going well until I hit 50km and the elevation hit me. As a London runner, elevation is quite hard to find unless you're mad enough to go up and down Primrose Hill. I carried on, but at 65km, I dropped out and was devastated. So, without telling a single soul (not even my fiance), I signed up for Race to the Stones. If I failed, no one would know I tried again. I told some white lies, and I managed to get to the start line with no one knowing I was in the race. Now that I know I can do it, I can't wait to race this distance again, but this time with my full support there :)
LOCATION: Moscow, Russia
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: Rosa Wild Trail 80, 2023
In August 2022, I finished my first 50K 2700D+ trail race in the Caucasus. The mountains were a love at first sight, and the whole trip was such a magical and unforgettable experience. However, due to certain circumstances, I only returned to running 9.5 months later. I dropped a message to my coach saying I wanted to return to normal and run an 80K 6100D+ race in the Caucasus in 2.5 months. Fast forward, I DNF'd at 75km after 21hrs with only 5km of descent to the finish line, which I couldn't make due to excruciating pain in my knee joint. No regrets, though. Climbing and running down the mountain ridge… It's beyond words. Best time ever! I'm getting back to normal now and can't wait for my next adventure in the mountains, 'cause I'm so POSSESSED!
LOCATION: Edinburgh, Scotland
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: G2E Glasgow to Edinburgh Race 2023, 56 miles
I have been running consistently for about 15 years, raced in a bunch of marathons and ultras, and I've settled into a groove of doing one a year. I only really race to bring focus to the daily training, which I love. G2E took place this year on what I suspect was the wettest day of the year, with relentless torrential rain throughout. I managed to fall in both the first and last mile; the last one was a proper slam to my face, with only 500m to the line. Despite struggling to remain upright, this was my most proficient performance in an ultra. My previous race to this was a 24-hour race, where it really clicked for me that as long as you keep eating, you can ride the waves of energy and keep pushing on.
LOCATION: Seattle, WA
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: Saddles 100: 50 Miler, 2023
This wasn't just my first ultra—it was my first running race, straight up! I've been racing long distances on bikes since I was young and figured I'd try my hand at trail running. I own a store that sells Satisfy and thought it would be great to check out a race they were so involved in. Despite a malfunctioning rental car and, um, overly 'romantic' motel neighbors keeping me up all night, I managed to get 4th. Racing an ultra confirmed everything I love about running. You remove all the annoying aspects of bike racing (mechanicals, having to actually turn your bike, etc), and you're left with my favorite thing in the world: pure endurance. So here's to many more days spent shuffling around with a number pinned on.
NAME: Alex B.
LOCATION: Roslyn, NY
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: UA Mountain Series. 50km, Killington, Vermont, 2018
I started running 11 years ago and running ultras two years into my running journey. I have done many amazing races, but this one will always stand out the most. This was my first real mountainous high alpine course. The race started on a lovely single track, leading into the first big climb and switchbacks as we weaved into the clouds. The day was going super smooth as I was winding through the ski slopes and making my way to the first real high point. This is where I wished I had poles, as it was hands on knees, and I was hunched over at a steep grade. After this climb, it was relatively flat and runnable. At around mile 21, things get tricky, and I descended 700+ft to the base of this slope. I was out of water, and the next aid station was several miles out and a few hundred feet back up. I finally got replenished and made the aid station cut-off by several minutes. As I pushed through the final 10 miles, all I could repeat to myself was, 'You fucking nailed this.' When I crossed the finish line, I was beyond stoked at how the day played out. This was a big learning experience I have been applying to my races ever since. Total of 8,555ft in 50km.
NAME: Alex H.
LOCATION: Rakhiv, Ukraine
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: Cross Carpathians Solo Trail 101K, 2023
This was a charity run aimed at raising 100,000 UAH for the defenders of Ukraine against Russian aggression. At the beginning of the run, it was under threat of being disrupted. Border guards stopped me, suspecting illegal border crossing because part of the route lies across the border. After seven hours of questioning and searching, they released me. The most challenging moment for me was probably this episode; I was emotionally and physically exhausted. With the support of people and charitable contributions, I revived and continued, not even realizing that I had run over 60 kilometers and entered the night. The second challenging stage was 80-90 kilometers; my brain refused to let me run, and the thought of 'step down, stop' spun in my head. At that moment, I began to sing the song 'Hands up, baby, hands up,' drowning out my thoughts of fatigue. The most pleasant part was the last 10 kilometers when I saw the city lights where the finish line awaited me, and the charity account had gathered a sum of 115,000 UAH. Oh, I ran and shouted for joy that everything had worked out.
LOCATION: Rotorua, NZ
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: Tarawera UTMB 50km, 2023
I had just come out of an emotionally abusive relationship, and I knew I needed something to remind me of how resilient I was, so I registered for the Tarawera UTMB 50km Ultramarathon. I would run my first 50 km on the beautiful lands of the Māori people, the traditional landowners. The idea terrified me. The elevation. The cut-off time. I had 14 hours to complete the race. I knew I had the distance in my legs, but did I have the endurance to run for a potential 14 hours? I was convinced I was going to finish last. As I crossed the start line, I thanked the land's ancestors and asked their permission to run. I was running well, centered, calm, completely in my body. I allowed the process to unfold. At 12kms, my right leg cramped (oh my gosh, already cramping? You idiot, you have 38kms left). Reiki and a stretch helped.
