It seems to have been the only reasonable explanation to my non-running friends as to why I wanted to run an ultra-marathon. “I’ve fallen into a bad crowd”, I explained with my tongue firmly in my cheek.
Who hasn't been encouraged to do something silly by the company they keep at some point in their lives. Only rather than taking drugs or thieving or hot-wiring cars, my crowd is into running really long distances. But running 35 miles around a Hebridean island, to friends who’d prefer a hungover lie-in to a parkrun, was as silly as it gets.
The people I’d scapegoated are real friends, virtual friends, friends of friends, idols of friends and they're incredibly inspiring. They're the reason I even considered running an ultra and they are, in fact, anything but a bad crowd.
I had already decided I didn’t enjoy trying to run fast, I’m never going to win a race, but going further, that was an interesting concept. The idea of spending the whole day on a two-footed adventure, seeing just how far your mind will let your body take you really appealed. The fact that I already knew a few people that had run ultras, sealed my fate.
The moment I booked my race, panic set in. Having already blamed my ultra-running friends for leading me astray, I turned to them for reassurance, which they provided by the bucket load. No matter where they placed on the spectrum from comforting to suggesting I “grow a pair”, they understood exactly how I was feeling.
They also knew exactly what I was in for, good and bad, and as I started to ramp up my training for this massive challenge, I naturally gravitated towards them because they understood exactly what I was doing and I could soak up their extensive collective knowledge. Surely spending time with people who have won these types of races means their talent would transfer by some sort of osmosis.
I achieved my own version of winning. I finished my first ultra-marathon with the biggest smile on my face, having enjoyed every mile.
My secretly stubborn persona knows I would have finished the race no matter what but it was surrounding myself with the right crowd that made sure I was prepared and that I enjoyed the whole experience.
If I ever decide to try running fast again though, I’ll have to ditch them all for some speed demon pals.