(I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Running Blogs.)Why do we do it? I get asked this question all the time. Why run 26.2, 50, or 100 miles? In a row? Do you ever walk? Eat? Bathroom? Let’s just try to answer why we do it.
You may think that since I run ultramarathon trail races that I am some kind of health nut or that I’m super athletic and really in shape. No, I’ve never won a race in my life, but I did come in fifth place in my age group in the Big Bend 50K in 2006. I was also last. No, I’m not a health nut either. I do not only eat plain tuna, brown rice, and acai berries. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan and do not frequent the gym for cardio, strength training, or yoga although I should.
I loathe the gym. Fitness centers make me feel claustrophobic and I don’t enjoy the treadmill at all. I will occasionally go when I oversleep and don’t get around to running until the summer temp reaches 100. Although, I usually just see this predicament as a prime opportunity for some heat training. After all, I have been living in South and West Texas for the last 6 years. I understand heat.
Let’s get back to why I do it. George Mallory answered, “Because it’s there…” when asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest in 1924. I guess I could say that is why I want to run a 100 mile trail run this summer. The way I see it, many ultramarathon finishers are just like me. Non elite, middle aged guys (and gals) who aren’t fast anymore (some of us never were), but want to see what they are made of. The draw of ascertaining if I have what it takes to finish is too great. There is only one way to find out if it is possible to complete a certain distance. Just do it.
Bernd Heinrich, professor emeritus, bestselling author, artist, zoologist and 100K champion, wrote a book entitled Why We Run: A Natural History. He explains how the human body is built to run long distances. After all, for eons homo sapians were chasing antelope for miles into box canyons in order to get a decent meal. The author also compares us to other long distance athletes like the monarch butterfly, camels, dogs, birds, etc. He learns from the animal kingdom and experiments to discover what secrets will help him win the 100K championship in 1981. Dr Heinrich was recently inducted into the American Ultrarunning Association's Hall of Fame for setting a world masters record and new absolute Open U.S. record which stood for 14 years.
The main reason I run long distances is because I love the outdoors; the scenery, wildlife, flora, nature. In his book, Heinrich quotes Robin Williams as saying, “I love running cross country…You come up a hill and see two deer going, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?’ On a track I feel like a hamster.” Trail running is much like hiking; I just go faster. I walk the really steep uphill sections and run the flat and downhills. I get lost in my thoughts and feel better afterwards although sometimes pay for it the next day. I love organized races because I don’t have to carry all my food and fluids. An aid station every 6-9 miles enables me to go longer with ease. I can cover the same distance in a day that would take a backpacker 4-6 days.
There are many reasons to run a marathon or beyond, but really all you need is some aerobic activity 4-5 days a week. Maybe a 5K is long enough for you, but just remember that the half-marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 100K, and 100 mile events “are there.” See you on the trail.
Me after running 100K in the Texas Hill Country.