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June 14, 2016 Comments (0) All Posts, Athlete Stories

The Power Of The Ultra Running Mind

nickademus 1 by Carlos Bravo
"I thoroughly enjoy the thrill of good competition, but it’s the obscure, nearly-impossible races pitting you against the environment that are quintessentially ‘me.’" Photo: Carlos Bravo.

How much of ultra running is in the mind? In this post, experienced US ultra runner Nickademus Hollon carries out a comparative analysis of his mindsets pre-HURT 100 and pre-Cruel Jewel 100 and their subsequent outcomes.

“So what are you thinking ahead of the Cruel Jewel 100 race?” my friend asked me on a trail run a few weeks ago.

My mind raced over my desired outcomes: The course record in 24hrs 16mins? Sub-24? Sub-22? I thought it all in a matter of milliseconds…. then responded nonchalantly, shrugging my shoulders as if afraid to actually verbalize the truth for fear that I haven’t earned the right to say it, “I don’t know, have a good time, enjoy the terrain.” There was some truth in it, but it was mostly a lie.

Expectations, desired outcomes…. however I phrased it, I was terrified after an awful run at HURT 100 of verbally committing to anything I knew wasn’t certain.

HURT, although one of my all-time favourite ultras, was an absolute disaster for me this past January. A failed FKT attempt, a growing sense of stagnation in my running career, poor training volume and a fourth time back at the race all fanned the flames of unwarranted expectations. These high hopes were backed up by distant past performances and assuaged by an obsession with the course record. I had no business ever being at HURT in the first place this past January. And the result was disastrous.

nickademus blog on ultra running mind

Nickademus banging in the vert in training in his favoured Terraclaw 220 running shoes.

Pitting my body and mind against the environment

As I got back in my car to drive home after the trail run with my friend, I thought more about the difficulty I’d had in answering his simple question. It seemed to unearth a deeper internal conflict I’d been having with myself ever since HURT….. Why was I running still? And why Cruel Jewel?

Throughout the past eight years in ultra running I’ve learned that I personally avert races like Western States or Leadville and don’t draw personal satisfaction from attending a race for the media presence and stacked fields. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the thrill of good competition, but it’s these obscure, nearly-impossible races pitting you against the environment that are quintessentially ‘me.’

Often at the end of these races there is no applause, no audience, no fanfare. And when the sore muscles fade in the weeks that follow, you’re not left with thousands in cash or news media stories, but just a distant and dwindling memory of your hand clasping around the rough edges of a paint chipped and faded yellow gate for the fifth time at Barkley.

Nickademus blog about ultra running mind

Nickademus enjoying his ultra running and with a smile on his face.

A return to the child-like bliss of ultra running

Selfishly, I signed up for Cruel Jewel for me, and for me alone. It was a return. A return to the child-like bliss I got from enduring 130°C temperatures running in Death Valley, to the bitter cold I endured at the Arrowhead 135 ultra, to the long, lonely nights I faced at PLAIN 100 early in my career. A return to enjoying the sport at its purest.

Sure, I felt a need to define myself again in my running career. Yes, I thought about completely smashing the course record. Yes, I felt in some way that by taking on these ‘obscure’ races I eschewed more competitive events. But these goals, these expectations, these desires; these were the demons in my mind.

In the moments before the race I dissolved the last traces of Karl Meltzer’s 24hr 16min course record from my mind. I let go entirely of any and all expectation, double checked my gear and let it all go.

“Do you work, then step back. The only true path to serenity.” – Tao Te Ching Verse 9

HURT 100 – January 2016

Goal / expectation: 1st place and beat Gary Robbins’ CR.

Purpose: To do ‘something’ with my running career after a failed FKT attempt and other projects falling through.

Outcome: Tied for 5th with my slowest time ever on the course.

Cruel Jewel 100 – May 2016

Goal / expectation: Finish the race between 22-25hrs depending on weather conditions.

Purpose: Run without desire or expectation and enjoy the experience.

Outcome: 23hrs 57mins, 1st place and course record.

“Do you work, then step back. The only true path to serenity.” – Tao Te Ching Verse 9

* Follow Nickademus on FacebookInstagram and via his website.

* Related post: The Power Of Positivity | Outmaneuver Your Mental Wall

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