Hidden Health Benefits of Ultrarunning


If you’re an ultrarunner, you have probably noticed that our sport has become a little more mainstream in the past year or two. Not 100% mainstream, yet, but definitely more normal. Among runners, the idea of pushing past the marathon is no longer that insane, and many have embraced the idea or added it to their bucket list.

With that new acceptance comes studies and examinations from the rest of the world:

“Is ultrarunning healthy?”

“Are these runners going to live long?”

Here is a recent example: “Is Running 100 Miles Bad For Your Health“? via FoxNews.com

Ironically, the article takes a turn many runners wouldn’t have expected by stating, “No, actually, it’s not that bad for your health.” However, I expected that answer, because for some strange reason, the critics are starting to give us a break. But unfortunately, I have to disagree with it. No, I do not, in fact, think that 100 miles is particularly good for anyone’s physical health. Actually, I don’t care too much one way or the other.

SHOCKER. I know. 

I applaud this article, author, those conducting the study, and several others out there like it, for not giving the sport a bad name. However, I can’t help but think this: You’re studying the wrong aspect!

You see, anyone who has actually run a solid stretch of 100 miles straight –and felt the resulting pains, aches, and damages to the body– can tell you outright that it isn’t the optimum form of healthy exercise. In fact, most of us will shout, “I’m never doing this ever again” 90 miles into the crazy thing. And who could blame us? Crap hurts, man..bad! 

And we know why it hurts so bad! It hurts because it’s really not that good for you. Duh. That’s a no brainer. We don’t need a medical team to tell us how stupid we are.

Running for an entire day, and often longer, is horrible on the body. Not only are we killing off brain cells when we go over 36 hours of wakefulness, but we’re also completely overusing and cannibalizing our muscles, placing intense stress on our skeletal systems, and singlehandedly destroying our endocrine system.  This isn’t from a study, people, this is from gathered personal experience. Not only do I feel sore and injured after a race, but my hormones are completely out of sync for at least a month. My sleep patterns get screwed, and I have to recover for roughly 10 days before I feel normal again. I’m not a picture of health post 100, and neither is anyone else.

But here’s the REAL surprise: We like that!!! We LIKE that it feels terrible. We know we are destroying our bodies, and we are perfectly okay with it!

WHY? How could you possibly be okay with that?!!

I’ll tell you why! It’s because running 100 miles is NOT about pursuing optimum health!

Let’s get real, here. If we were running for health related purposes, we would have stopped 5 miles in! We would have gone to the dang park, walked our dog, maybe cranked out some pushups and pullups, and gone back home.

So why are we doing it? Why are we out there destroying ourselves for fun? 

The answer is hidden somewhere in that bodily destruction they analyze to death. It’s in the beat down. It’s in the last miles of that awful race when we experience the rawest forms of human experience & emotion. We do this because it feels good not to quit at something. Humankind was made to suffer, and deep down we know that. We KNOW that long suffering produces the discipline and character we strive for.

The reward isn’t a healthier body! We aren’t looking for 6 pack abs and better cardio here! The reward is The After! It’s the person who comes out of that race. A newer, stronger, person refined by fire and pain. A runner who refuses to accept no for an answer–just to make it to that finish line– is a tougher person. A fighter in life. We know this–we know this because we’ve felt it.

Running 100 miles straight is a huge life lesson rolled into a day of running. It teaches you things you never thought you’d learn about yourself. It forces you to face situations and ideas you need to overcome in life. It allows you to work out kinks and weaknesses in your own personally flawed character.  It carves out a deep lasting well of patience, self control, and long suffering. When balanced and prioritized appropriately in life, it helps create a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, happiness, and well being. The benefits of running long ultramarathons extend far beyond running, and well into the entire spectrum of life.

While I’m sure there are some physical health benefits to be gained in there somewhere, the truth is that no one doing these things really gives a flip. Spend a day running in the mountains alone, or with your friends, and you’ll see that no one is concerned about their Vo2 Max or threshold level.

The world will never stop analyzing the physical, because we are a world obsessed with outward image and prolonging life.

“Will this make me fitter?”

“Will this help me live longer?”

“Will this cure disease?”

I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just really like how incredible my body feels during a run. And I bet any runner would tell you the same thing. I love the amazing sense of accomplishment I feel after finishing something as stupid as running 100 miles straight.

So no, it’s probably not that healthy for me. I’m probably not going to have knees later. Or maybe I will, and maybe I will have some amazing cardio benefits, and a bangin’ body at 90— but all of that is simply irrelevant.

I am here, and I am now, and I am present. I enjoy the miles, and I enjoy the benefits of the pain.

So if you’re looking to analyze the health benefits of a runner tackling 100 miles, don’t examine their heart muscle. Don’t analyze their body fat, or compare their longevity to others.  Just lace up your kicks, and run a few miles with them on a beautiful blue sky day.

You’ll learn all you ever need to know.