In trail and ultra-running, there seems to be the ever persistent pressure to always push your limits, to always go further, and to always strive for that 100 mile buckle. Pushing your limits isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can sometimes seem like you haven’t earned the right to call yourself a runner if you don’t have at least one of those buckles under your belt.
This is something that I struggled with for years as a trail and ultra-runner. Yes, I had completed 50k’s, adventure races, 50 milers, and spent almost every one of my training miles on trails. But none of those accomplishments made me feel like I was worthy of the title “ultra-runner.” I felt the increasing pressure to run a 100 mile race, even though my burnout for a 50 miler was so high I didn’t want to look at my running shoes for months after. I felt that if I didn’t run a 100 mile race then I must not be dedicated enough, tough enough, or love the sport enough. So I signed up for one. I drew up a training schedule and tried my best to follow it to a T. I worked hard and logged long miles, but the burn out started to set in and the sport that I love slowly turned into a chore that I hated even the thought of doing. Every single run felt like a burden and what once lifted my mental state was now dragging it down to low points I hadn’t experienced before. Not only was I not enjoying my time in the woods, I was missing important time with my 4 year daughter to be out there doing it. It took my first DNF in a race to kick on a light bulb for me.
Laurel Highlands 70.5 mile ultra was on my training plan for the 100. I trained hard and toed the start line, but for various reasons, I missed a cutoff and earned my first DNF. I decided to take 2 weeks off from running after that race to gather myself. In that two weeks I spent more time with my daughter than I had been able to in months because of my training schedule. This helped me realize a healthy balance was what I had been missing. Running to the point that it consumes your life may work for some people, but it doesn’t for me. My daughter is only little once, and I want to enjoy it while it lasts.
All that extra free time led to a lot of soul searching and meditation. I have finally realized that I am a trail runner whether I run 100 miles or 1 mile. I may not get the same “ohhs” and “ahhs” out of a 5 mile race as I do the 50 mile, but I’m not doing it for others to “ohh” and “ahh” at me. The simple act of tying my shoes and hitting a trail, no matter the distance that is covered, the love that I have for running without obligation is what makes me a trail runner. So what if a 50k is more my jam than a 100 miler? A 50k race is nothing to scoff at, and it doesn’t mean that I am not strong or don’t love the sport. It means that I have tested my limits and accept them. I choose to run the distance that adds joy to my life instead of taking it away.
So whether you’re new to the sport or a veteran, don’t ever feel like you have to accomplish that next distance to be good enough or earn the “trail runner” title. If you want to, that’s great! I, along with all your other Trail Sisters will be here to cheer you on along the way. If you try and fall short, or realize that it’s just not for you; that is also great! You tried and we will all be here to support you just the same. At the end of the day, this community that we are building isn’t about the distance that you cover. It’s about sharing our love for the trails in all its various forms. So whether you run 100 miles or hike 1 mile, you have so much to contribute to this community, and we are thrilled to have you in it.