Essay:
Run for Your Life
Debika Ray meets the white-collar workers giving up vacations to participate in races that prioritize mental stamina—and money—over physical fitness.

Issue 36

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Arts & Culture

  • Words Debika Ray

Finn came to ultrarunning on a journalistic assignment, after having competed in several marathons and shorter endurance races. Since then he has done several more and, while he doesn’t consider himself a true convert, he has started to understand the appeal. As he puts it: “The experience you get by spending 15 hours at a time running, often in extreme environments, can lead to quite intense feeling of highs and lows.”

Trekking miles across hostile environments—whether on foot, horseback or water—is as old as humanity itself, but the popularity of such races as a leisure pursuit has grown rapidly in recent years. Listing websites such as Run Ultra have reported a 1,000% jump in the number of these events—from a 24-day, 850-kilometer slog across the Nepalese Himalayas to a 6-day, 236-kilometer jaunt across the Costa Rican rainforest—over the past decade or so. In February, running shoe review website RunRepeat and the International Association of Ultrarunners published...

1. The first Ironman was held in Hawaii in 1978, with 15 competitors. Today, there are close to 200 races from which to choose. Because an Ironman Triathlon involves swimming and biking as well as running, the cost of buying the necessary equipment can range from $5,000 to $24,000. There are even special triathlon bikes designed to angle the body to reduce drag.

2. Short-term health complications associated with ultramarathons include vomiting, blurry vision (due to wind damage) and sleep deprivation. In the long-term, ultramarathon runners are more likely to experience heart problems.

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