Why I Run
***Originally published on Facebook on May 6, 2016***
Today, I am running 100 kilometers. In a single day. The Miwok 100K trail race.
A friend asked me why. Why run 62 miles? At all? EVER? The incredulity behind her question was poorly masked.
Last week, I went to my doctor to check out a niggling injury and she called me an extreme athlete. I’m not sure how she meant it; I was both flattered and a little offended.
But I get it. Running extreme distances is, extreme. So why do it? Why?
As race day has drawn ever closer over the past few weeks, I’ve thought on this question more and more.
For your consideration….
First Reason I Run
Ultra races do not suffer from sexism or ageism.
The average age of a professional athlete (across all sports) is 26. The ages of the top ten finishers of the Miwok 100K last year ranged from 23 to 60 with an average age of 40. No one blinks when a 45-year-old mother of two beats the 21-year-old college all-star in a 100 kilometer race.
So many variables get thrown at you on race day that simply being young and strong will not necessarily bring you to the finish line. Mental strength (think wisdom, patience, endurance and perseverance) matter far, far more that physical strength.
Second Reason I Run
A race of this distance mandates community support. You probably thought of aid stations immediately. That is a part and I am forever grateful to the tireless volunteers who mark trails, stock the Golden Corral’s of the wilderness, and offer small words of outsized encouragement.
Then there is your crew, which for me is my wife. She will spend the day driving hours all over the Marin Headlands to see me for two minutes to swap out gear and refill nutrition before heading to the next check point. Tireless and thankless, but I would not cross the finish line without her help and the prior months of support her presence represents.
There is also is the unlooked for community. A few weeks back, I was deep into a long run—tired and sluggish. As I passed a guy running the opposite direction, he put out his hand and slapped me a big high-five. No words, just a smile and a high five. it was a small action requiring almost no effort on his part, but one that granted me new energy and a silly smile on my face for miles and miles due to his simple act of humanity and kindness.
In a recent race, I passed a runner sitting on the edge of the trail with another runner who was suffering from heat exhaustion. The former had set aside his own race to be a brother to someone in need. In the same race, I chased down a runner who turned down the wrong trail (before I realized he was just a dude running, not a part of the race. Sorry bro!).
While relatively insignificant in the context of life, these little interactions highlight the importance and ongoing impact when I inconvenience myself in order to serve a brother or sister in my community.
Third Reason I Run
Running means time outside. Unplugged. Life in SF can be draining. Some days I love The City. Other days, not so much. Life in the tech world can be equally, if not more, draining. Constant connectedness brings a busyness and freneticism to my mind that only the untethered wilderness can quiet.
A few hours slogging up single track or down quad-crushing fire roads brings peace to my mind (if not pain to my legs), drawing my eyes upward away from myself. There is little else that displays the awesomeness of this world than watching the sunrise from a high ridge line in the Headlands, the fog burning off over San Francisco and nothing but an occasional deer, coyote or jack rabbit around.
There is quiet there amidst a noisy life. There is beauty and peace.
Fourth Reason I Run
I may fail.
Many months of training culminate with this race, from scheduling workouts and long runs around work travel and family get-togethers to struggling through injuries and a constant internal monologue of you.cannot.do.this.
I am as ready as I will be. But if I am honest, I am afraid that I will fail. I am stepping into uncharted waters and it is impossible to foreknow the challenges my body or mind will have to endure. The only way to know is to step into the crucible.
Failing to finish would be crushing.
And that is kind of the point. The world is not a safe place. I cannot protect my children from danger. But I can prepare them for it, and teach them that fears should be faced, not run from and failure does not define their identity.
I want my kids to see me struggle — to get up before dawn for long runs, to fight through frustrating injuries, to skip dessert when I really want it (one of the greater challenges in their little lives, and mine).
Simple, yet profound little disciplines of self control and perseverance.
(A short aside — a grand race like this is easier for them to understand than, say, my job. In their minds, my work consists mainly of eating snacks and playing on the computer. So, very hard to fail at that.)
I want to experience the joy of finishing this race. I deeply want that. But much more, I want my children to see that if I struggle and fight and fall, I will get back up again.
(Do you hear that? Faintly, somewhere in 1997, I hear Chumbawumba playing on some forgotten radio).
So why am I running this insane race? This is why —
An ultra-marathon compresses all of life into a single day — planning and preparation and perseverance, hope and despair, joy and depression, power and pain and (hopefully), finishing well.
This is why I run.