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Five Lessons Learned While Training for My First Ultramarathon

By Chris Rohrbach

This past September I competed in the Cascade Super Ultra 50K, my first ultramarathon. To preface my story, I don’t really consider myself a runner—I had never competed in a half marathon, or 5 or 10K for that matter—and prior to this race, a 3-mile jog around the neighborhood seemed like a “long” run in my book. The longest nonstop run I had ever completed was probably in the 7-mile range. That being said, throughout my life I have always been involved in sports and consider myself ultracompetitive, and always up for a challenge. This was definitely a new challenge I was ready to face.

When I signed up for this race in May of 2019, I wanted to make sure I finished, and I also wanted to push myself to the limit, both physically and mentally. Ultimately, I finished the race in 4:46:51.4—well under my goal of below 5 hours, and good enough to place 9th overall and 4th for my age group. I am not saying all of this to brag or boast, but hopefully to help illustrate and highlight some of the most important aspects I learned from this challenging experience.

Distance running is a mental and physical grind, and when you are out on the trail there are many unknowns that can hinder your results or limit you from finishing altogether. Yet as I lost myself in the experience and took in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Cascade Mountains around me, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the entire experience.

Here are five life lessons that I learned while training for and completing my first ultra-marathon.

1. There is no substitution for hard work and preparation.

At Hughes Marino we talk about hard work a lot. I have always been a hard worker, yet as I have grown both personally and professionally, I have come to realize that hard work alone is not enough. You must have consistency to really make an impact. When I decided to sign up for this race, I had no idea what I was doing. I immediately started reading blogs, ordering gear and researching training programs. I ultimately decided to use an online 16-week training program and committed to sticking to it, only missing 2 run days during the entire program. Looking back, I wish I would have done a little more cross-training, especially low-impact activities like swimming, biking and yoga, but that’s another lesson in itself. There is no way I would have achieved the results that I did if I didn’t stick to that program and get after it every day. It would not have been enough to only run hard on the weekends or skip a mobility routine. I think life works the same way in many instances. Hard work and consistency will outperform natural talent that doesn’t work hard or isn’t consistent. Our Chairman & CEO Jason Hughes reminds us of the importance of bringing it every single day. One of his favorite quotes is, “Success is not an entitlement. You have to earn it every day.” by Howard Schultz. What are some areas of your life that you could be more consistent in or work a little harder at? I think we all have room for improvement, and running this race helped me realize that there is no substitution for hard work and diligent preparation.

2. The Goggins Theory.

David Goggins is an inspirational icon among many Hughes Marino teammates. I was first introduced to Goggins by Jesse Itzler who was a guest speaker at our all-team anniversary meeting in February of 2019. Something I like to refer to as “The “Goggins” Theory” is when you think you are finished; you are really only about 40% of the way there. David is notorious for saying this. Another way to put this is that we are all capable of so much more than we think. Our minds will try and trick our bodies into giving up at the first sign of difficulty. The beauty is what comes when you push through those barriers and keep going despite your own doubts, fears or discomfort. There is something magical about achieving your “second wind.” Unfortunately, in exercise—and in life—most of us never push ourselves enough to find our second wind. For those of you not familiar with David Goggins, he grew up in a very tough home and was consistently underachieving until one day he decided to change and ultimately became a Navy SEAL and one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time. I learned this lesson very quickly during my training. Before I knew it, I was running 30+ miles over the course of a weekend and a total of 50+ miles a week. The crazy thing about it was that it started to get easier and almost became “normal.” When I would be on one of those long training runs, it wasn’t my body that wanted to quit—it was my mind. I needed to learn how to push through those obstacles and teach my body that I was not going to quit. Jesse Itzler refers to this as teaching your body and mind that this is your “new normal.” I think this also applies to many other aspects in life. Have you ever given up on something only to look back and regret it later? Or worse, realize you were one small step away from your goal? I think we all have, and I bet if you would have kept pushing you would be surprised at what you are capable of. Don’t quit, you are only 40% to your true potential. It was once said, “Your mind will quit a thousand times before your body will. Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

