There are probably more than 100 different components that go into becoming a successful trail and ultrarunner. Not all of them are required and most can be learned over time. In my experience, however, there are three core characteristics that are essential to becoming a successful long distance runner. They will allow us to continue when it’s the middle of the night on a dark and lonely stretch of trail, when our stomachs have gone south and we are unable to keep anything down, or when we’ve fallen so far off of our goal time that we begin to ask ourselves whether or not there is even a reason to continue. These three characteristics define us as ultra runners and are an absolute prerequisite for success.
- I Like Me – When running alone for hours on end you spend a lot of time in your own head, even if you have music playing. You have to like the person you are with if you aren’t going to break down and crumble. Self-doubt and negative thoughts have no place in ultrarunning. You can only run so long on anger and self-deprecation before those thoughts take a physical toll on the body. Truly great runners like who they are and appreciate what they can do.
- Better Your Best – A key characteristic that binds all driven runners is the desire to better themselves. I’ve always said, “the difference between Joggers and Runners is PURPOSE”. Whether we want to run faster, farther, or better, we always have a goal in mind and it is always based around continual improvement. We have a drive to test ourselves, to find our limits, and then push them beyond what we thought possible.
- Refuse to Quit – This is actually my motto. In fact, my personal website is based around this: refuse2quit.com. Anyone who has finished a run beyond a distance they felt they were uncertain they could complete understands this concept. There comes a time in any long run or race when we’ve questioned our ability to finish and asked ourselves whether we should quit. Yet, we went onto finish. And why? Because we refused to give up when everything in us and around us conspired to drive us to quit.
Authors and experts can write for hours about fitness, nutrition, gear, and motivation. Those things can be learned through coaching and research, and often in a relatively short period of time. However, the three items listed above tend to be more innate, ingrained, and completely invaluable. You may not agree now or have had limited success without one of those three, but I believe you’ll find that there will come a time when you realize just how important they are. If you find you are lacking in any of these three areas it is highly suggested you make it a central focus. When you reach that moment in a long run or race where it becomes essential for you to finish, you’ll be glad you gave it the attention it deserves.