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Michele Graglia, winner of some of the most challenging ultr marathons on earth as the Badwater Ultramarathon in the Death Valley and the Yukon Artic 100, shares some advice about how to keep the motivation high while running over long distances
By Michele Graglia
The history of ultrarunning dates back to the ancient Greek's times but only in this very last decade this fascinating discipline has risen to notoriety allowing anyone, "brave" enough to enter an ultra distance race, to experience the indescribable feeling of pushing their own boundaries, exploring their full potential.
Running beyond 26.2 miles and becoming an ultrarunner is no easy feat, it undoubtedly requires an immense amount of desire and commitment. And perhaps a pinch of madness too... There is a saying in the sport that cites: "Ultrarunning is 90% mental, and the other 10% is in your head". This to emphasize how important the personal involvement is, one's own driving force and motivation, to be able to make it through the countless highs and lows that an ultra race offers.
The body can only take you that far, hence when the time comes, when every muscle in the body pleads you to stop, it is only your resilience and what inspires you to push forward that can help you reach that finish line.Developing a solid training routine and following a healthy lifestyle are of course fundamental but there can be many different successful training approaches, especially if we speak in terms of different race's technicality, length, altitude, extreme temperatures, etc...
As stated before, the body can only take you up to a point so, in my opinion, if there is one common trait to success it always shines through in developing nonphysical attributes such as:
Develop patience, respect and gratitude: ultra running takes time and patience! You must develop a sense of joy and gratitude towards the idea of spending an entire morning or even, an entire day, running through nature, oftentimes left alone only with your thoughts, and some dirty socks of course too! You should never rush and simply enjoy the ride! Successful ultrarunning also rises from a sense of respect and appreciation for Nature, a sort of existential awareness towards mother earth and the deep connection we develop coming in contact with its pure simplicity. It's a clear culture of humility, along with respect for the great outdoors.
Develop mental fortitude: hence the ability to tolerate unpleasant experiences and "suffer through" inevitable periods of discomfort and fatigue during a run has much more to do with your state of mind than your physical abilities. It's just like meditation! Only exploring our minds we discover that we are boundless and that the perception of pain is all relative. There is a Buddhists saying that fits like a glove: "Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional". Remind yourself WHY you do what you do and nothing will stop you from achieving your goal!
Develop strategic planning: A great deal of trial and error comes into play here, but with time you will understand what works for you and what does not. Once you discover and fine tune your needs all you really need is to plan ahead! Practice! Figuring out the logistical aspects of the sport, especially fueling, hydration, and gear. To develop the skill of strategic planning for ultras, there’s no good substitute for experience. Practice makes perfect, so keep trying!
Develop a driving force: We all have different reasons of why we enter these ultra events but there is one trait that brings them all together: Motivation! One's own inspiration is perhaps the most important aspect of this discipline. Find that one reason you are willing to get up every day before dawn to push your limits a bit further. Find that one reason that allows you to get up 80 miles into a race, when everything inside you hurts and there seem to be no strength left in you, to put one foot in front of the other and don't stop until you achieve what you set out to do. Find that one reason that, when the going gets tough, it will pick you up and for a moment, for a quick moment only, will allow you to tap into your infinite potential, connect with your self and experience pure bliss!
About the Author: Originally from Italy and now based in Los Angeles, Michele Graglia used to be known worldwide as one of the most requested top model in the fashion industry. Left behind him the catwals in 2011, he dedicated his life to ultra running, winning the Yukon Arctic in 2016 and the Badwater 135 in 2018.
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