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Thoughtless Ultrarunning


I was listening to an Endurance Planet podcast with six-time Ironman Hawaii champion, Mark Allen (starting at minute 23). Although the discussion was about long course triathlon, I thought there was insightful information that ultrarunners might find interesting and possibly useful as well.

How to Keep Moving Forward Throughout an Ultra Event

Once the “fresh” factor of an ultra has worn off, how do you keep the consistent momentum to the finish?

Allen explained in his early days that he used negative emotions as his main fuel but then became aware of a method much more powerful (at least for him) – Thoughtlessness.

“Any thought you can conjure up has a shelf life of about three hours. Then the body wears down and it becomes hard to focus thought to have a thought. It takes energy to think.”

By focusing on a point inside of you that is quiet Allen says, you aren’t required to continue creating more positive thoughts or derailed by negative thoughts.  All energy is moving you forward as fast as you can consistently go.

Much of this reminds me of what may be termed the zone or flow. A movement where most every cell in the body is working together in cooperative existence.

It also reminds me of what I would call meditative running.

This meditation description reminds me of the essence Allen is try to convey:

How to do meditation, many people ask.  Don’t do anything, just go into thoughtless awareness.  Try to go to the thoughtless awareness.  If you can get into that condition of thoughtless awareness, you’ve done your job because that’s the point where you are with the truth, with the reality, with the joy, with everything that is so fundamental. – Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

I think I have experience periods of what Allen is referring to as I have been asked more than a few times by non-ultra athletes what I think about during an ultra and I will mention that I often will go through stretches of time where I think about nothing and just run. I think this perplexes most folks. I don’t purposely try to get myself into this state, it just happens.

I also have had plenty of conversations with self as well within the course of an ultra day. Some good..some not so good.

How do you keep yourself going when it becomes real?

What to do when those negative emotions/thoughts come a knockin’?

One method Allen recommends during training when a session becomes difficult or negative emotions creep in is to focus on one or two breaths to calm yourself down and quiet the mind.

I like this idea. I think this momentary focus on breath actually creates space so you can consciously address the perceived situation versus a reactionary/unnecessary response. This same approach can just as easily be used in a race situation and in non-sports life.

How do you handle negative emotions/thoughts when they arise?

Individual Excellence

One final thought from Allen caught my attention and that related to the ingredients he feels are necessary for a huge personal endurance sports performance.

  • Motivation, desire, drive – Will get you 99% of the way.
  • The final 1% of you has to not care. Whatever happens, happens. I am just going for it.

Good stuff.

The Epic Battle Between Mark Allen and Dave Scott in 1989 Hawaii Ironman

This was a race where two athletes pushed each other to their very best and were separated by less than one minute after a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 miles of running in the Hawaii heat and humidity.

How does a 2:40:04 and 2:41:03 marathon time sound under these conditions?

Here is a short summary video of this amazing day on the Big Island of Hawaii.

(If you can’t see the video, click here.)

If you want to observe more of the marathon, check out the more complete coverage (as recorded by ABC):

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

(Photo: Courtesy of / CC BY 2.0)

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

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