|Sometimes this is what a 'route' looks like. Photo by Nick Wilder|
The challenge presented by ultra-endurance events (UEEs) is kind of like going up and down Mt. Whitney in a day. Most people have never been to the summit (done anything like a UEE). Of those that have, the majority took a couple of days to make the 22-mile round-trip hike that ascends nearly 6000 feet (analogous to running a marathon). In the unlikely event you run across someone that did manage the car-to-car-in-a-day feat, I’ll give 100-1 odds that they took the trail. Therefore, in all likelihood, if you were to seek advice from this already rare individual on how best to approach this difficult challenge (a genuine UEE), they would assume that you’d be taking the trail too. They probably believe that there isn’t any other way. But they are wrong. There is.
In the context of this analogy, the “way” that I’m proposing might better be called a “route”. After all, while a trail can be followed, a route must be forged anew each time – heading cross-country over rough terrain at steep angles. It doesn’t offer company and is described by a few terse sentences rather than by an entire guidebook, when it is described at all. It is much, much tougher than a trail but also much, much shorter - a more or less direct line to the top. Considering their differences, there’s no wonder the trail – the high volume, traditional method of approaching a UEE – gets all the traffic. You can go online, buy the guidebook/training program and be told just what to expect and how to get ready in a handy day-by-day format. It calls for physical preparation over mental with little mention of the latter, and if you’ve got the time to follow it’s prescription, you’ll have a fair shot at reaching the goal.
The experience of following a route, however, is fundamentally different. In our Mt. Whitney analogy, the “route” tackles the steep East face directly, requiring deep proficiency in navigational and mountaineering skills. Similarly, the low volume route to UEE demands mental “skills” over any sort of physical conditioning. In fact, there are three in particular are crucial: knowledge of suffering, confidence, and will. Master these and the “trail” becomes nothing more than a suggested way to reach the summit. Yeah, you can still follow it (i.e. put in those big hours) and it will still get you to the top, but you now have the option to choose other routes as well - even ones that seem so crazy that most people can’t see them – like doing UEE on only two hours of training a week.