One of the laziest, annoying, least original and most surprising criticisms I hear levelled at ultrarunners is that somehow we’re all a little unhinged. After all, the logic goes, you’d want to be mad to want to run four marathons back-to-back and only the truely deranged would run around in circles for a whole day. That sort of thinking is simply lazy because it’s evidently not true and the fact that my races are longer than yours shouldn’t be used as a basis for thinly veiled abuse. This sort of thoughtless criticism is most irritating and surprising when comes from other athletes, who really should know better.
We don’t have to delve far back into athletics history to remember a time when female athletes were considered too delicate to run distances beyond 800m on the track, and the authorities at the time believed that they certainly shouldn’t be let anywhere near a marathon race for fear of doing themselves permanent damage. The same sort of prejudice and ignorance is sometimes apparent nowadays when ultramarathons are discussed. Despite their rising popularity, some athletes seem to view any race longer than a marathon as somehow unreasonable and even a little threatening. Perhaps some marathoners are quite comfortable with their self-image as some sort of bad-ass and don’t like to think that others get their kicks from running multiple marathons.
I’ve also heard the argument being advanced that those who run 100km rather than 10km are, essentially, taking part in a different sport. I suppose in one sense at least they are, but only in the same way that 100m runners are different from milers – basically it’s all athletics.
So please, pretty please, when you hear that someone has completed an ultramarathon, or wants to, don’t tell them they’re mad.
I realise of course that they might be mad, but if they are it’s probably unrelated to the ultra.