Last March while my boyfriend was away doing important Army things, I ran one of my first races of the year. I signed up for a half marathon about 20 minutes away from where his parents live, so I went to their house for dinner after I ran. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I said something about training for a 50-mile race and how I was hoping to sign up for a 100K in October.
Their biggest question was, “why?” Why would I want to run 50 miles in the middle of the woods in the summer heat? Aren’t marathons enough? Doesn’t it hurt? Why would I want to run 62 miles in the hills of Pennsylvania? I must be crazy.
Truth is, I hear that all the time. Whenever I hear get the “are you crazy? Why?” question, I usually just laugh and say, “because I want to,” or, “it’s fun for me.” These answers are true, but just like any aspect of small talk, not particularly meaningful. My real motivation for ultrarunning, my Why if you will, is something I’ve been missing and with my first 100 miler set for June, I better hurry up and find it
Last Sunday I downloaded an episode of Trail Runner Nation podcast that I’ve been meaning to listen to for a month and stuffed it in my pack before heading out. I had 20 miles planned and was running to the park to meet friends for some trail miles, then running back home. On my way back, I put my iPod on to listen to the podcast. It posed the question, “why do we run 100 mile races?” What are we getting into when we sign up for the race? What sacrifices do we make when we pay the money and sign up?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot since I made the decision to run a 100 and then paid the money to do it. Why do I want to run 100 miles in the middle of the summer heat? Why do I keep pushing myself through these exhausting training plans and challenging races? Why am I skipping nights out with my friends and going to bed early so I can run the next day?
One of the hosts of the podcast, who has run one 100-mile race said, “you better pack a ‘why’ in your fuel belt if you’re going to run a 100.” It’s what helps you get through the low points and keeps you going in the middle of the night. He said, ”without a why, there’s no reason to continue.”
On the surface, my answers are easy:
- I keep running farther because I have the talent and the endurance to do so. I may not be winning anything, but I’m faster than average and my spirit has only broken once out of the dozens and dozens of races I’ve run.
- I’m still young and healthy and can do this.
- I have no kids or husband to worry about sacrificing my time or relationship with them.
- It’s fun.
- I’ve made a ton of awesome friends doing this. (And I get to write for this awesome blog and get to know the other ladies of the spice rack too!)
All great, and pretty simple, reasons why. But new friends and not being ready to have children yet (sorry mom!) isn’t going to push me through the night hours or when I’m feeling tired and my spirit is wavering. There’s something else deep down that pushes me to do this and motivates me to get up every morning and run. Something else that I can put into my fuel belt to keep me going.
I finally realized it during my run while listening to that podcast, when one of the guests, Jimmy Dean Freeman, talked about what inspired him to run a 100. He introduced, the marathon man, Dean Karnazes at the Nike Women’s Marathon in 2005 and interviewed him before Dean spoke. He asked him why he runs ultras. Dean told him that there are three kinds of people in this world:
- The people who center their lives around seeking out comfort. They may still be hard workers, but are motivated by doing what they can in order to do less.
- The people who set big goals, then achieve them, then do the same thing over and over again, attempting to make it easier. Like many of us who run one marathon, then do it again and again, trying to BQ or run sub-4:00 or whatever.
- And then there’s those who go after a goal that’s like a rung on a ladder that’s completely and totally out of reach. Once they reach that rung, they become unrecognizable to himself or herself — the self that set that goal. And then they’re looking up at the sky to the next unreachable rung.
Hearing that is what finally made me realize what my deep-down “why?” is. The Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile race through the scorching Death Valley, is my unreachable goal. It’s something crazier than just taking on a 100 in the middle of nowhere Ohio. And non-runners (and even many runners) don’t understand that and that’s the reason why I do this. Badwater is the rung on my ladder that is totally out of reach and will take a few years of hard work and dedication to get there. Every race I run, every day I train, every medal and buckle I will earn is another step to that start line at Badwater Basin and I will carry those memories with me through the finish at Whitney Portal.
There’s a million reasons why we get up in the morning and log miles on the roads, trails, treadmills and tracks. It doesn’t matter what distance you run, what matters is why you do it and is that reason fulfilling your needs?
What’s your Why? Do you have a crazy unreachable goal that motivates you?