3. Mind over matter.

This lesson was never more evident than during this grueling 16 weeks of training. There were so many days that I wanted to just take it easy or not go for that 4-mile training run after a long day at the office and spending some time with my kids prior to putting them to bed. Every time it was my mind—not my body—that was telling me to take it easy. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” Having an unwavering belief in yourself and what you are doing will push you to places you never thought possible. The mind is a tricky thing and it gets comfortable with the status quo easily. Case in point: once I crossed the finish line and stopped running, my body almost instantaneously broke down. Within a minute or two of not running I tightened up and could barely walk. However, upon further evaluation, I think I could have kept going for another 10 miles or so if I needed to and was mentally prepared to do so. Yet as soon as I stopped, my mind signaled everything else to relax. The lactic acid set in and soreness took over. Something interesting happens when you think you are supposed to be done and you’re not. I was using my run app to track my distance. For the first 30+ miles I didn’t stop once—not even to walk for a second. Yet, when my watch told me I had reached 50K and had yet to cross the finish line—or for that matter see the markers that were supposed to indicate I was getting close—I stopped. I didn’t stop for long, but I stopped, and I walked. Let me tell you, this made it that much harder to start running again. The funny thing is, if my watch told me I was only at mile 25 I don’t think I would have stopped at that point. This was such a huge confirmation of the power of the mind. Don’t let your own personal boundaries or distance trackers limit your potential. Remember, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.”

4. Enjoy the journey.

At Hughes Marino we live by our Core Values. One of my favorites is to “enjoy the journey.” I love this because it is a daily reminder to enjoy life. This is not to say there won’t be adversity along the way. However, if you can stay positive and look for the good in everything, it makes life so much more enjoyable. Remember, this was my first race of any kind. To say I was a rookie is an understatement. Thus, when my headphones died at the 3-hour mark, I was left with nothing but my own thoughts and another hour and forty-five minutes of nonstop running ahead of me. As I look back now, that last part of the race was the most enjoyable. Maybe because I was forced to be more in the moment and take in the truly beautiful scenery around me. From the snow-capped peaks, to the glacier creeks, it truly was a beautiful course. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life and to let seemingly little bumps along the way ruin our day, week, or even our year. Take a minute every day to just enjoy the journey and express gratitude for all of the good things in your life. When my headphones died, I could have freaked out and used that as an excuse to quit or to slow down or even stop—but it was my commitment to enjoy the journey that kept me moving forward.

5. You will never regret pushing yourself to the limit and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Author Roy T. Bennett is famous for once saying, “You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Think back to meaningful moments in your life. Did they come from doing the same things you were always accustomed to do, or did they manifest from taking a chance, pushing yourself to go further, daring to be different, etc.? Training for and completing this race was one of the hardest mental and physical challenges I have ever done, yet I wouldn’t trade the experience and lessons I learned for anything. Regret is something we all have, yet by taking more risks and stepping outside of our comfort zone, more often we can limit regret and truly enjoy life. Another one of my favorite Hughes Marino Core Values is to “Pursue growth and learning.” We must be willing to expand our beliefs and experience new things to achieve this value. It was my introduction to Jesse Itzler and the encouragement of my teammate Owen Rice that first inspired me to get into ultra-running.

Ultra-running is not for everyone, and I get that. Heck, immediately after my race I said I didn’t think I would ever do another one. Yet, I recently signed up for a 50-mile race in July of 2020—wish me luck! If I had not stepped outside of my comfort zone, committed to an intense training schedule and competed in the Cascade Super Ultra, I would not be the person I am today. That is not to say I am that much different, but I have grown as a person and learned a few things along the way. I hope these life lessons will inspire you to do that one thing you have been putting off that could be the key to unlocking your true potential.

Onward!

Chris Rohrbach is a vice president at Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company with offices across the nation. Contact Chris at 1-844-662-6635 or chris@hughesmarino.com to learn more.



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