Android app on Google Play


16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon


‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ ~Nelson Mandela

On Saturday, I did what I thought I couldn’t do.

I ran a 50-mile ultramarathon.

Now, I’m certainly not the first to run a race like this — thousands of other stronger, tougher runners have done it. I’m not even one of the faster ones to run this kind of race — I was so slow I almost didn’t make the official cutoff time.

So I don’t take any special credit for running the race. If anything, most of the credit belongs to my friend Scott Dinsmore, who encouraged me to run it and then played a huge role in getting me to the finish.

But I am proud of running the 50-miler. Because it showed me that my limitations aren’t what I thought they were. And it was a way for me to teach my kids the same thing about themselves, through my example.

There’s a lot to say about the race, which started at 5 a.m. in clear, freezing cold conditions … and continued for nearly 14 hours in beautiful (though cold) weather up and down endless hills in the gorgeous Marin Headlands. Seriously, it’s extremely beautiful country and you should hike it if you’re ever in the Bay Area.

But instead of walking you through a boring recap of my race, I’ll share some lessons that I learned along the way.

Lessons from My Ultramarathon

Here are a few of the things I learned:

  1. It was way, way harder than I anticipated. I mean, I knew it would be really hard. But it was way harder than that. I was definitely under-trained, as I took about a month off running to travel to Europe and China, but I thought I could make it based on the fact that I ran a 26-miler, 19-miler, and 17-miler the month before the race. I was right, I could finish on that training, but it was far from ideal.
  2. Running with a partner was everything. Scott was the perfect running partner — fun to talk with, he appreciated the views and the experience as much as I did. He was relentlessly positive and excited, even when things got hard and I was in pain and wanted to quit. He didn’t let me quit. I owe him a lot.
  3. Toes can really hurt after 30 miles of pounding. My right big toe kept jamming into the front of my shoe on downhills (possibly the shoe didn’t fit just right?), which is fine for the first 30 miles. Then it started to really hurt. Going downhill became murder. I kept going, but several times I had to stop and walk. Scott probably would have finished a couple hours earlier if it weren’t for my wimpy walking down some of the hills.
  4. There are a lot of hills in the Northface Endurance Challenge. I knew there would be a lot of hills — we’d run the trails a bunch of times and it wasn’t a problem during training. However, the entire race was either uphill or downhill. It was neverending. If I were going to go back and do it again, I’d do much more hill training. More than half of my 26-mile training run, for example, was on flat land … I should have run up and down Twin Peaks repeatedly.
  5. Seeing my family at Mile 44 really motivated me. Because of the pain of my toe on the downhills, I really felt like quitting somewhere around Mile 40. But I knew Eva and the kids would be waiting at the Mile 44 aid station, so I kept going. When I saw them, they gave me a hug, and I told them I was going to try my best to make it to the finish before the cutoff time. Scott and I really pushed it for the last 6 miles, to the point where it felt like we were almost sprinting the last 4-5 miles (we weren’t, it was probably 8- or 9-minute miles). Seeing my family made a huge difference for me and really strengthened my resolve.
  6. Junk food doesn’t agree with me on these long runs. I don’t normally eat chips and candy, but I figured my body needed the energy so I ate whatever looked good (Newman O’s are awesome — both the Oreo and ginger flavors). But because most of my blood was going to running muscles and lungs and heart working overtime, digestion is harder. So I had stomach issues (best without details) the entire race. The second half I switched to calories from liquid and gels instead of solid food.
  7. It’s important to smell the roses. I was running a race, but the race wasn’t just the running. It was through some breath-taking trails, and focusing on getting to the finish is missing the point. I tried to notice the beauty of the race and the people around me, even later when I was in pain.
  8. There are some seriously inspiring people who run these races. One guy planned to run a marathon, just as an afterthought, the day after our 50-miler. One woman in her 50s was on her 6th or 7th ultramarathon. A bunch of people who didn’t look like super athletes were out there with us, running just as determinedly as the superfit ones. People in their 50s and 60s were way ahead of us. It really shows you how determined your fellow human beings can be, and humbles you.
  9. Pacers are super useful. Scott’s friends Ryan and Mike (now my friends too) split the last 23 miles or so and ran with us, talked and joked with us, encouraged us, and basically didn’t let us just slow to a crawl. I doubt we would have finished before the cutoff time if it weren’t for them. They were the perfect pacers for us, and I owe them a lot.
  10. You feel really good when you start an ultra. Scott and I were really excited as we crossed the starting line and ran the first few miles. It was exhilarating. Your body feels good because you’ve tapered the last couple weeks after training so hard. You are surrounded by people attempting the extremely difficult, who are all excited too. I kept looking around me and saying, “What a day!”
  11. It feels absolutely amazing to cross the finish line. I’d suffered for 20 miles (the first 30 miles were fairly easy) but with the finish line approaching, I forgot all that and wanted to shout my joy to the world. When I crossed the line, I raised my arms in victory, because it was a deeply personal victory. I hugged Scott. I loved life.
  12. It’s very tempting to give in to urges. Being really tired means your mental discipline is low. At the same time, the little child in you wants to give up, go home to a warm bath and bed, and stop hurting. That’s normal. And it’s very tempting to listen to this little child, these urges to quit. I watched the urges, felt their power, and let them go. Repeatedly. It was a continual process of letting go for me.
  13. Resisting the pain makes it worse. When my toe was killing me on the downhills, and my shins and knees and quads were all hurting, I noticed that my entire body was tensed up, anticipating the pain with each step. When I allowed myself to relax, to surrender to the pain, it actually made me feel better. It didn’t hurt as much. I was making it worse by anticipating it and tensing up. Surrender, let go, relax.
  14. You’re so sore you can barely walk the next day. At least, I was. I knew I should have taken an ice bath as soon as I got home, to reduce swelling and soreness and inflammation, but I was so cold from the race I was shaking, so I skipped the ice bath. I used ice packs for my feet and ankles. But I was incredibly sore and had a hard time doing anything the next day, and it was almost as bad the 2nd day. Also, I had a feet swelling problem (edema) for about 3 days. Yikes. It slowly got better, but I think I just beat up my legs and feet too much.
  15. An epic vegan brunch the next day is so damn good. Oh my goodness. I took Eva & the kids to Herbivore the next morning, and ate like I never have before. I had blueberry pancakes, roasted potatoes, vegan sausage bisquit, pesto tofu scramble, coffee, green juice, blueberry corn bread, some of Noelle’s mocha milkshake, and chili cheese fries … best meal in my life. I was ravenous. Also, vegan breakfast food is the best.
  16. You have more in you than you imagine. I knew this would be a hard event, one of the hardest of my life … but I severely underestimated it, and there were times when I felt hopeless and desperate and unequal to the task. Each time, I was able to keep going. I always had a little more in me than I guessed. And this happened repeatedly, which means there’s a huge reserve of determination and grit that I don’t realize is there. We all have it, not just me. We just don’t know it, until we test ourselves. If I learned anything from this race, it’s that we all, every one of us, should put ourselves to the test just to discover the true self that’s lying in hiding within us.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC