When it comes to enjoying a sport, a line to participate should form around the block with a menu list like this: While you are competing every 15 minutes, you’re fed Gummy Bears. Don’t worry about eating your broccoli, dude.
Have some M&M’s. Seriously. Don’t even think about that wheatgrass gruel mixture.
Forgetaboutit. Eat some potato chips. Honest.
Yes, in this sport you can eat. In fact, you need to eat, like a 7-year-old without adult supervision. Who would not be attracted to that? Thing is, and this might be interpreted as the best part, you can consume these sweets and chips every 15 minutes — for 24 hours — for 24 consecutive hours.
There’s just one little hitch, a minor thing really. It involves some activity.
You have to be running the entire time.
This may be a little discouraging, but take it from someone who has done it and done it well, it feels like a sunburst, running for 24 hours, doing something that would drop most of us to our knees, begging for an iced chai latte.
“I’ve always had a sense of trying to prove myself,” said Jon Olsen, a 40-year-old middle-school math teacher from Modesto who was the 2013 24-Hour World Champion. “I am constantly proving that I am what I am.”
And who would that be? Someone who is going on a “training run” today. That would be the Santa Rosa Marathon. Yes, a training run. A marathon. And Olsen winced when he said those words. Heard by those not familiar with ultrarunning, a runner saying he viewed a marathon as a training run would seem an obscene statement, uttered by a narcissist, smug and dismissive in his accomplishment.
“I have to be careful how I say it,” Olsen said. “It sounds egotistical if you don’t know the sport. Us ultrarunners are humble people.”
In fact, ultrarunners have to be humble for one simple reason — the pain and suffering strips away any temptation to be cocky. Whether it’s training or competing, the very physical act of running long distances brings everyone to the self-effacing place.
“Once you reach 40 miles,” Olsen said, “your feet are trashed. It doesn’t matter if you run fast or slow. At 40 miles your feet are trashed.”
Trashed as in ouch, as in pain, the stabbing sensation of sharp objects impaling feet. No one feels like a narcissist then. No one feels like bragging on how badly they are suffering when everyone around them is suffering. In that context, misery doesn’t love company. It also doesn’t want to brag about it.
Olsen, in fact, is almost polite in describing the agony and the willpower to power on through it. Yes, he knows, most people would never subject themselves to this extended torture. If your feet are trashed after 40 miles, then Olsen must have really suffered in May 2013, when he ran 167.5 miles to win the 24-Hour World’s Championship. That’s running 127.5 miles on trashed feet.
Such a feet, to excuse the pun, is an uncommon example of toughness. The garden-variety definition of toughness is somewhat vague, such as playing through pain. Yeah, OK, whatever. It offers no real tangible image. Running 127.5 miles on trashed feet, that does.
“You end up moving mentally to a better place,” said Olsen, 6-feet, 145 pounds.