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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

What Do Running Ultramarathons and Painting On Canvas Have in Common?

Updated: Jan 18

Time on Your Feet, Endurance, and Patience

Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

I began running road races in 1989. It began with a 5K (3.1 mile) charity race. This lead to longer distances. In 2005, I ran my first ultramarathon — the JFK 50, a fifty-mile race. An ultramarathon is a race distance longer than the standard 26.2-mile marathon. These distances include 50K (31 miles), 50 miles, 100K (62 miles), 100 miles and beyond, multi-day races, and timed races (6-hr, 12-hr, 24-hr, 48-hr, and 72-hr).


I am now training for my thirty-fifth ultramarathon — a 12-hour race in August and my thirty-sixth ultramarathon — a 48-hr endurance race in October. Running ultramarathons, also called ultras, requires training, discipline, commitment, time on your feet, endurance, and patience. For me, training for and running ultramarathons is a meditative journey.


Another meditative experience that I have discovered is the process of painting and creating memories on canvas. I began painting acrylics two years ago.


Recently, I painted painting no. 50 — a memory of the spectacular sunrise that reinvigorated all the runners left on the track at about 5:30 in the morning with an hour and a half to the 7 am finish at the May 2023 Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24-hr track ultra at Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania.


I have painted memories of other ultramarathons. I paint while tapering before an upcoming

race or while recovering from a race.


Paintings of memories from four ultramarathons. Clockwise: Lake Waramaug 50, Burning River 50, Anchor Down 24-hr, Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24-hr track ultra

These 16"x20" paintings are memories from the 2016 Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug 50-mile ultra around Lake Waramaug in Connecticut, the 2018 Burning River 50-mile trail ultra in Ohio, the 2016 Anchor Down 24-hr ultra, where part of the course takes runners along Narragansett Bay and the stunning sunset in Colt State Park in Rhode Island, and the 2023 Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24-hr track ultra in Pennsylvania.


I learned to be a runner beginning at age twenty by just lacing up my shoes, heading out the door, putting one foot in front the other, and signing up for races. I read Runner’s World and Running Times magazine and running memoirs. I have never had a coach.


I learned to paint on my own. I became a self-taught painter at age sixty-two. I began playing with paint and creating memories of nature and hikes in national parks with my husband. Then I began painting memories of nature at my ultrarunning events.


I soon learned that painting is not unlike ultrarunning. Painting requires a lot of time on my feet. I spend two- to six-straight hours creating a painting from start to finish. My over thirty-five years of running prepared me to stand for hours in front of the easel. One of my strengths is endurance. Like ultrarunning, long hours of painting also require physical and mental endurance.

Sometimes my upper body gets a little sore from using different muscles while standing for so many hours. My mind gets a bit fatigued. But at the same time, I find the process relaxing as I listen to instrumental and easy listening music on my Spotify playlist.


I enjoy this creative exercise as I stand for hours while playing with paint to produce another imperfect painting. To quote Scottish painter Peter Doig:


“It’s not about perfection. What’s a perfect painting? What’s interesting about a perfect painting?”


With every brush stroke, I’m learning that painting is a beautiful and calming journey that permits the willingness to create pleasing imperfection. I’m still learning with every new canvas, every stroke of the brush, and intuition.


Along with time on my feet and endurance, painting also requires the patience that is necessary from start to finish. Painting is not a sprint; it’s another kind of marathon, and sometimes an ultramarathon.


I feel drained and exhausted, but finishing my creation is like crossing the finish line of a grueling ultramarathon. And at the finish line, joy awaits. Finishing a race or a painting is winning!


It takes determination to run an ultramarathon. It also takes determination and bravery to paint and to share one’s paintings. As Matisse once said,


“Creativity takes courage.”


In the process of taking the courage to create, paint, and share, I’ve discovered that painting is an autobiographical journey and a peaceful mediation. Ultrarunning is also an autobiographical journey and a calm meditation.


Painting and ultrarunning have a few things in common — time on your feet, endurance, and patience. They are both meditative experiences. And both don’t require perfection, only practice and growth.


Unless you take the first step, you’ll never know the possibilities. Don’t be afraid to take that first step in the many new adventures that life offers you and that you have not considered.

Go ahead. Lace up your shoes. Run your first ultramarathon or shorter distance. Go ahead. Get a canvas. Grab a few brushes. Play with paint. Create.


©2023


Read excerpts from, praise for, and listen to interviews about my memoir, Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times



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