I, like many of you, have spent much of my adult life inside of tall buildings — these two in particular:
Now, although this may be a necessary constraint in order to pursue my career in law, this may also seem counterintuitive for a person like me. You see, like so many others here in Colorado, I am an adventurous soul who says, “Let’s just do it!” more often than may be practical, and I try to spend every second I can in the great outdoors.
To balance my need for outdoor adventure with a job that confines me mostly to four walls, I began running ultra-marathons. In the process, I have developed new physical and mental toughness that serves me well in my career and my family life. Along the way, I have also discovered a wonderful new community of like-minded and adventurous people.
You may be wondering: “What in the world is an ultra-marathon?” You wouldn’t be alone, as I hear that a lot (among colleagues and fellow bar members). Strictly defined, it is a run that is longer than the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Distances range from 50 kilometers (32 miles) to more than 100 miles. (I am sticking to the shorter end of the scale, at least for now.) Ultra-marathons, or “ultras,” mostly take place on trails rather than on pavement; they are often over mountainous terrain with steep elevation gains. They take you to some amazing places, like this:
I remember when I discovered that trail running even existed. I was visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and saw a very fit looking couple running up the trails. What — I can combine the joys of running and hiking? Sign me up! Soon after, I started trail running and signed up for my first trail race: the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run 30K distance. Although not an “ultra,” I was hooked.
Friends of mine who run road marathons — strong runners who have been at it for years — tell me that after finishing a marathon, they have never considered running longer than that. So, why do it?
- First, spending several hours outside at a time in a beautiful locale, often by myself, is an exceptional opportunity to regroup from the many days and years of lawyering and mothering.
- Second, I run “ultras” because they are difficult. An ultra is as much a mental challenge as a physical one; you push yourself beyond what you previously thought possible. Cultivating tenacity, determination, perseverance, focus, goal-setting and taking on challenges are beneficial qualities in the ultra-running and legal worlds (think law school, the bar exam, trial). And how rewarding to be able to use them all at one time! So, as you can see, ultra-running is not all about the running, although it certainly is physically challenging and demands discipline in training.
- Third, the ultra-running community is inspiring. So many of the participants in these races are supportive of anyone who wants to make the attempt, and many of them are truly invested in each other’s ultra-running success. This is similar to the community of people I have met though my bar association activities and within the firms I have worked that are invested in others as attorneys.
- Really, much of what this is all about is endurance. Ultra-running is a physical and mental endurance test. It seems to me that life is a daily endurance test — whether things are going smoothly or teeming with adversity. Can I do this (whatever “this” is)? Can I go to law school in a big city at age 21? Can I move to a new city and start a new life when I am 30? Can I run up and down mountains at high altitudes and through canyons for hours on end when I am 44? I think it is helpful to cultivate through this daily endurance an “if I can do this, I can do anything” mentality so that one can always be prepared. And it’s important to keep myself healthy all of the time (eating, sleeping, exercising, etc.) so that I can be mentally and physically prepared for whatever lies ahead—whether it’s a challenging case, tough run, or daunting life changes.
Ultra-running has also taught me how to deal with limits better and push through obstacles when things do not go as planned, even after putting in many hours of solid training and work. Twice this summer I attempted to run a 50-mile race but was unable to finish because I missed a time cutoff. (Race directors set a maximum amount of time allowed to reach a certain point of a race to ensure races end on time.) During my first attempt, the heat got the best of me and slowed me down. During my second attempt, I had to climb close to 13,000 feet, and this took too much time that I could not make up later in the race. What does one do in that situation? After both races, I started doubting myself. Perhaps I should stick to shorter distances. Or perhaps ultra-running is not for me. Perhaps I should get back to my “regular life” (whatever that means). But then I realized that this is my life now — mothering, lawyering and ultra-running. Since I have made that a priority and dedicated so much time and energy to get to where I am now, I knew I was not turning back. The experience could be similar to losing a big case. We don’t give up in the court room, and I am not giving up on my passion for ultra-running. You move forward and you conquer the next goal, regaining clarity and focus along the way. There will always be another opportunity, and I will reach my goal — it is just a matter of when and where.
I feel like I am really thriving as I have taken on this new pursuit of ultra-running. The rewards are many: running around in spectacular new places full of natural beauty, learning new outdoor skills, becoming part of another supportive community, having positive interactions, teaching my children about going for it and not giving up, and, perhaps most of all, the rewarding feeling that comes from finding something you are passionate about and making it a reality in your life, which to me means spending time in a way that I value.
I believe in the “time is now” mentality. There is never an ideal time to take up something like ultra-running. So, if you are interested in trying something new and adventurous, the time is now. Go get it! Embark on your own mighty progression. A complete calendar of ultra-runs in Colorado and across the world is available at ultrasignup.com. I have found a great community and great training and racing opportunities through Front Range Cross Country (frxc.org) and Human Potential Running Series (humanpotentialrunning.com).
For me, it’s not about the competition but rather the full experience. My kids used to ask me if I won the race when I came home from an ultra. Now, they understand I am not the fastest racer … but they see me out there pursuing my passion, and that is more rewarding than any medal. D
Ilene Lin Bloom, a past president of the Denver Bar Association, is a mother of two adventurous kids and a consulting attorney at Sherman & Howard. On August 20, she completed a self-supported 50-mile run on the trails at Lake Pueblo State Park and in the surrounding area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about this article or ultra-running in general.