Paul Butzi |||

What I talk about when I talk about ultrarunning*

Ultrarunning is the pastime of training for and running distances longer than a marathon (26.2 miles/42.2km). And an ultrarunner is someone who runs such distances.

I’m an enthusiastic ultrarunner despite being old and slow. My meager running abilities are offset by my being blessed at birth with a much larger than average helping of stubborn, which I have nurtured into something vaguely resembling a sheer bloodyminded unthinking refusal to quit. I’ve lost considerable weight to improve my running (195 lbs at the highest, down to below 155 as I write this). I’m working on the slow with modest success, but so far I’ve not found a way to get younger.

My ultrarunning career started when my dogs broke my leg and I was laying in bed feeling sorry for myself. A friend suggested reframing things by not thinking about the work needed just to recover, and instead think of training to do something I couldn’t do before my leg was broken. In a flash of combined lunacy and genius I decided I was training to run an ultramarathon. In 2017 I finished my first ultra and was hooked.

Ultramarathons I’ve run include:

  • Mt. Si Ultra 50k (2017, 2023)
  • Badwater Cape Fear 50M (2018, 2019)
  • Strawberry Fields Forever 50k (2019)
  • Hamster Endurance Run (four times, once 50M (2019), once 100M (2021), once 67.6M (2022), once 75 miles (2023))
  • Tunnel Hill 50M (2019)
  • Across the Years 6 Day (2023/2024), 212.7 miles

Some frequently asked ultrarunning questions (and the matching answers, for completeness):

Do you run these distances all at once?

Yes, so for instance a 50 mile race consists of 50 miles of running/walking, with (hopefully brief) stops only for food, fluids, repairs, and bathroom/vomiting breaks.

You’re part of a relay team, right?

No, it’s not a relay. There’s just me, dragging my sorry ass down the trail toward the finish line.

Do you sleep during a race?

For events that are a day long (or on that order) I’ve taken a five minute nap but generally I try not to sleep. The longest I’ve gone is 31+ hours. I was pretty sleep deprived.

At Across the Years, I ran the six day event. I slept each night, and took micronaps most days.

Does it hurt?

Yes, it hurts, sometimes quite a lot. For perspective: there is a mental/physical state ultrarunners call the pain cave”. Every ultrarunner has spent time in the pain cave.

Don’t you get tired?

Unless you are an endurance athlete, probably more tired than you can imagine. If you are an endurance athlete, you already know this.

Isn’t that bad for you?

The jury is still out on whether it’s good for me or bad for me. We all do stuff that’s bad for us every day. Is training for and running an ultramarathon worse for me than eating junk food and sitting on the sofa watching crap on TV? Probably not. Am I a better version of me than I would be if I didn’t run ultras? Absolutely yes.

What’s this stuff about ultrarunners hallucinating during a race?

Hallucinations aren’t uncommon for ultrarunners especially in events that last 24 hours or longer. I’ve only had it happen to me once.

Why would anyone do that?

Because it organizes and measures the best of my energies and skills. Because it makes me a better person. Because it’s good to be reminded that I’m better than I think I am and can do more than I think I can. Because striving to become a badass is a worthwhile pursuit. Because being comfortable is not the same as being happy.

Do you think I could run an ultramarathon?

I’m just an ordinary guy with almost no natural athletic ability. If I can run ultramarathons, you absolutely can train for and then run an ultramarathon. You’re better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.

Do you think I should train for and run an ultramarathon?

If the idea sounds even slightly appealing, or you’re even a little curious, I think you should. It will change your life. It will change you. Those changes won’t happen at the finish line as the new you is revealed in cosmic flash of transfiguration; they’ll happen gradually and continuously as you train. The you that starts training today will seem like a pale imitation of the you that stands at the start line.

If you need encouragement, send me email and I will encourage you as you train. Yes, really.

* This is a joking reference to Haruki Murakami’s book titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which in turn is a joking reference to Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories, titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which makes it twice as funny if you happen to have the same sort of twisted sense of humor as I do.