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Pack Stories

Author: Ambassador Mirna Valerio

For the past three or so years, I’ve been proud to call myself an ultrarunner. Granted, I don’t do an ultramarathon every weekend like some (those people are NUTS…), but I’ve done eight since 2013 and I am a card-carrying member of this quirky group of runners who relish in the opportunity to run really long distances.

So, what is an ultrarunner anyway? Technically, it’s anyone that has run a distance over 26.2 miles, which happens to be the traditional marathon distance. That’s technically. Most ultramarathons, or ultras for short, begin at a slightly nauseating 50K (31 miles) and go all the way up to beyond 100 miles…think the Badwater Ultra at 135 miles or the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run.

To be able to simply run, dribble a basketball, run in a Santa costume, run backwards, jump rope, or juggle a few balls in the air for 26.2 miles–I have seen it all– is a pretty astounding feat for most human beings. Add a few or a lot more miles to that, and not only do you become an ultramarathoner, you become part of a small but growing group of people who get a real kick out of spending many hours and/or days out on the trails (and pavement too) pushing themselves to new physical, mental, and emotional heights.

Did someone say heights? I guess this is where Tough Mudder comes in.

When I found myself challenged with preparing for and doing my first Tough Mudder, I wondered how my ultra training would contribute to the outcomes at my first ever obstacle course, which happened this past May in Atlanta. I wasn’t too sure about jumping off platforms into murky waters twelve feet below, climbing up slippery walls I wouldn’t be able to conquer alone, and depending on people I didn’t know. I was actually comforted by the fact that there would be running involved, so that made it OK in my mind.

As someone who has spent the last eight years of my life training to run long-distances, I have often forgone other types of training, since I have been pretty focused on running longer and longer distances. Enter Merrell and Tough Mudder earlier this year. Now I would have to make a concerted effort to build strength in areas besides my legs. I would have to work on core strength–and you know what that means–planks, and more planks, and variations of planks, and maybe a crunch or two.

I would also have to work on upper body strength. Cue the crickets. Upper body strength and I don’t go together. Since right after high school sports where I ran with stick and ball in lacrosse and field hockey, I have basically shied away from anything and everything that requires me to use my arms, back, and shoulders because running is just, well, so much easier and simpler, right?

So I got to work and started training. I lifted weights. I did planks. I tricked a friend into joining me in my Tough Mudder antics…*evil laugh*…I tried to do pull-ups. I did many, many mountain climbers, burpees and push-ups. Somehow, some lovely soul at Merrell convinced me to do a Coachified video with the one and only Coach T. Mud right after the Atlanta training event, which resulted in a beautiful, days-long soreness…

So the big question is whether or not ultrarunning and Tough Mudder can coexist.

Absolutely!

While training for Tough Mudder (I lifted weights and did obstacle specific exercises three times a week), I managed to still get my running miles in, and my long runs in on the weekends–although it took some sleight of hand to move things around in my schedule to make it work.

But what if you’re one of those crazy ultrarunners that do two ten-hour long back-to-back runs on the weekends? Can you still get TM training in? Is it even worth it? If you can imagine me screaming at the top of my lungs, imagine me screaming YES, YES, and YESSSSSS! If you already have a strength-training/cross-training routine you can definitely fit in some obstacle preparation.  The running will be the easiest part of your event. In fact, it’s kind of like recovery after each obstacle–get your bearings, relax your muscles, enjoy the scenery, allow some of the mud to cake and fall off your face. It’s perfect.

From my perspective, training for and doing the Tough Mudder has only made my running better. Not only am I stronger, I’m more flexible, I suffer from less post-long run soreness and pain, and I recover more quickly. I have a strength in my torso that I have never had before, although I will never, ever enjoy planks. Not only will you become stronger and more muscularly balanced overall, you will gain an inner strength that is even more intense than what you already have from running and powerhiking in the forest for hours on end, by yourself at night with the bears and coyotes.

On the emotional and mental side of things, my fear of jumping off things both literal and figurative has decreased exponentially. I no longer obsess about the possible outcomes of what I used to think was too-scary risk-taking. I just do it, and if I fail I try again, and again, and again, learning a valuable life lesson from each failure. If I am successful, I celebrate it and make and effort not to downplay the hard work that went into that particular success.

Can both sports co-exist? The answer is a resounding yes! They can complement and supplement each other, providing all sorts of benefits to your physical and mental bodies. Also, engaging in both will throw in an element of change and child-like excitement to your day-to-day training routines.

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I also am better about helping people and accepting offers of help from others. Perhaps this is where Tough Mudder and ultrarunning parallel each other. Ever been out on the trail, perhaps on your 9th or 49th mile, and someone passes by you and gives you a thumbs up, a high five, a huge smile, or links arms with you to help you ford a cold stream? That is ultrarunning and that is Tough Mudder. The essence of both sports is virtually the same: being outside and taking part in nature, testing yourself physically and mentally, generously sharing encouragement or a hand, leg or shoulder, enjoying and taking part of the sport’s community and perhaps most importantly, achieving  both individual and common goals together. That sounds a little bit like life.

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