In March 2006, my parents sat us down for a very serious family meeting. A string of soft, hesitant, regretful words: Dad wouldn’t be coming home for weekends any more. He was moving away permanently. I was disillusioned and angry and fifteen years old. My outlook changed: I became critical of my friends and myself as we drifted idly through a mundane private-school existence. We sat around, drank on the weekends, occasionally played sport or did schoolwork, but mostly we seemed to complain about our privileged lives. It felt pathetic. Dull and empty.
Out of my brooding came a resolution to set myself apart from the other preppies, a strong urge to do something with my life. I set myself a goal to get an “OP1” – the highest possible ranking for a high school student, awarded to only the top two percent of students in the state. Rushing through this crazy final year, I weighed an extra 15 unwanted kilos. Running seemed like a practical way to ditch them. So one afternoon I jogged 3km around the neighbourhood, despairing the pain for the whole twenty minutes.
The runs got progressively easier and after a few weeks I’d developed a dependable routine. On the short holidays, I went for a few 20km outings and longer bike rides. My days were structured around running, riding and nightly study.
My final exam was for Accounting, on a Tuesday. Leaving high school for the last time I thought “What now..?” Two days later, without thinking about it too much, I laced up my shoes, put two packets of sugar in my shorts and stepped out of the door. What followed were the most torturous and revelatory seven hours and 46km of my entire life. At some point, hobbling between drinking fountains along the Brisbane River, I realised this was about more than weight loss. Unconsciously, I had been exploring a deep internal chasm that opened up when my family split apart.
Over the next 18 months, I moved out of home and read more about the marathon and beyond. I became more engrossed in the idea of myself as an ultrarunner. I embarked on a few more solo forays past 42k, but in order to truly immerse myself in the world of ultrarunning, I decided I had to race. I signed up for a 12-hour track event.
Those 12 hours hurt. Swapping between hurtling and waddling around the track, I felt an eye-opening, mind-blowing, soul-deepening pain. But that was balanced by a beautiful sense of camaraderie and belonging. I shared some great moments next to those other runners, moving around in circles, letting my soul unwind into the abyss.
At the end of twelve hours, it was a huge relief to stop and sit down. Completing the event was momentous: I’d run an official ultra, covered over 100km, and pushed myself harder than I’d ever imagined. But more importantly, I’d entrenched this new way of making sense of the world and my place in it.
I’d become an ultrarunner. And I’d found others – other people who affirmed this peculiar understanding of life. Now I revel in discomfort and suffering, put up with the early starts and push through the lack of sleep. I eat weird food, piss while on the move and love the wilderness. I’m part of a close-knit community. This pleasure, this freedom, this pain and this struggle have become my bedrock. I can do things that few others can, and I run.