An insight into self discipline and the burnout of an Ultra Runner.
Pursuit of Purpose
Why I started running the distance and why you should too.
Written By: Benjamin Beauchman
When I tell others of my story, I am all too often introduced with the perception that I am crazy. Commonly people will say “why would you ever do such a thing to yourself”. Others are fascinated by the pursuit. Many however will be overwhelmed with the hypothetical thought of even considering undertaking such an impossible task of endurance.
Ultra-running has changed my life forever. Speaking on behalf of the entirely transparent realm of thought. I haven’t always been an athlete of enduring endeavors. I was once overweight, crippled by inertia. Corrupted by a world I created myself, too fragile to allow myself to escape. Inhibited by the very fact that I myself even believed the words rattling around my brain of “I Can’t do it”. Self-deception is suicide when all you can muster up within the hypothetical notions is motivation melting self-torture.
Before finding refuge in the world of endurance and adrenaline-based sports, there is something else I could have been classified as. Defining who I was prior is simply a way to remind myself who I was at one point in my life. In another life, before my drug of choice was extreme sports.
Some would call me a degenerate, others would call me selfish, those who were right there with me knew I was suicidal, those of the more qualified would simply classify me as a drug addict. Addicted to cocaine and living only for the party. Concerned with only that which will benefit me, myself, and I. Pouring oceans of kerosene upon the bridges I’ve built, only to light a single match ablaze throwing away everything into the inferno. However only an introduction, there is more to be told about my whole story (here)
Running has been a lifesaver for me. Running has also however been nothing but a metaphor for what I thought was once possible for a burnt-out soul like mine. Primal as it may seem, pounding one foot into the ground after the other in rapid succession. How animalistic, how monotonous. Simply a metaphor, purely an ambition to receive peace of mind amidst a myriad of turmoil within one’s own mind. The primal pursuit of running has shown me only peace, opening opportunity, creating a world of light ahead.
I started running in rehab. One of my roommates in rehab mentioned he wanted to go on a run, I overheard his statement and was granted permission to go on a run with him. Being new to the rehab center, I was thrilled by the opportunity. Unknowing how challenging it would be I was ready to try something new. My first run was in Northwestern Montana in the cold month of November. We set off in less than optimal running shoes and even less significant weather. 7:30 pm on a cold Thursday night, something profound was insured upon my nearly melted, recovering brain. Granted the run was only 2 miles on a muddy dirt road with the crisp pine-scented air overwhelming our senses. Lungs rushing frantically to process what was happening, legs burning through the sensational burn of lactic acid. Oh how badly I wanted to quit, but my roommate would not allow it. He would motivate me through fear. “There’s bears out here man, better keep up with me”. Eventually after 15 grueling minutes of nothing but a mental battle between me and my mind we arrived back at the facility. Grasping onto every single oxygen molecule I could. I collapsed and threw up blood (Prior to rehab I was smoking 40 cigarettes a day). Sixty seconds of misery clouded my whole world. What followed was unlike any amount of psychedelics I have ever taken. (I’ve consumed enough LSD to kill an elephant). I was experiencing the runners high. The release of endorphins and adrenaline I never thought I would experience without an 8 ball of cocaine. These comparisons could have led me to an unhealthy obsession with exercise. Still, balance was not what I was pursuing at the moment.
What had happened on that cold November night was a complete switch of mentality. Soon I realized that I was in a battle. The battle we all struggle with yet may never find a way out. Simply, I made a switch that night. Realizing suddenly all the inertia I had displayed throughout my life could be released within a vehicle of my creation. As if nearly overnight, I had made a decision. I wanted to become something new. Putting all the same emotional energy into running and improving myself rather than self-torturing through the energy it takes to get ahold of drugs and maintain the drugged-out lifestyle. I would become capable of so much more (Que the inspirational workout montage).
However, running became my escape from the reality that was rehab. I was on a mission to become who I was underneath the years of trauma and dismay. I would begin devoting my life to it before I knew that this would become my wildest reality. Waking up every morning to the reality that was rehab. Trying so desperately to catch up in school, I would work all day on trying to catch up to being a senior in high school starting with only 2 credit hours to my name. Then my time would come, going to the gym after classwork was done. I would follow a workout routine to build muscle, still, I would glance at the treadmill, it would call my name. After my workouts, I would run for 30 minutes. Chasing that high I would receive through the effort I put in. The switch was made, now it was up to me and the battleground in my own thoughts to continue the pursuit.
Fast forward a whole 10 months, I got caught up in 3 years of school. Now having 19 credits to my name. The Rehab center I went to allowed us to go to public school once we earned it. Having never been to school, I was shocked by what was unraveling before me. Opportunity, friends, success in a place I only associated with trauma. Cross country tryouts were being posted everywhere, football tryouts were as well. I wanted to try for football, however, everyone who was on the path of my journey said I would probably end up in jail if I played football (I was only moderately aggressive). So I tried cross country instead. Turns out I was meant to run, however mediocre, I was running 20 minute 5ks. As the season went on my mental fortitude was growing stronger. Through all the trials of life, I had already experienced I had something others don’t. I had a past that pushed me to try harder. I played basketball after the cross country season. Then came track season.