Halfway point aid station: PIZZA! I checked my watch and was surprised that I had been running for only three hours. I started to think I might be able to finish in under eight. The last 4kms, running through the sulfur flats, burning the hairs in my nostrils, the sun beating down, no shade, I hit the wall and started walking. Crowds appeared, and somebody called out, 'Come on! You can do this! Only a kilometre to go!' I started running again and crossed the finish line at 7:36hrs! I did it. It didn't kill me. I loved it. Bring on the 100kms.
LOCATION: Columbus, OH
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: Eagle Up 50k, 2022
A tale as old as time: guy meets girl, guy wants to impress girl, girl is signed up for an ultramarathon, guy signs up for ultramarathon despite getting hurt every time he runs over 60 miles a week. What could go wrong? Aside from the success of showing off for a chick, it was a seminal moment in a life that revolved mainly around running, to arrive at the starting line healthy and ready to prove to myself that my body was durable and capable of covering that distance. I charged off into the unknown, debilitating cramps at mile 28, ate pickles for the first time, and cried when I saw the finish line. It was my first ultramarathon, my first time winning a race, and my first time setting a course record—a good day.
LOCATION: New Paltz, NY
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: 2023 Crested Butte 55K
Coming from sea level and running over 25k for the first time—and with zero experience in the Colorado mountains—what could go wrong? After spending three years gaining experience in long-distance hiking, craving 30+ mile days for months on end, I felt the need to move faster in the mountains. I knew I possessed the mental fortitude to tough it out, even if the wheels fell off, and boy, did they ever fall off. At mile 12, the big climb hit, and it was a slog. With a wrecked stomach and some friendly mountain bikers cheering me on, I puked my brains out. I knew it was bound to happen, but it came quicker than I thought. Luckily, after clearing the tank, pounding some salt, and gaining confidence on the downhill, the motivation returned to finish strong. I did miss my time goal, but I guess that's why this type of effort is so addictive. I'm craving more.
NAME: Wolffrunner (Brian)
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: : Javelina Jundred 100K, 2022
Javelina Jundred is my local major ultra trail event. I ran the 2020 race for my first 100 mile and successfully obtained my sub 24hr buckle. In 2022, I decided to run the 100k. Never judge a run by the first mile or, in this case, the first 20 miles. The pace/effort alarm rang loud! There’s a point where you let go and lean into the unknown. Worry fades into a sort of rebellious calm. Javelina is a three-loop course. By loop two, my mind grew stronger as my body decayed. Loop three is miles 42-62. I was chasing the setting sun and sub-11-hour finish. Twilight in the desert is intoxicating, numbing the body and energizing the mind. The final three miles into the finish, when you smell the barn and allow yourself to realize the moment, those memories catapult self imposed limitations. 10:52:56. No headlamp. Wolf: 1. Sun: 0
LOCATION: Los Angeles
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: : Self-Supported Joshua Tree Traverse, 2023
I picked the Joshua Tree Traverse because I had completed a decent training block prepping for my first ultra race, a charity mountain 50k in Bishop, in collaboration with INYOSAR, the volunteer search and rescue team for Inyo County. Inyo County covers the eastern Sierras, a place I love to run. However, due to the massive snow and rain California had this historical winter, the race was canceled. I never saw as much snow in Joshua Tree, which made for a slow but beautiful start to the day. The total length car-door-to-car-door was 37 miles, with a friend picking me up at my exit point. The high point came pretty quickly; I don't remember the mile number, but a section of steady single track made for solid running. The low point was definitely the last third of the run; with 13-ish miles to go, I started developing constant knee pain (likely due to an over-tightened shoe). An annoying amount of time was spent trying to work through my knee pain. I bailed from the route a few miles short of the 'finish,' ending at the time my longest run to date, and seeing only four other people on the trail that day made for something special outside of it being my first ultra distance, over 30 miles.
LOCATION: Hamilton, ON, Canada
ULTRA RACE /DISTANCE: : Quebec Mega Trail 110km, 2021
I started running marathons in 2009, and by 2021, I was looking to shake things up with my first ultra. I thought an 80k (50M) at the Quebec Mega Trail (QMT) would be a fun challenge, but that distance was sold out, so I ended up in the 110km (68M). 7km into the race, I made a wrong turn and followed the 100-mile course markings. I ran 5km off-course before I figured it out, turned back, and found myself in last place. I passed the entire field over the next 10 hours, which kept the wind in my sails. I also experienced my adductors seizing up on the long downhills, which deflated those sails. Extrapolating my marathon fueling protocol didn't work out, and I started puking after getting sick of one type of gel. I had to walk to settle my stomach, which was fine because the terrain along this section would have slowed me to a walk anyways. I wore the same size shoes as when I ran marathons, which meant every time I kicked a rock it hurt like hell. My legs were so tired I kicked a lot of rocks. Now I run more elevation, upload maps onto my watch, eat food during races, wear shoes a half size bigger, and still suffer.