A couple of years back I had a friend visiting and during conversation she casually mentioned that her husband was running 125km through the outback of Australia next weekend. This type of comment should stop conversation mid-flow. Who chooses to run 125kms and why? That type of distance is more akin to a distance you would travel by car, not by foot! However, increasingly this type of extreme activity is becoming common place amongst thrill seekers who are pushing themselves to extremes. All these people are legends in their own life time.
Then a new internationally popular event came to Melbourne; 'Tough Mudder'. Tough Mudder describe themselves on their website as hardcore obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. That inaugural Melbourne was completely sold out with almost 20,000 participants expected. They are definitely legends in their own life time.
The term 'obstacle course' makes the event sound fun and relaxed, however the website proudly promotes the course as including an ice-cold bath, a fire walk, and electroshock therapy among more than 25 different stages across 20kms. I can't help but ask myself, who wants to do anything as crazy as spending a weekend completing a gruelling course that the British Special Forces, no less, have designed? Indeed, legends!
Having asked that question, I must confess that I personally have run a marathon. 42.2kms. It was something I always wanted to do. It was a personal goal that required me to push myself to my limits. Running a marathon took a huge personal commitment; it took all my effort to train and prepare for it physically, nutritionally and mentally. Yet the distance I ran in my marathon wasn't even half the distance my friend's husband is running!
The more I research ultra-events the more options I discover are available. The Comrades Marathon is one that fascinates me. It is promoted as the 'ultimate human race'. Held in South Africa each year since 1921, this event was established by World War I veteran Vic Clapham as a unique way to honour his fallen comrades from the First World War. With a race history of more than 90 years this event is strongly supported with a capacity of 18,000 entries for this year's event in June already being reached. Legends all!
What inspires such legendary acts?
I have always wondered what inspires people to push themselves to such extremes. When I was a teenager I remember marvelling at Susie Maroney's swim across the English Channel. In 1991 Susie became the fastest female to swim the two way English Channel Crossing (England/France/England) aged just 17. In my view our bodies aren't physically designed to naturally do activities such as this and when people push themselves to such extremes there can often be ongoing serious physical consequences.
So that makes me wonder even more about what it is that inspires, motivates and drives people to compete against their own bodies in this way.
I am not sure that I will ever know the answer to this question of 'why', although I am sure many psychologists would offer some valuable insights. In the meantime I will keep marvelling at the amazing personal achievements of the many individuals who continue to explore the boundaries of their personal limits through the increasing number of ultra events on offer.
I recall some years ago, theologian Dr Mark Tronson detailed to us a Biblical account of an extreme act. In 2 Samuel 23 King David in the midst of battle said how he longed for a drink. Three of his mighty men (verse 16) as a feat of extreme military mastery found their way through the Philistine lines to the well of Bethlehem and bought back to David the drink he had sought.
David was so challenged in his spirit (verse 17) that he exclaimed: "Is not this the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?" He would not drink it and poured it out as an offering to the Lord. That's legendary in a whole different realm, where the Spirit of the Lord touches our lives!
Merewyn Foran is married and a marketing director of a not for profit homelessness agency in Melbourne.
Merewyn Foran's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/merewyn-foran.html