‘I connect to the pain’: Finding a second chance in ultrarunning

Ashleigh Adams spent years unable to face the world sober. Now the 35-year-old is testing her limits in the Comrades, an infamous South African race more than two marathons long.

Johannesburg, South Africa – Eight days before her first ultramarathon, South Africa’s infamous 87km (54-mile) Comrades, Ashleigh Adams is on stage at a party for her running club, reciting her poem about how she got here.

“I am trying to give myself a second chance,” the 35-year-old says, leaning towards the microphone in front of her.

“My shoes have holes, yet I put my hope there,” she says, her voice smooth and deep. “The direction of my run is in my veins.”

Four years ago, this kind of second chance felt impossible.

Back then, Adams’s life had fallen into a deep rut. During the day, she sat on a velvety armchair inside a bookstore in one of Johannesburg’s most opulent shopping malls and devoured stacks of self-help books.

There was Who Moved My Cheese?The One Minute Manager and Awaken the Giant Within. She studied the secrets of an endless fount of Tibetan monks, daytime TV hosts, and Fortune 500 CEOs with straight, blinding white teeth.

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