"BURNING MAN READIES FOR ITS FIRST ULTRAMARATHON," the headline read on Wired.com.
Someone had shared it on social media. At the time I had no idea what the term FOMO (fear of missing out) was, but I became struck with an instant case during a break from the stage while acting for the Virginia City Players, a summer stock theater in a historic Montana gold rush town.
With plans to already attend the festival but barely clicking off ten mile weeks, my eyes widened as I read the article. It was August 10, 2010. The 50km race was just 22 days away. Though I was out of my element, the mystery and curiosity of running that far grew in me… I had to try it.
So severely undertrained and fueled on bar pizza from the Bale of Hay Saloon, I started cramming in long runs at night, doing loops up to "Boot Hill" and back after vaudeville performances instead of drinking beer with my castmates.
Three weeks later I showed up in the Nevada desert with no idea what I was doing, but equipped with a drive to finish something I wasn’t sure I could finish.
I started following blogs. One runner would mention another runner in their post, and I would then learn about that new runner, and so it went. I was becoming a fan of the sport. In 2011, I spectated my first race via Twitter during the Rocky Raccoon 100 and felt the thrill that families without TV's in the 1920's must have felt while huddled around the radio listening to baseball games, but this was even more primitive, relishing iRunFar's 140 word updates about the group of speedsters who showed up in Texas that day.
The next year I toed the same starting line at Rocky Raccoon for my first 100 miler. As luck would have it, the heavens opened up right before we began and an oppressive rainstorm pelted us for the first several hours of the race, turning the trails to a sloppy mess. It resulted in blisters covering the bottoms of both my feet and a painfully long 40 mile death march before finally crossing the finish line. When race director Joe Prusaitis handed me my coveted buckle, he jokingly added, “Now you just have to get yourself a belt.”
Since then my interests have steered toward mountain ultras, seeking out new races and trails, and getting to know a community of tough and gritty, yet friendly runners. But at the same time while living in New York City, I’ve been exposed to a very different road running scene filled with unique personalities and strong traditions. At races put on by the 40-year-old Broadway Ultra Society, I've had the pleasure of surrounding myself with old school runners who have been competing in road and track ultramarathons since the 1970's. Whether it’s trail or road, mountain or track, I’ve come to appreciate the merits of different types of racing.
Just as the people and events are wide ranging, so is the runner's experience during a race, from suffering through the low moments of a bonk, to the high exhilaration of receiving the finisher’s buckle. Ultrarunner’s encounter much in between, and during the struggle they open up to their fellow runners.
Bonk & Buckle is my chance to learn more about these runners and their stories. Just as I toed the starting line for the first time at new distances, I feel the same excitement and intrigue for what lies ahead on this journey.
John Budge is a writer and ultrarunner.