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A Classification of Ultra Runners.

Ultra runners come in all shapes and sizes (mostly thin) and have a range of personalities. The following is an extract from an article called The Perennial Why by Madeleine McIntosh. It was originally printed in UltraRunning magazine and is reproduced with the kind permission of the author and the magazine.

The Spiritual One

This runner bestows a religious significance upon the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.  Ancient spiritual practices and eastern religions such as Buddhism seek to deconstruct the ego and break free of personality.  The Spiritual One believes that extreme endurance running has the same effect – that when you are pushed to the absolute limit cracks start to appear in the personality structure allowing remarkable spiritual experiences to occur.  Some might call these so-called “spiritual experiences” the hallucinations of maniacs but The Spiritual One is engaged in a quest for that “out of body” experience.


The Mystic Introvert

Very similar to The Spritiual One.  The Mystic Introvert is intellectual and introspective.  The Mystic Introvert prefers to train and race alone and is on a solitary journey of self-discovery, a path toward enlightenment.  This one is looking for the meaning of life, can’t solve a problem sitting down and likes to use ultrarunning as a way of exploring personal boundaries – physical and mental.  Seeking that Dostoyevskian moment of suffering that is the sole origin of consciousness, The Mystic Introvert rarely talks to others although their lips are often seen moving whilst running (I think it’s called a mantra).


Neanderthal Man

Neanderthal Man knows that the mental evolution of the human race has overtaken its physical evolution.  We imagine that we need to sit on our butts all day staring at computer monitors and trying to work out better, faster ways of doing things but really we should be out and about all day roaming around open countryside on foot in search of berries and wild animals.  Neanderthal Man uses ultrarunning as an antidote to modern-day stress, a way of slowing down as real life is speeding up.  Shuns gels and isotonic drinks in favour of water, nuts and seeds.


The Obsessive Compulsive

Ultrarunning provides an absolute playground of possibilities for The Obsessive Compulsive.  Although the race itself is supremely singular in purpose (cover a specific long distance on foot) the complexities of planning that can surround such a seemingly simple endeavour are mind-boggling.  The Obsessive Compulsive will spend hours studying charts, writing checklists, researching equipment options and calibrating gadgets.  Favorite areas for attention are: nutrition and fluid intake, pacing, clothing, shoes, injuries, support crew task list and writing labels in vivid marker on ziplock bags.  Gets up very early in order to complete pre-race rituals.


The Disciple of Nietzsche

What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.  This runner believes that without going through extremely difficult physical experiences the human character remains weak.  So enduring long periods of pain and discomfort while running is a process of “hardening up”, making them better able to face challenges in other areas of their lives.  Dr Bob Lind, medical practitioner with the Western States 100 knows exactly when to pull a runner from the race, “You look into their eyes and see if the soul is separating from the body”.   The challenge, of course, is to remain just the right side of the separation point and navigating that point is presumably part of the fun.


The Social Animal

There is nothing like spending hours and hours out in the hills with kindred spirits for forming and cementing friendships.  The Social Animal enjoys the training runs as much as the race and sharing the experience is more important than achieving the personal goal.  The camaraderie of ultrarunning is quite unlike the competition of a shorter race.  For the Social Animal, physical fitness is just an entry ticket into a world of weekend adventures with friends.  Enjoys a glass of wine and a good race anecdote the night before and a few beers afterwards.


The Show Pony

Look at me!  This one runs ultras in order to be able to show off but in doing so is inspirational to self and others.  Constantly raising the bar in an attention-grabbing quest to go longer, faster, harder.  Bragging rights are important to The Show Pony and whatever you’ve done, they’ve done one better.  Likes to keep large audiences in rapt attention with tall stories of distances covered, mountains scaled and rivers crossed.  Inspires others to get off the couch.  Could attract media attention.


The Slow Poke

This one runs ultras because they have finally realised they have little talent for any other sort of running.  Dreams of a sub-3:15 marathon or 1:30 half were abandoned long ago, running form has deteriorated to a shuffle, speed work is now defined as fast walking up a hill.  But they just keep going and going.  The Slow Poke never leaves home without a supply of jelly beans.  Favorite motto of The Slow Poke is “relentless forward motion”.  The Slow Poke never gets out of breath so likes to talk a lot (I’ll stop there because this is starting to sound strangely familiar).






Which one are you?




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