No two ultramarathons are the same, even the same race for the same runner. It all depends on the conditions, and your muscles, your mood, your hydration, etc. Or so I’ve heard, from the dozen or more videos I’ve consumed about the Hard Rock 100 and Western States 100 and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc etc etc ad naseum. Some go smoothly—although none are easy, unless you’re world champion Kilian Jornet—and some end with dry heaves, septic blisters and torn ligaments.
Yup, people enter lotteries for entries and wait years and travel thousands of miles to do this. They talk about the thrill of achievement and the view from the summit.
Similarly, no two cancers are the same, even if it’s a recurrence in the same person—let alone a different type in a different person of different age, health, etc. Some are a simple cut-it-out-and-toss-it. Others drag on and on, involving experimental drugs and wretched side-effects that lead to a slow and painful death anyway.
From what I’ve seen of the first and experienced of the second, they have similar results. Both test your limits and teach you how much you can handle. And then, sometimes, throw a little more at you.
The difference is obvious. If you can’t finish the ultramarathon, if the course defeats you, you dust yourself off and limp back to the hotel. You may be pissed off, but it if you're the type who trains three years and wears out two dozen pairs of shoes only to feel your body break down on the trail, it probably motivates you to try again next year.
If cancer defeats you, well…
The oft-repeated phrase from elite runners is that in 100-mile ultramarathons, the challenge is as much a mental as physical. The grueling relentless punishment makes you push beyond the bounds of what you thought was possible. The same is true for many who go through cancer.
For some, a half-marathon is a huge achievement, or a marathon, or a 50k. For some, it’s not enough. When I reach that 50k finish line, I’ll most likely still be hungry. I’m already anticipating a 50 miler, then probably a 60k, probably in the red rocks of Arizona or Utah. They should be achievable without the torn ligaments or septic blisters, and will probably even be enjoyable. Or who knows? Maybe 50k will be my thing.
But a hundred-miler isn’t on the bucket list at this point. It feels like I already ran one, and the view wasn’t worth the experience.