Ultra running and the void

A few years ago planning a half-marathon was an idea that struck me as a humongous task to accomplish. It required months of dedication, lots of planning, commitment towards a training plan and lengthy long runs which felt at times like can I really do this? The sense of achievement on reaching such a distance was however worth all the efforts. No matter the size of the goal, that is an experience that for sure you’ve felt already when achieving your targets. Indescribable.

Have you ever felt the human side of you, challenging you to reach beyond your limits, to set new goals, to want more?

You’ve probably figured out already that I haven’t stopped at that distance. Falling in love with trail running made me pursue bigger challenges and ultimately take a first step into the club of the ultra runners, i.e. tackling distances longer than the marathon 42.195 Km. What once seemed like distances crazy people did, are now becoming mundane targets within my grasp. This sometimes just feels… insane.

A very good friend of mine sent me however a quote this week which captures the essence of ultra running and voilà what genuinely makes me tick:

Perhaps the genius of ultra running is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …

– David Blaikie

I’ve always loved reading all kinds of books but what truly drifts my mind into a good night sleep is a good fantasy novel. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time main character achieves his highest potential when touching the void, a state of mind attainable by focusing the entire thought on a flame until the mind enters total emptiness. What is curious about the concept is how the character within that emptiness is thereafter able to connect with all there is, how the world downpours into that void. An interesting dichotomy between nothing and everything.

Can you grasp the void?

Can you grasp the void?

I took my usual Sunday morning long trail session today and went into full exploration mode. No planned route, no known path, just flowing… far away from an ultra distance yet close enough to sublime. It always starts with flushing all concerns from the mind, enjoying the landscape, absorbing the silence. The void hits me without notice, it takes control without creating awareness, it just is. And within its emptiness, the overwhelming world floods me swiftly: the nature around me, the sounds of the birds, the greatness of the space and the microscopic of the self, the taste of the temperature and the pureness of the air, human emotions and the love bonds that tie us to others, the really really important things in life… it’s everything other than running, movement, sweat or heartbeat. It’s me and the universe in its simple form.

 

I seek the void

 

  3 Replies to “Ultra running and the void”

  1. June 1, 2015 at 22:56

    Great quote, I will have to re-post it 😉 I was also running the UTLW last weekend (what a great event!) and stumbled upon your blog, good stuff! 🙂 cheers, S

  2. October 23, 2018 at 22:10

    Hi Joao,

    I stumbled across your article because I was searching for info about David Blaikie. I too was really inspired by his quote and I’m curious to know more about him. Do you happen to have such information?

    I love your writing! Very creative and poetic.

    I think I’ve experienced ”the void” while I ran a 100k race, but it’s a bit different from what you describe, so I’m not too sure. I’d been running for 75k and had litterally been crawling on my hands and knees in the mountains for the last couple of kilometers. Somehow, I summoned the will and energy to gradually start running again. When I got into a groove again, it felt like time didn’t exist anymore. I ran for several hours to the finish line, but it felt like 15 minutes. I was unable to think while I was running those last hours, but I could run fast without getting tired. From what I’ve read somehere, I think I was in survival mode; my brain diverting all its energy into moving my body forward in reaction to a life threatning event.

    There are other similar feelings that I’ve experienced a few times in short training runs or road races, such as being in ”the zone”, where my body and mind seem to be perfectly in sinc, and where running fast is extremely pleasurable. The void seems to be more about leaving the body and forgetting about the running, while the zone seems to be about being totally immersed in running. Is that how you experience it?

    Mark Allen, the Ironman legend, once talked about accessing ”the space between thoughts” when he made a breakthrough performance. I used to think that he was refering to what we call ”the zone”, but now I’m thinking it might have been more than that, it might have been what you describe as ”the void”. What do you think?

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