Overcoming Self Doubt: An Ultrarunner's Journey

By Brendan Gilpatrick
a man running on a trail
I found ultrarunning fairly early on as a runner. At the time it was so much of a fringe sport that I often had to explain exactly what it was, at which point the person listening would ultimately ask, “why would you do that?” Over the past 16 years I have had plenty of time to think about that question. The answer is complicated, multifaceted and my reasons may vary from others but I believe there are some shared core motivations behind the pursuit of running very long distances.

a man running on a trailGrowing up in a very small town in Maine, ultrarunning has taken me to places I never could have imagined. From running through a Hawaiian rainforest past massive banyan trees to witnessing the sunrise over Madeira Island in the Azores after running through the night . What started out as seeing how far I could explore the ATV trails behind my house has led me to racing all over the world.

Maine’s unpredictable weather and rugged landscape helped to ingrain a certain grit in me that all Mainers possess to some degree. With our technical terrain and barrage of countless roots and rocks, trail running in Maine forces you to focus on each moment. You cannot let your mind wander or the result may be disastrous. Our trails are virtually devoid of switchbacks and often take the most direct line to tackle obstacles and climb over mountains. This typically means there is no “easy way up” strengthening resolve and discipline.

Ultrarunning is not an endeavor of convenience. In a culture that demands nearly instant gratification, running long distances through the woods or over mountain ranges requires patience, focus, and a steadfast belief in oneself.

a man crouching on a trail in the woods

Every time I race an ultramarathon I ultimately arrive at a moment where it feels as though everything has been stripped down to the choice of continuing to push on or choosing the comfort that stopping would bring. To arrive at that decision point in a race, I have burned through all of my original internal and external motivations and am left with that simple choice, keep pushing or quit. Those moments are where I have confronted my limitations and self doubt and found strength I didn’t believe I possessed. Those moments have also taught me how to fail and the importance of putting failure into context when pursuing seemingly insurmountable challenges. There are no guarantees in attempting to run 50 or 100 miles and beyond. Ultrarunning has taught me how to set aside thoughts that finishing seems impossible and focus on the resiliency that comes from putting one foot in front of the other.

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