Personal lessons from the road of an ultramarathon

As I close in on a big milestone birthday, I figured I’d celebrate by doing what I’m sure most people do — run my first 50K ultramarathon ...

As I close in on a big milestone birthday, I figured I’d celebrate by doing what I’m sure most people do — run my first 50K ultramarathon (31 miles — the age I would like to be turning). Actually, for most, this may sound like a miserable way to celebrate a birthday, but morning runs have been a way of life for me for at least a couple decades. Why stop now?

I’ve definitely learned a few lessons along the road.

Savor the moments. When training or preparing for anything, it’s easy to get caught up in the planning and all that goes into making something a success.

I’ve learned from running, work, life and ministry how important preparation is with doing something right. At the same time, it’s important to be in the moment and enjoy your surroundings — the sunrise, the fences, the empty fields and the fellow runners along the way.


There were plenty of opportunities to take some photos on the course. With so much tragedy and craziness in our world today, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the years the Lord has given me and didn’t want to lose the joy of the moment — especially early on with so many miles to cover. Challenges are always ahead.

Hills, wrong turns and a snake. No matter what you do and how much you plan, you’re going to hit unexpected pains, aches and obstacles along the way. There were definitely more hills than expected. And with ultramarathons, I learned, there also could be a wrong turn or two.

Unplanned moments

Shawn Hendricks celebrates completing his first ultramarathon with his family.

On these longer routes, the course isn’t always marked as well, which can occasionally lead to stopping to figure out where you need to go next. And during the last few miles, there was even a slithering friend crossing right in front of me — at a pretty slow pace. Unplanned moments can easily distract us, but we should keep the focus on the finish line.

Find your pack. Another unexpected moment of the run —  a definite bright spot — was meeting some nice people along the way. I ran with a group of runners who were friendly and easy to talk to. As we shared stories and encouraged each other, the time seemed to pass much more quickly. I’ve learned how important it is to have a good group of friends in life. My church men’s group that meets on Wednesday nights is key to encouragement and accountability. We all need a pack to help keep us on the trail and headed in the right direction. Ultimately, if we’re going to finish well, we need others.

Don’t give up

Finish strong. I admit the wheels were falling off near the end. The last few miles were slow going, but I wanted to finish well.

In the last mile, I did my best to pick up the pace as I neared the finish line. I could see it about a mile out, and I could see my family. That gave me a boost in my step. Whether in life or running, finishing strong is the most important part — but the pizza was pretty good too.

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith …” (Heb. 12:1–2).


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