Despite their smaller representation, women do disproportionately well at ultra running, both in terms of competitive performance and in a smaller number of DNFs throughout the field; and as ultra running generally attracts a demographic with particularly high participation among 40-somethings, inevitably many of these ultra running women are mothers.
It seems anachronistic that in a period of their lives when they are at their most time starved, female runners choose to add in a hobby that requires many hours of training, often alone (hang on, maybe it’s not so strange!), but actually I think that being a Mum is among the best training for being an ultra runner. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Mums are the best problem solvers
Every mother lives her day with that constant refrain of: “Mum, Mum, Muuuuuum”. “Where’s my…” “Can you fix my…” It goes on and on! The reason for this endless series of requests? Because young children instinctively know that if there is a problem, Mummy will fix it.
This ability to constantly problem solve is a godsend to the ultra runner. One of the major differences between shorter distance races and ultra running is that over the length of time of an ultra race there is huge potential for something to go wrong; often for several things to go wrong.
If your normal day requires you to constantly think on your feet to deal with a series of irritations and issues: the exploding nappy just as you leave the house; a missing teddy at bedtime; presenting your toddler with the wrong shape sandwiches for lunch… then dealing with ultra race issues such as hot spots on your feet, a rubbing backpack or a checkpoint running out of coke all become more manageable.
2. Mums know the importance of persistence
We all know that mental strength and determination are as essential to finishing an ultra as physical ability, and what better training is there than daily life with a young child? Every Mum who has tried to get a toddler to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth or go to bed when they don’t want to knows the power of sticking at it!
If you can get up multiple times in the night to put your child back in their own bed when they would much rather be in yours, then you have the stubbornness (sorry, mental strength) needed to keep pushing on in an ultra when your body is screaming that it has had enough.
3. Sleep Deprivation is nothing new
Mentioning bed reminds me of that other concern of runners preparing for long ultras, sleep deprivation. Running through the night is a challenge, but less so compared to getting up 4 (or 5, or 6 or 7) times a night to feed a newborn, then repeating that every night (hopefully with decreasing frequency) for months. This training makes Mums well placed to deal with the sleep deprivation of running through one (or occasionally two) nights.
4. Mums are Multi-tasking Queens
Ultra running requires a significant amount of multi-tasking. Unlike road racing where you focus on controlling your own pace and the rest is mostly taken care of for you, in ultra races you need to think about eating, drinking, the weather, how many layers you are wearing, whether you have enough water to get to the next checkpoint, reading the map, adjusting your pace to the terrain, the list goes on…
Mums are well prepared for this, as the ability to be an excellent multi-tasker is a necessity for a Mum, rather than a choice. A normal day for the average Mum often involves cooking supper at the same time as helping one child with homework, fixing another one’s broken toy, replacing the batteries in their favourite gadget (again!), answering questions about which is the best pup in Paw Patrol, while arranging a dentist appointment on the phone. Multitasking during an ultra seems simple when there is only you to worry about.
5. Mums really want that finish
I referred at the start of this blog to the anachronism of pursuing such a time consuming hobby as ultra running when as a Mum you have very few spare hours available. But actually, running long distances is the perfect hobby when you spend your days surrounded by small, noisy people; it provides an opportunity for peace and quiet and a time for quiet reflection that is difficult to get as a Mum, and for that reason we value it even more highly.
As in every choice involved in being a Mum, there is an element of guilt involved in the decision to spend long hours away from your family, both training and for events, but as a result when it comes to an ultra marathon, that guilt provides a strong motivation to complete. If you have given up time with your family to train then there is even more determination to make that time count and to make sure you finish.
All these skills are the perfect grounding for any Mum who chooses to take up ultra running. Hopefully the next few years will see more Mums deciding to give it a go…