Six Lessons Learned From Running 100 Miles

I ran 100 miles because, at one point (okay, many points) in my life, I believed I could not do it. It was a long jour­ney to the start line of the Cas­cade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run this past August, but it was those two days spent run­ning around in the Cas­cade Moun­tains near Eas­t­on, Wash­ing­ton that showed me the secrets to a more ful­fill­ing life. Yes, there are more than one, but they are quite sim­ple: help oth­ers, feel grat­i­tude deeply and often, keep push­ing your per­ceived lim­its, and tell fear to eat it. While the lessons learned from Cas­cade Crest con­tin­ue to present them­selves long after the race has been run, here are the 6 that stand out most prominently.

1. No one does this alone

There’s a good rea­son we don’t hear about peo­ple just up and run­ning 100 miles alone. In order to do it safe­ly, it takes a lot of people—and it’s a good bet that they are all vol­un­teers. Tens to hun­dreds of peo­ple make an ultra-marathon a safe and fun experience—from the race direc­tor, to aid sta­tion vol­un­teers, to EMTs, to crew and pac­ers. While the run­ner does the most vis­i­ble phys­i­cal work, there is an often an under-rec­og­nized team behind them keep­ing the show run­ning. Thank them! Sin­cere­ly thank them over and over.

2. Grat­i­tude pro­pels you forward

You can han­dle nutri­tion and pac­ing per­fect­ly, but there is no escap­ing the exhaus­tion that will even­tu­al­ly seep in when cov­er­ing 100 miles. That’s okay, it’s part of the expe­ri­ence. But if you real­ly need a pick-me-up, try grat­i­tude. Deep, sin­cere grat­i­tude. Thank a vol­un­teer; hug your pac­er; or take in nature around you and the rare oppor­tu­ni­ty you have just to be there attempt­ing such a feat. Grat­i­tude keeps us ground­ed and moti­vates us like no cup of cof­fee could ever dream of.

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3. We can take away the pow­er of our own fears

Chal­lenges like ultra-run­ning races (among count­less oth­er options) allow us to deliv­er blows to our fear with expe­ri­ences that prove it wrong. No one begins their first 100-mil­er com­plete­ly void of fear. But if you want to taste that elu­sive fin­ish line feel­ing, you have no choice but to face those fears head-on. Although we can’t remove fear from our life, we can build up our tol­er­ance to it through practice.

4. Go ahead and swing that pendulum

In order to accom­plish some­thing far beyond your every­day reach, you will need to work far beyond your every­day self. It will take a tremen­dous amount of time, ener­gy, thought, plan­ning, focus, and inten­tion to suc­cess­ful­ly run 100 miles. When the race is done, how­ev­er, let that pen­du­lum swing back toward the oth­er pas­sions in your life, rock­ing between extremes until a new norm is formed—one that melds the lessons learned from your race into new or improved sus­tain­able dai­ly prac­tices. Let your­self grow in all areas—not just in miles covered.

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5. Hal­lu­ci­na­tions are not always scary

After hear­ing sto­ries of oth­er people’s hal­lu­ci­na­tions in ultra runs, I had expect­ed to feel like I was near death see­ing wild bears attack­ing me or vam­pires fly­ing toward me at night. Instead, I saw vil­lages on the moun­tain­side that weren’t there, a wed­ding that did not exist, a glow­ing pur­ple orb hov­er­ing above a stump, and even an adorable coun­try mouse drink­ing water from a leaf. Hon­est­ly, it was a pret­ty fun trip. I’d do it again.

6. You’ll nev­er see nature quite the same

It’s easy to ignore nature or take it for grant­ed in our lives that often involve mov­ing from a wood­en box we call home, to a met­al box we call a vehi­cle, to a larg­er box made of wood and met­al that we call work. Spend a cou­ple of days run­ning through fields, up and down moun­tains, reliev­ing your­self in holes you dug in the mud and show­er­ing only if it rains, and you will have reac­quaint­ed your­self with life out­side of the box. It’s nice out there. Nature is so much more than a pret­ty view to admire through a wind­shield. It is a life-giv­ing and life-tak­ing source, and there’s noth­ing like spend­ing 100 miles run­ning on, in, through, and around it to remind your­self of that.

Run­ning Cas­cade Crest was one of the most unique expe­ri­ences of my life. Real­iz­ing that it was pos­si­ble broke through bar­ri­ers and opened doors that have changed my per­cep­tion of this world and my expe­ri­ences with­in it for­ev­er. I am grate­ful for the abil­i­ty and oppor­tu­ni­ty to attend this odd school of sorts and would encour­age any­one to face a fear today—big or small—and enjoy the growth the expe­ri­ence provides.