Life Lessons from an Ultra

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about my first 50K and the life lessons learned along the way. Last year I ran my first 50 miler. This year I plan on adding more ultras to my experience. Training for an ultra can change you. An ultra tests your perseverance and mental fortitude. Running an ultra teaches you many lessons which can be applied in your life outside of running.


Anything worth having is worth fighting for. Great things happen when we step outside our comfort zone. Having the courage to set foot at the start of a 50 miler allowed me to grow as a person in so many ways. Instead of focusing on “What if I can’t?” I focused on “What if I could?”  How many times do we limit our potential in life because of fear, because of being uncomfortable, or give in when it gets tough?


Determination can take us far in life, vowing that we will accomplish what we set out to do. Yes, there will be roadblocks and obstacles to overcome. It may take time, but we will see it through. We are resolved to run the race set before us. Training for an ultra takes determination. When others were spending their afternoons doing something spontaneous and fun,  my weekends were filled with balancing long back to back solo runs and motherhood. Determination to be capable of finishing my race got me through. It was all worth it in the long run.


Dean Karnazes  once said, “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” Perseverance and determination go hand-in-hand. Training was tough at times. Sometimes I felt unmotivated and exhausted from my busy schedule as a working mom of three.  Many times, I had to stay close to home and run the same course over and over. It was repetitive, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other while trying to discipline my mind.  My body was tired and sore, but I kept hitting the trails. Sometimes, I badly wanted to just sleep in, and I craved Sunday afternoon naps. During one 24-miler, I had stomach issues that plagued me the whole time.  I made so many pitstops and dined on Pepto Bismol and tums until the end. Instead of quitting, I became comfortable with being uncomfortable.

With my arthritis,  I have issues that come and go, and I never know how a training run or race will go. At mile 43 of my 50 mile race, my knees flared up and I was afraid I would need to hobble or walk the rest of the way. The thought of quitting never crossed my mind. I was going to finish even if it meant crawling across the finish line.  I remember being thankful it was dark so people couldn’t see how much pain I was in.  Surprisingly, I was able to start running again with the pain being intermittent. I took each step at a time. I may have slowed down in order to do so, but I still made progress, and this is true in life too. No matter how slow we have to go, or when we just have to take it day by day, forward motion is movement. Progress is progress. I am a strong believer that our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for.

Mental Fortitude

I once thought we are only as strong as our bodies at any given moment, but I now know we are as strong as we allow our minds to be.  During my second 50K, I felt something pop in the back of my right knee at mile 26. The sharp pain would come and go, startling me and making me cry out at times, but still, I continued. I kept going and knew if I focused on the pain, that it would be worse. The reward of mental fortitude outweighed any perceived physical weaknesses and there is wisdom in knowing the difference.

Life is sometimes more of a mental game than anything else. When we let our mental capacity become clouded with insecurities, we start believing them. We may want to quit or give in. Isn’t this a lot like life? Have you ever wanted to throw in the towel? Give up on a dream or a career? Have you ever lost faith? Life is like training for an ultra, not a sprint. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you, just keep your eyes on the finish line. There will be pain and discomfort. There will be times you want to quit or step away. You might even question your decisions, but it will pay off in the end. This makes your journey worth it when you cross that finish line. You will be bombarded with so many different feelings at once. You may even cry ugly tears at the finish, but you will have finished.

Ultra-training has taught me that I can do hard things. I can go for that job which scares me. I can step out of my comfort zone to attain the goals I have been dreaming of. I can reach new heights this year. Will there be struggles or obstacles in the way? Will my goals or dreams sometimes scare me? Yes! But, I can do hard things and so can you!

Michelle Hartgraves

Michelle Hartgraves

Michelle is a mother of three, a Navy veteran, and an avid trail runner. She started running in 5th grade and loved cross country. After her first child, she took a break from running due to health reasons. Once the issues were sorted out, she picked up running again when her third was a toddler, as a form of stress relief. A friend talked her into running her first trail 50k in 2016, she fell in love with trail running, and the rest became history. Michelle heads to the trails and trains when she can fit it into her busy schedule. She loves running with her kids and hopes to run a trail race with her son in the future.

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2 thoughts on “Life Lessons from an Ultra”

  1. Great article. My ultra is 38.5 howev been a runner over 50 yrs past 10 practice chi running technique psst with gravity pulling body one can become body in in motion always being mindful of being cotton & steel Chi running requires total relaxation no tension and letting gravity pull u forward while simply lifting each foot landing under cog hence One always is running Hngng
    ere(landing under cog) to get tHere…you are as Newton proved a body in motion until U stop…every run by is mind blowing. Chi Running is truly revolutionary Always being kind and gentle to body mind and spiriit

  2. I have never run an ultra but I have completed some marathons. Since covid started o have been doing more speed training and shorter distances. Reading this article has reminded me of the joy and love I have for longer runs. The entire article is just 200% inspirational. Thanks for sharing your experiences.


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