From Ultra “High” to Ultramarathon

By Dennis Baloy, OTR/L, OTD/DOR, St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation, Fullerton, CA

It’s 5:05 a.m.

You’ve already hit the snooze button twice. You get up, fix your coffee and open your laptop. You check the assignment board and check patient projection and staff scheduling. You take a sip of your coffee. You open your email, read your email and reply accordingly. You take another sip of your coffee. You are now more awake and you’ve started planning your day.

You take a shower, brush your teeth, and wake up your kids and get them ready for school. You finish dressing up and you drop off your kids, and now you are on your way to work. By this time, you have already replied to five people (both coworkers and family members). You might have taken or made a phone call or two. By this time, you’ve probably browsed some daily news, greeted some friends on social media and read some inspiring quotes to start your long day. You are ready. Well, sort of. Still, you feel like there’s a lot of things not accomplished, but you come to work as prepared as you can be.

Then your eight-hour workday commences.

You are done with the day. You’ve tied up loose ends. Made a lot of people smile. You feel productive, though there’s a couple more pending items that you are left to do. You did your best, and there’s another day waiting to finish it all up. You get the job done and another one awaits. “I can do this,” you say to yourself.

On your way home, you pick up your kids, run errands, fix dinner and help them with their homework. You take them to shower, read them a book and you finally have a few more minutes (sometimes when you are lucky, an hour or so) for you and your spouse to spend.

Then 5:05 a.m. strikes, and it’s back to the daily grind.

If this routine sounds familiar, then we are all in the same boat. Truly, we are creatures of habit, bound to do things over and over again. And it’s all good! After all, we try to manage our time in the best possible way, expecting the best possible productive result.

So where did my running affair start?

I am an average joe. I hated running and could barely run a mile. My knees would start hurting, and it just didn’t feel right. I know as a therapist, there are countless full-body workouts I can do to achieve the physical fitness that I want. But one thing I know about myself is I am always up for the challenge — physically and mentally. There is an inner adventurer in me wanting to experience life to its fullest. I love sunshine, the oceans and the outdoors. I can be a very laid-back person, yet I can switch it on to be a very competitive one.

So why do I run, and why run an ultramarathon?

  1. The ultra “high”: Studies have shown that running and other physical activities release endorphins and decrease cortisol levels. Running definitely has a positive effect not only on your body, but also in your mind. A good run will leave me a clear mind and calmer self. Every time after I run, I come home a completely different person — more positive, understanding and caring. It’s definitely a mood changer. The lasting effects are definitely noticeable by your family, friends, coworkers and loved ones.
  2. Empowering, develops resilience (and humility!): The feeling of accomplishing a goal, whether it’s buying a new pair of shoes, having your kid graduate from school, cooking a new dish, learning a new language or perhaps running your first 5K, will leave you feeling like a champion. There is no better satisfaction knowing you are able to accomplish the personal goals you’ve set. Conquering distances, facing hardships and dealing with pain during runs translate to life in general. Knowing you can push through these obstacles allows you to do the same in life. Not all runs you will finish, and not all life’s struggles you can face, thus running is also a very humbling experience.
  3. Happily disconnected: It’s rare that we get disconnected in this technological world that we live in. We are always on our laptops, phones and TVs— so much so that being “disconnected” is a blessing. It is also by all means a choice. Being outdoors, may it be with or without music, and running give you this wonderful experience of being one with the world. It’s a religious experience that connects you and everything else that you see, feel and hear (the sights of nature, the sounds of wildlife and the drizzle of rain). It’s equally soothing, stress-relieving and euphoric.
  4. You vs. you: As competitive as I can be (most of my close family and friends can attest to this <insert emoji of choice here>), I always believe in the Ironman mantra, “You vs. You.” Oftentimes you want to go faster, you want to go longer and you want to be the athlete you idolize. In the end, you are always reminded that the best part about this journey is just to be a better version of yourself. You want to be stronger, wiser and better than you were yesterday. This is more than enough.
  5. Community: Lastly, running brings people together. Runners are such happy people in general. You all undergo the same painful yet satisfying experience. The community of runners helps each other finish their goals. There were numerous times when a running buddy helped and carried me ‘til I finished, and I’ve done the same — motivating and physically assisting them to the end. No wonder there are tons of running charities out there that aim to bring awareness of all different sorts (health, socio-civic, for-a-cause, running-tributes, etc). You get the above benefits, but more importantly, you are helping make this world a better place to live in. How cool is that?

My Journey kicked off way in 2017. I started with the Angels Stadium 5K, then completed all the Spartan Races, the 70.3 Ironman in Arizona last year and recently the 50K ultramarathon. I hope this story resonates with all runners or non-runners. We can all break our routine and try out this spiritual experience that not only yields physical gains, but also emotional, mental and psychosocial benefits.

….and before you know it, it’s 5:05 a.m.

Are you ready to lace up?