“I won’t quit now. I’ll quit later.”
It’s become a sort of silent mantra for my partner, Beat, who runs thirty-mile-plus ultramarathons more often than many people visit a gym. When rain falls in hard sheets, lightning streaks across the sky, muscles quiver and mountains loom like an impenetrable wall, endurance runners must dig into the depths of willpower to summon forward motion. Usually they vow not to stop, no matter what. Beat does just the opposite. He acknowledges his aching feet and tired legs, and promises them he’ll quit — later. It seems counterintuitive, but by resolving to quit, he releases himself from the external pressure of far-away goals so he can more naturally slip into the internal rhythm of the moment — marching through rain and climbing mountains, one step at a time. The delayed promise of relief continues to linger just over the horizon, just a few steps farther, until he reaches the finish. And by then, it’s too late. His quitting time is overdue — he’s half past done.
For several years now, I’ve wanted to start a news and commentary blog about that unique blend of outdoor-adventure-expedition-competition-passion that, for lack of a better phrase, we call ultra-endurance sports. Although online resources are expanding, it’s still tough to find good coverage in this little corner of Sports and Recreation journalism. Most events are either completely ignored by the media, or lumped into gee-whiz reports that are fluffed with hyperbole (“The World’s Most Extreme Fill-in-the-Blank.”)
And yet, despite the sometimes eye-rolling publicity, ultra-endurance sports are expanding. Ultramarathons that once hosted a handful of participants are now holding lotteries to sort through thousands of applications. “Ultra-bikepacking,” or multi-day, self-supported mountain bike racing, didn’t even officially exist a decade ago. But now, thanks to the efforts of a few passionate individuals, “bikepacking” now describes multiple events around the world. Endurance-focused expeditions also are taking off — fast-packing, self-supported stage racing, wilderness classics, packrafting, and innovative polar explorations are among the concepts being penciled in to more calendars. Ultra-endurance sports aren’t just the sanctuaries of a few kooky individuals anymore — they’re a community of many thousands.
Why is that? Of course there are a lot of factors that attract people to ultra-endurance endeavors, but the main reason is because they’re interesting. The community is a rich vein of compelling stories, quirky personalities, amazing feats, intriguing possibilities, humor, introspection, and inspiration. Like any difficult endeavor, these sports can also be a source of tragedy and failure. But the ultra-endurance community persists and grows because they perform on a stage that reflects life itself — charged with all of the energy, emotions, challenges, turmoil, lessons, and rewards that life provides.
There are so many stories to tell, and I decided it was time to start that endeavor I’ve been wanting to embark on for years — to tell these stories. In addition to news about distance running, trekking, and bikepacking events, this site will also feature gear analysis, book reviews, do-it-yourself projects, a “Mark Your Calendar” column for exciting new events, profiles, interviews, and commentary. While chatting with Beat about what I could call such a publication, he jokingly brought up “Half Past Done” as a reference to the plight of battered individuals who exhaust their reserves before they reach their goal. They’re already well-cooked, yet still far from finished. But that’s just it — they’re not done yet. That relentless drive in the face of something impossible is what ultra-endurance is all about.
And if publishing compelling journalism about this niche but intriguing community proves to be too difficult, I’ll just quit. Later.
— Jill Homer, editor of Half Past Done