Naz Hamid


The Long Start

Jan 11, 2024

I am awakened by the sound of people shuffling by our camp. When I look out the side past the flap of our rooftop tent, I can see what appears to be runners or hikers. I get out and wave at them. It's mid-May of 2022, and it's a glorious morning. Then it dawns on me; it's a trail running race, and most likely an ultra.

A white SUV with a rooftop tent and an awning extended sits in the middle of some low bush and desert grassland while mountains are seen in the background.

Ultramarathons, as they are formally known, encompass any foot race distance beyond the standard 26.2 miles. Typically, they are trail races, which means they take place off-pavement and on dirt.

Trail running, like running in general, has exploded in recent years. I attribute its growth to it being one of the more welcoming and easier sports to adopt: all you need to do is step outside your door (and not even that in some cases) and start moving at any pace faster than a walk. Yes, you should probably do this in a pair of running shoes, not work boots or heels, but to start, anything goes.

Jen and I have been running since April 2023, with a more significant jump in commitment two months later in June.

I've never really gotten along with running. When I was a young kid, I raced cross country in my late single digits (it was just part of the school curriculum, not a choice), and then as a teen, I participated in some track events, including the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay (again, high school requirements). Once I left high school, skateboarding became my primary physical activity and focus. I've been involved in cycling for a long time now, and racing cyclocross over 15 years ago reintroduced me to a bit of running. This discipline required me to shoulder or run with my bike at times during a race, and I would "practice" running then. But running had never stuck, until now.

I broke my elbow two years ago; one-third of my radial head came off and is floating in my arm. While I made a sporadic return to cycling, I realized in 2023 that it would never be the same in terms of body mechanics and comfort. Additionally, the safety of cyclists has deteriorated in this city, and because I have dependents, I became keenly sensitive to the risks involved. This has made me take to running for the first time, not like a fish to water, but like a new dance; at first, you stumble, but with practice, you find your rhythm and flow.

In July of last year, Jen and I decided, just two days before the event, to participate in the San Francisco Marathon. We weren't planning to tackle a full marathon right away, especially considering the city's challenging elevation and hilly course. Instead, we opted for the 10K race, which seemed reasonable and achievable for us. And we succeeded. We had an amazing time. While I had competed in cycling before, it was Jen's first experience at an event like this, and she was incredibly excited about the atmosphere, the overall feel, and the energetic vibe. Since then, we've been exploring longer-distance events.

But in the back of my mind, I recalled that morning waking up in Bishop. I felt inspired as I saw runners of all ages, races, and sizes. I realized that based on our location and the time it would take to see some of them again, we must have been on one of the longer routes. We were familiar with the route, as we had driven it in our off-road vehicle before.

A mountainous desert scene with dirt roads criss-crossing with mountains in the background and large boulder piles where rock climbers are exerting their sport. A few cars are scattered about.

Ultramarathons are typically found in these lengths: 50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers, and 100 miles. Among these, 100 miles tends to be the marquee length for well-known events like Western States, Leadville, Hardrock, and then there's the UTMB series in Europe.

However, there are also smaller, local, and regional events all over the world that combine a mix of enjoyment, breathtaking scenery, and personal accomplishment.

There's a parallel for me with gravel cycling, which used to be my primary type of biking and has experienced significant growth as well. While there's no denying that where there's popularity, there's a potential for profit, there are still events that maintain their grassroots essence. That morning ignited a desire in me to be a part of that community.

So, just last week, I started a 50K training program with the goal of finishing the Bishop Ultra this coming May, two years after that illuminating daybreak.

Let’s see how this goes.

A doubletrack wide dirt road meanders from the foreground into the distance with low desert shrubland on the sides. Trees are seen towards the back, with towering mountains.