Why analytical thinkers and problem solvers make the best ultramarathoners

barkleysI don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Barkley Marathons finishers are typically scientists, physicists or engineers. I feel like you need to have a certain mindset or way of thinking to handle the physical and mental demands of an ultra endurance race like that.

This past weekend I was glued to Twitter following the 30th running of the Barkley Marathons—the only resource for live updates on the famously enigmatic 100-ish mile race—and constantly refreshing the #BM100 hashtag feed to find out how Canadians Gary Robbins and Rhonda-Marie Avery (who was the race’s first blind participant – yes, blind) were faring on the race’s unforgiving course. Rhonda-Marie and her guide gave a valiant effort, dropping out after getting lost on the first loop, while Gary completed four and a half loops (out of five) before getting turned around and losing time, which forced him to drop out about five hours from the cut-off time.

According to sources on the course, Gary was hallucinating bad—something that ultrarunners often experience when attempting 100+ mile races on little to no sleep. I’ve heard of runners seeing things in the trees, feeling like the forest was caving in on them, hearing voices and experiencing other wild visions when they start to lose mental footing during a race. Even this year’s winner (who is the race’s first-ever three-time finisher) Jared Campbell mentioned he was hearing voices in the tunnel on the course. I can’t imagine the mental fortitude it would take to ground yourself and keep pushing on when your that emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted.   (more…)