I love this guy. Ever since I bought his book Ultramarathon Man, he has been an inspiration to me. Here are some excerpts from his interview with Outside Magazine. So relevant to everyone in this day and age. It isn’t about running; it’s about how you run your LIFE.
How does someone take your model and apply it to their own life?
If you’re a basket weaver, that’s fine. Be the best darn basket weaver there is. Throw yourself wholeheartedly at your craft. Immerse yourself in what you love, and you’ll find fulfillment. We all have different passions. Running isn’t everyone’s bag.
Does it have to be painful to be fulfilling?
Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.
So would you recommend ultrarunning to a normal person?
I think ultrarunning is symbolic of life in so many ways. You realize that nothing comes easy, the things that are free in life are really not that rewarding. Things that you really dedicate and train for have the greatest reward, and I think that ultrarunning teaches you that. Running 100 miles is a huge commitment. There’s no way to fake your way through a 100-mile run. You have to pay your dues. You have to commit, and when you see these people cross the line, it’s a huge achievement in their lives.
You seem really adaptable to stress. What are your techniques for handling pressure?
One thing I’ve never done and hopefully never will is take myself too seriously. [Laughs] Shoot me if I do. I think that helps reduce stress right out of the gate. The other thing that I’ve done is being wiling to give up control. You can’t control everything, especially when you go into a 200-mile run. At the starting line, you’re thinking, “Geez, this is so daunting, how am I gonna get to the finish?” My commitment is to do my best, to always try my hardest, and even when I fail, and I have certainly failed, I don’t feel like I’m a failure because I’ve given it my all. I know I struggled and tried my best, so I think that in turn takes out a lot of stress.
In your book, you talk about being competitive not with other people, but with yourself. Is that really how you live?
It’s very much how I feel. You can’t compare yourself to other people. You’ll always come up short. I think you’re always gonna be your own toughest critic. There’s no fooling yourself. What I’ve learned is that shortcuts just don’t pay off in running or in life. If it comes easy, it’s not worth having. One thing that ultra distance running seems to do is…if you take short cuts you pay the price. Not only do you pay the price in performance, but when you’re out at mile 80 and you’re ready to give up, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “man I compromised on my training. I should have done those extra ten miles. And I know I didn’t.” Or you’re saying in the back of your mind, “man I paid my dues, I laid out my training, I didn’t compromise, I ran those extra ten miles, I can do this.” So not taking shortcuts has been both a performance and psychological advantage.
What about ego? Where does that fit in? Do you need a pretty healthy ego to power through 100-200 miles?
I would say that ego gets in your way. It’s exemplified in looking at some of the women in the sport who are amazing and routinely beat men. Head to head, women can win outright. I think what you find with men a lot of times is that they go out so hard, especially young runners who are strong. They will hammer through the first 50 or 60 miles of a 100-mile race, and then at mile 70 or 80, they’re in a stretcher, and then a woman will come along at a steady pace with no ego concern and pass right by. Ego is really a hindrance.
But you obviously need to have the self-confidence, or conviction, that you can do it.
I think that’s a belief more than anything else. A belief in yourself that you can do it. I believe that’s a learned trait. And that’s what I think the symbolism of ultra endurance running is, that you prove to yourself you can do things you never thought you could. If someone had said to me, before I started doing this, you’re going to go out and run 100 miles through the mountains, I would have said, “No, a human being can’t do that, let alone me.” And then when you actually achieve that, it teaches you that you’re better than you think you are and you can go further than you think you can.
What about mental tactics to get to the finish line in a particularly challenging race?
There’s a technique I use that I just call “baby steps,” for lack of a better term. The first time I ran 200 miles, there was a point at mile 165 where I could not get off the curb. I’d run for about 40 hours straight, and I sat down for the first time and I couldn’t get up, and I thought, “there’ s no way I’m going to make this 200 miles. I can’t even stand up, let alone run another 35 miles.” But what I did, I just shifted my paradigm. I told myself, “Don’t think about 35 miles in front of you. It’s too daunting. Just focus on standing up.” So I struggled and struggled and I finally just stood up and I celebrated the accomplishment. I kind of pumped my fist. And then I said, “ok you stood up, now get to the stop sign down the road. Don’t even think about the 35 miles, just make it to the stop sign and be satisfied.” So I got to the stop sign, so I said, “ok just get to the lamppost 100 feet up the road, don’t think about what’s left in front of you.” And I did that over and over again and at the end of ten hours, I’d run 35 miles. So I just take baby steps. Break larger daunting tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.