How Running Ultramarathons Changed My Life

Meet Rebecca Barber, 17-time ultramarathon runner and all around badass.

Rebecca Barber, running with her signature braided pigtails.

Rebecca Barber, running with her signature braided pigtails.

I’ve run 5Ks before, a few Broad Streets, and even a handful of half marathons, but I’ve never approached anything close to the mileage local ultramarathoner Rebecca Barber logs on, say, a rainy Tuesday.

She’s the founder of the Rocky 50K Fat Ass Run and a 17-time ultramarathoner and, man, let me tell you, this gal has stories. In fact, one of her stories, about what it was like completing a 100-mile trail race earlier this year in Florida, is what prompted me to invite her to speak at this year’s Be Well Philly Boot Camp, coming up on June 4th. Her topic? How running crazy-long distances has challenged her and changed her life in some pretty radical and unexpected ways.

Below, I chatted with Rebecca about some of what she’ll share at her Boot Camp session to give you a taste of the awesomeness she has planned. But you can hear her speak and pick her brain at the 10:30 a.m. session in our Speakers’ Lounge. Check out the full lineup of Boot Camp fun here, and snag a ticket while you still can

What the heck is an ultramarathon, anyway? Sounds pretty badass. 

An ultramarathon is any race distance that’s over the traditional marathon distance of 26.2. Races are broken up into two categories: time-based and distance-based. In the former, there is a set time you have to run, and you run and/or walk (usually a combo of the two!) as many miles as you can. In the latter, there is a set distance to cover with a time limit to do so. The shortest distance-based ultra is usually a 50k (31 miles), with races going up from there.

What do you love about running, and ultramarathons specifically? 

I love so many things about running and ultramarathons, but mostly, I love the opportunity to challenge myself mentally and physically, as well as the amazing community that I get to be part of. My mom is an amazing supporter and comes to most of my races. After one of my ultras, she said, “I still don’t really understand how you do this, but after meeting everyone here at these races, I get why.”

How did you make the leap — physically, mentally — from running long distances to running even longer distances? 

For me, I slowly eased into the distances. I was a runner for most of my life and then ran my first marathon at 19. A few years later, an ultra didn’t seem allllll that much crazier, so I did some timed ultras. Years went by before my first 100-miler, but I know I only was able to attempt it because I didn’t go from running a few miles to the 100-miler. Once you ease into it, your brain and body has a better shot of comprehending why you are doing it!

I don’t really consider myself a “runner.” I only jog a couple times a week for a mile or so at a time. So your Boot Camp session isn’t for me … right? 

While not everyone will do an ultra in their lifetime, I know the lessons I’ve learned from running them can apply to anyone who runs or exercises! I won’t give them away because you’ll need to come hear me talk about it {*shameless plug*}, but anyone who runs or exercises should be able to take something away from my session.

I hear you’ve gone to Boot Camp before as an attendee, and now you’re a speaker — cool! Mind if I ask what you love so much about it?

Oh man, the Boot Camp is like my perfect day. I get to eat a yummy breakfast, workout for hours on end, eat a healthy lunch, keep working out, visit booths of local vendors who are health and fitness focused, and hear awesome talks. I was really bummed to miss it last year, but hey, I guess getting married that day was pretty okay, too. :)

What do you hope people come away from your session with at Boot Camp? 

I hope that people will find us ultra runners a bit less crazy! But more importantly, I hope that people learn that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone physically and mentally can lead to some amazing life lessons outside of those moments.

Like what you’re reading? Experience Be Well Philly live at Be Well Philly Boot Camp fitness fest on June 4th!