I'm currently training for an ultramarathon. A forty-miler, to be exact. My first endeavor over the standard 26.2 mile marathon that once separated the men from the boys, but in recent years has become, well.... commonplace. I feel the need to go longer. To accomplish something that makes people say: "......What? You mean 40 miles over like a few days or something? I mean you don't run that all at once, right? I mean, come on, that's impossible.." To which you respond with a smirk and the fewest words possible, adding to the mystique and athleticism that is you.
For all the runners, as well as non-runners, out there, I want to sum up the progression of this sport as I have experienced it, and you may or may not agree.
Beginning: You're running 2 - 5 miles at a time, four or five days a week. You are awesome and in so much better shape than all those other NON-runners out there. You look good, you feel good, and so-help-me-god if someone steps to this while you're walking down the street you will race the be-jesus out of that bastard, beat him like a rented mule, and stand over his sweaty, losery body just long enough to say, "You should've known better than to think you could compare to this. You're lucky I even took pause in my awesomeness long enough to acknowledge and embarrass you." And then be on your fine-tuned way.
Intermediate: You're running 6 - 8 miles at a time and you might even have a couple 10Ks and a 1/2 marathon or two under your belt. You're pretty much a machine, and you make this known with the condescending looks you toss to all the "joggers" out there which you so kindly share the sidewalk with. You're doing speedwork. You're doing long runs. You know your VO2 max, and you make every run count. If anyone F's with your run, they will be lucky to merely get a tongue lashing, because you take this shit SERIOUSLY.
Advanced: You're starting to adjust your life around your running. Up at 4:30 AM? It's necessary to beat the heat and be able to hit your normal tempo run speed. 70 miles a week? How else are you going to build your endurance for the Stump Jump 50K? Pretty much all your regular friends are runners, and you talk about PRs incessantly. You are always training for one race or another. You plan vacations around races. If you're single, you probably won't date anyone who doesn't run because they just "don't get it." You are becoming more boring and annoying by the day, but you don't care. You just want to run. This is a warning sign, but you do not take heed..
Obsessed: You've done a marathon or maybe a few, but you're not really satisfied with your accomplishments. You either want to run a faster marathon, or you want to run longer (ultramarathon), or both. You spend a lot of time studying and analyzing race results, ranking yourself and your closest competitors. You probably have an arch nemesis or two. You have a race or a time goal on your calendar that you may or may not be able to complete without dying. Oddly enough, you've stopped talking about running as much, because you actually wish to hide the obsession that has taken over your life. "What did you do this weekend?" "Oh, I saw Rush Hour 3." Forgetting to mention that you spent 3 hours on the trails Saturday in the 90 degree heat, and another 30 minutes picking gravel out of the open wound that your shoe had created in your heel, and another 10 minutes "talking" your legs into controling the pedals of your Ford Ranger, at least enough to get you home. And then got up the next day and did it all over again.
This sport takes all kinds of people. There are those that do it for the excercise, those that do it for the glory, and those that do it because they have reached the point where they know nothing else. The beautiful thing is that they are all right.