Running the 800m race was something everyone hated. I however went into it with the mentality that I loved it. I would win a race here and there and feel really good about it. I had become something I never even deemed fathomable. A triathlete (Quadrathlete if you count weight lifting competitions). I made honor roll and had healthy relationships with the people around me. Then something happened that changed my life forever. Yet I wouldn’t be aware of the lesson learned until 2 years later.
Stumbling upon the North face documentary of the Ultra-trail du mont blanc, I was inspired by the athlete featured. He was a recovering cocaine addict who had a similar story. Running 100 miles was his pursuit. Instantly I knew what I wanted to do. I began researching the steps it takes to become such an athletic phenom. Learning more about the game. I decided to start with a half marathon.
Upon the weeks of graduating, I consulted with one of my mentors. Him being a white-bearded, bald-headed man full of wisdom and spoke in metaphors. Being a marathoner himself, I thought he would be the perfect person to talk to about my ambitions. I simply stated, “I want to run a half marathon”. To which his prophetic words responded with “Do you think you can do it”. Of course, being the arrogant, cocky 18-year old I was said “YES”. His response would change my mindset and I would learn much from what was spoken here. “If you think you can do it, then you wouldn’t be pushing yourself”. Alike many philosophies speak of the very notion of attaining something is simply already achieving what you have thought up in the world of the hypothetical. “Sign up for the full marathon”.
Stumbling upon the start line of the ADIDAS Backcountry Marathon. I was overwhelmed with the very fact that I put in all the work and effort to be ready for such a feat. The Gun goes off, bells are rattling left and right. The past 6 months have led to this. Pushing myself beyond anything I ever deemed possible for myself. Through 10,000 feet of elevation gain and a pursuit unlike any other. The trials of miles were showing me so much more than just a distance to be overcome. I was living a metaphor.
Crossing the finish line I knew something beautiful had happened. The first words out of my mouth were “When’s the next one” after collapsing into the grass dry heaving the liquid calories I had consumed for the past 6 hours.
After my first marathon, I woke up the next morning and peaked a 14er (14,000ft peak), and the day after that I ran 14.5 miles as a “recovery run”. Soon enough I had signed up for my first 100-mile race.
About a month before my 20th birthday, when the 100-mile race in Zion National park would take place. Covid resulted in the cancellation of this race. I decided to bike 100 miles instead of running the distance. This was difficult for me, putting in 40 hours a week or more of training time. 40,000 feet of elevation gain in the amount of time. I was shattered by the fact I had lost something I had been working so hard to accomplish.
But then it hit me. That white-bearded prophet had finally gotten to me. He had planted the thought that I was purely pushing myself to do something I didn’t think I could do. However, in the midst of losing something I worked so hard to attain, I finally understood the running metaphor I had been living. I wasn’t pushing myself to accomplish something physically enduring. Looking back at all the training logs and journals filled with notes about my pursuit, I knew he meant something I could never have learned without this endeavor into the unknown.
The lesson I learned through what, as a matter of fact, was purely an extrinsic revolution of increasingly difficult challenges was not purely running a distance I didn’t imagine possible. The conversation exchanged only a year prior to my successful finish of the aspen backcountry marathon meant something to me only revealed after I burnt out. Adversity outside of ourselves is something to be overcome. Nothing extrinsic will ever be the cause of our turmoil. The true and most raw form of adversity occurs within our minds, the battle within is the only challenge that is real. Revealed to me was this. Running 26.2 miles was simply a living metaphor. Pounding out that distance comes with obvious challenges, the nutritional errors at mile 13, the lack of hydration at mile 16, a horde of gigantic hornets stinging everyone at mile 17 (the burn wasn’t very sweet, contrary to Honey Stinger’s slogan). Yet around mile 22, I had hit a wall. Silence overwhelmed everything, at the crux of the race standing 11,000 feet above aspen overlooking the maroon bells in the distance. Amidst the overwhelming silence of my mind, the words of the prophetic man started ringing through my brain. Suddenly I realized the feat was not about being physically athletic. I was struck suddenly with a lightning bolt of realization. I wasn’t running to prove I could run one of the most challenging marathons in Colorado. I was running to prove a point.
I had trained so hard for this, I put my heart in it all or nothing. Every last ounce of my being was invested in the training, the nutrition, the discipline. Finishing that race showed me that I was capable of absolutely anything I put my heart on. Unstoppable with the keys to relentless forward progress.
Welcome to my mind, make yourself comfortable.
I write words that make you think
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2 responses to “The Pursuit Of Purpose”
What an inspiring post. Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve just gotten into running, and can’t see myself doing ultras, but maybe like you, I might one day make that switch.
Thank you very much! Always happy to share 🙂 I’m always happy to be supportive. You got it! Keep going brotha 🙂