About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Defending My Sanity

“You ran how far? You are crazy with a capital C.” “You run marathons? Definitely insane.” I hear these comments every time I’m asked or talk about my running. Humorist, Bob Schwartz even wrote a book titled, I Run, Therefore I Am-- Nuts. People are always amazed at how far ultramarathoners can run. Why are we deemed insane just because we take exercising to another level? I propose that those of us who run very long distances are not crazy and the reason is this --evolution. That’s right, Darwin’s theory.

If you lived thousands of years ago you would not think running long distances was odd. Man had to travel on foot to hunt and gather. Hunting often entailed chasing game for many hours to tire the animal before getting close enough to kill it with a spear. The hunters with the best endurance bagged the most game and therefore, had a better chance of passing on their genes.

These endurance running and hunting genes are still present in Homo sapiens. If you doubt me, just visit the hunting department in your local big box retail store. Even though we no longer need to hunt for food, the sport is exceedingly popular. In addition, marathon running is gaining in popularity as more people realize that they can “just do it”. According to runningusa.org, 467,000 runners finished a marathon in the US in 2009 and the ING NY City Marathon had the most finishers in the world at 43,660.

Primordial instincts are still engrained in our behavior. Why do we enjoy grilling outside when we have a perfectly good stove and oven in our kitchen? For the same reason that we like to get outdoors; into the forest with our tent, firewood, and marshmallows. The desire to get back to our primitive ways has not left our species yet. Our world has modernized so fast that many are not yet ready to let go of running, hunting, camping – living that nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle.

Back to my original question – are we crazy if we run long distances? If you lived several hundred years ago, you would not think that putting forth physical effort for 4-10 hours is that strange. Farmers were in the fields plowing, sowing, and harvesting from sun-up to sun-down. Hard, physical labor like running an ultramarathon. Our world has become so automated and our lives so easy compared to our ancestors’ that we have forgotten what our bodies are capable of.

Many of us, myself included, neglected our body’s need for regular exercise as youths. Then, when we got older, did not like what we saw in the mirror so said, “I’m going to start exercising.” Unlike prehistoric man who had strong knees, shins, and achilles from running every day, we had weak bones, cartilage, and muscles and experienced a lot of pain when we started our workout program. Many people have such a poor experience from running that they can’t understand how some of us can enjoy it so much.

When I started running over 20 years ago, I had shin and knee pain, but enjoyed being outdoors. I loathed gym workouts, but had to cross train until my bones, joints, and muscle became strong enough for me to run regularly. I slowly kept building my mileage until I could really enjoy long runs through the countryside. I never gave up.

I often hear, “I can’t run, I have shin splints.” Many people tell me they have “bad knees” and some do have legitimate medical conditions that prevent them from running. My belief is that many of us try a running program, but start out doing too much too soon. Unless you are a Tarahumara Indian who grew up as a kid running every day, you are going to have pain until your body strengthens. You must be patient, take it slowly, cross train, walk, and never give up. (My next post will address running and our knees.)

I enjoy running very long distances, but not on a treadmill, not on the same route every day, and not on a track or short loop. I vary my 5-7 mile route and have several longer routes of 15-20 miles that incorporate trails, mountains, and rural scenery. I could not run far if I ran the same course through my neighborhood daily. I also seek out organized runs on beautiful courses for motivation.

(We're just getting started on the Tahoe Rim Trail)

I will admit that running 100 miles is extreme and I don’t recommend it. Marathons and 50K trail runs are more manageable. However, are ultramarathoners really lunatics, or have humans become soft because of our modern, automated, convenient world?  To learn more about why we run, see my post, Why We Run. See you on the trail (even you with the shin splints).

More on why we run:
Why We Run Marathons, Money CNN
Why We Run Ultras, Steve Clark
The Evolution of Running in Humans: Why We Are Meant to Run, Peter Larson

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