If you thought marathoners were mad for enduring 26 miles of pain, meet the ultramarathoner. For these super long distance runners, four or five hours on the go is a mere Sunday stroll. Dedicated fans of the sport sometimes run more than 100 miles across some of the world's toughest terrain over multiple days.
Are they insane? Probably a little bit. As a fascinating and in-depth recent profile of several ultramarathoners by Katherine Ellen Foley on Quartz reveals, success over these extreme distances takes a particular type of character.
"A very common trait, especially in ultramarathoners, is stubbornness. When this group of people starts something, they will finish it no matter what," one of the sport's devotees, Ralph Crowley, told Foley. But there are also strategies these extreme athletes use to just keep running that the less fit among us could borrow to better face everyday challenges in life and business.
Grit and flow
The essential quality of a successful ultramarathoner is also an essential quality for success in other areas of life, Foley points out. What is it? Grit.
"At the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Duckworth and her team studied what separates successful 7th grade students from those who weren't doing as well. Of all the qualities she and her team studied--health, income, IQ, social intelligence, good looks--it was those that had the most grit who were the most successful," Foley writes.
As Crowley notes, to some degree, grit is character trait -- ultramarathoners are clearly born with a will of steel to go with their Teflon legs -- but these athletes also rely on tricks that keep them mentally tough when a run gets particularly difficult.
Crowley, for instance, is able to remind himself during his most painful moments that things will improve. "I know that when I'm feeling at a very low point, it has turned around...then all the sudden you feel great ten minutes later," he tells Foley. He's also able to avoid panic by taking a clinical look at exactly what's causing him pain and take practical steps to fix the problem.
Both strategies seem worth keeping in mind for entrepreneurs. A knowledge that your so-called 'lowest point' actually isn't, and that your body and mind have a lot more to give than you initially believe is quite similar to the Navy SEAL's 40 percent rule for incredible resilience, which I've covered here before. It says that when your mind is telling you you're done, you're really only 40 percent done.
Meanwhile, keeping calm in the face of discomfort, paying close attention to what's causing you to panic, and taking steps to alleviate the source of your pain is a patently sensible approach not only to an ultramarathon mile of death, but also to a work freak out.
What's one final tip you could take from Foley's article? Perhaps the importance of flow to achieving incredibly hard things. This state of total immersion in the moment without concern for the future of the past is coveted by ultramarathoners. But "it's not always that simple to get into flow," Foley notes. "If you constantly try to get yourself into a state of flow, you'll never feel it. It's a little bit like trying to fall asleep. The more focused you are on losing yourself in the activity, the less you are able to do it."
So how can you get in the zone like an ultramarathoner? Positive psychology expert Christine Carter has offered tips on how to achieve a state of flow .