Ultra running is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. In the last decade, the number of races longer than a marathon has increased both in the UK and globally by around 1,000 per cent.
For many people, marathons no longer cut it. We have reached a point in the natural inflation of things – accelerated in part by the endless need to stand out on social media – where to be really impressive, feats of endurance now have to come with the overblown prefix “ultra”.
As a keen marathon runner, I was intrigued by this new world of ultra running. Why was this seemingly crazy sport booming? While it coincided with the corresponding rise in social media, surely there was more to slogging yourself to death for days in the mountains than a few likes on Facebook?
So I decided to find out – by entering 10 ultra marathons in two years.
THE PAIN CAVE
The influence of social media can’t be denied, but it’s odd that the ego plays a role in getting people on to the start line of an ultra marathon, because few sports can crush the ego so completely. I started off in the sport thinking that as an experienced runner I would soon conquer it. But I lost count of the number of times I found myself sitting by the trail, dejected, whimpering to myself about how stupid it all was and vowing to never run an ultra marathon again. But I kept coming back.
It turned out that these breakdowns were part of the appeal. It was finding yourself in these dark places, all hope and will lost, and then overcoming, pulling yourself back up and hauling yourself onward, that was why we were out there in the first place. In every video advertising an ultra race, it shows people struggling, close to tears, hobbling. That’s the advert. That’s what people want.