Ultrarunning for Normal People

On The Trail with “Wild Attention” : Sid Garza-Hillman’s New Book “Ultrarunning for Normal People” Speaks to Life Lessons in Every Step | By Kim Fuller

Last Updated: July 9, 2024By

Some may think of ultrarunning as on the “extreme” end of the running spectrum. Defined as a footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles, ultra distances are generally perceived as long, and as Sid Garza-Hillman discusses in his book,these efforts or events may not attract “normal” people. At least that’s what Garza-Hillman was thinking as stepped up to the starting line of his first 50-kilometer ultra (about 31 miles).

Garza-Hillman runs the wellness center at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino, California. He moved to the area from Los Angeles after working as a full-time actor and musician. Now as a nutritionist, running coach, breathwork coach and trail runner, every angle of his life is connected to sharing a message of health and happiness.

Fast forward from his first ultramarathon and Garza-Hillman now has many miles of experience, with 10 ultras finished, along with an enlightened perspective he wants to share: “If I can do it, anybody can do it, and that’s absolutely true.”

Garza-Hillman argues that the entry point to the sport is a lot more accessible than most people think. Now as the race director of the Mendocino Coast 50k in California, Garza-Hillman says he sees age ranges from 17-75 show up to run.

sid garza-hilman

Photos courtesy of Sid Garza-Hilman.

“First of all, I’m not an elite runner,” he shares. “I never have been and I’m actually not a particularly good runner, but the book is about what an ultra can bring as a balance to the direction that most people are experiencing in their everyday lives.”

The book Ultrarunning for Normal People has two main focuses: trail running and being out in nature with what Garza-Hillman calls “wild attention,” and the state of which an ultra brings a person to, which is “being raw.”

“It is an experience that you cannot communicate until you’ve done it, which is to bring yourself to a place where you are broken down in a way that you shed all the chatter and the stuff that inhabits in our self criticism,” he explains. “Again, I’m not a fast runner and I’m not trying to win these races; I want to finish these races. And there is that aspect, which is as relevant to me as the trail, which is taking yourself to that level.”

Garza-Hillman encourages a full immersion of the experience, which means no headphones, music or podcasts, and even sport watches can be a digital distraction.

“The idea is, as a course correction to the tech direction of the world, social media, news, everything, we can get on a trail and disconnect, to just be,” he says. “Not to look for things to post, but to look at things, to give wild attention. When you’re on a trail, you can’t really zone out because you’ll fall; the terrain dictates your pacing, the terrain dictates your attention — you are present because you’re in connection with the natural world.”

The first lesson in the book is “to move through fear.” Garza-Hillman says that we’re so afraid of failure that we just don’t try, and then we don’t have to try.

“I think part of well-being is a personal strength, it’s a toughness,” he says, “that as we get softer in the modern world, we don’t expect things of ourselves because we don’t have to, and then we lose out on that experience of that it feels like to be alive.”

The book closes with the theme of courage — what it takes “to test our mettle.”

“Are you going to test yourself in this world where you don’t have to be tested in most cases, at least not in the modern world, developed country? What does that experience bring you when you put your ass on the line?” Garza-Hillman asks. “I think there is a strength in every human being. We are so much tougher than we’re led to believe, and ultrarunning is about finding that inner strength — it’s there. It’s kind of the ultimate adventure, and it’s for regular people. It’s actually more doable than people think.”



Originally published in Summer + Fall 2024 issue of Well.

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