Anyone undertaking endurance events, particularly ultra distance races, has to have something to motivate them during the long hours of training and racing. People tend to fall into one of a few broad categories.
MP3 Maniacs - I grew up in the age of the Walkman. I was lucky enough to witness the entire evolution from boom-box through Walkman and portable CD player to MP3 and iPod. Now, just about any running event, from 5K to ultramarathon, is a showcase of digital players and music. Many runners become dependent on tunes to get them from start to finish.
Socialites - I am always impressed with the number of people who interact with anyone and everyone around them. Who hasn't been in the middle of a race and had someone come up, match pace and start talking as if they'd been there the entire time? These people thrive on the opportunity to spend time with others, whether old friends or brand new.
Zen Masters - The Zen Master is often the exact opposite of The Socialite. Zen Masters work their way into trancelike states and seem completely unaware of anything going on around them. They are focused on the road ahead and block out anything that might distract them. Either that, or they are EXTREMELY rude. (Note: Some people just like to be left alone. They aren't particularly rude, though they may desire to rip your throat out if you talk to them)
Driftwood - In the 2002 release of The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes is named "Zatarra" by Luigi Vampa. When Dantes comments how fearsome the name sounds, Vampa tells him it means "Driftwood." In endurance events, there are many people who fit this category. The drift from group to group, worry little about changing conditions, and generally go with the flow. If people want to talk, they are willing to turn off their music and listen. If they're alone, they enjoy the moment and appreciate their surroundings.
I'm sure there are other categories (everyone is welcome to share their favorite "type" in the comments). And the categories are vitally important. In every race there are people who don't really fit into ANY category. They frequently find themselves lumped together in the very undesirable "DNF" group. Why? Because when things got tough they struggled to find motivation to continue.
I almost ran into that at Ironman Louisville. Fourteen miles into the marathon I was struggling with motivation. I had already seen my family and knew I was unlikely to see them again before the finish. And that was a long way off. I wasn't hooked up with anyone with whom I could share stories. I don't race with music. And I'm NOT a Zen type individual.
As I plodded along in a sea of determination, a life-saving driftwood type crossed my path. She figured that since we were both walking, we should walk together. And we talked. That was enough to get my mind off the many and various issues that were making my trek difficult. And that was what I needed to get myself running, again. With my head on straight, I found the energy to run the final 10K and finish strong.
It was an interesting position in which to find myself. I generally fill the role of "storyteller" trying to help people "while away the time" as they complete their first marathon. Suddenly, I was listening to the tales of another.
So, tales or tunes? It's up to individual athletes to figure out what best fits their personality. Are you the storyteller or the avid listener? Or do you prefer the solitude of jamming to your own playlist? Whatever your preference, be sure to have a back-up plan. Because just like every other aspect of endurance racing, mental game plans can go awry on the course. Having the flexibility to adjust to conditions can be the difference between calling it a day and finding a way to drift to the finish line.
If you are an endurance athlete looking for a new challenge, check out B-Fit B-Day to learn about the Birthday Challenge and meet likeminded people pursuing their own goals.
Just who is this Iron Pol?
A former out of shape sailor, who became a marathoner, then a triathlete, Ironman, and ultramarathoner. Now, life has pushed me into short track speed skating. More important than the titles is the lifestyle, and sharing it with others.