People don't become runners. They're born runners.
Running has been a part of my life for 25 years--as a cross-country kid, to stay in shape for football during high school, to (try to) lose some beer pounds in college, to (try to) shed some post-college weight (which was more the result of a poor diet than lack of exercise), and now to test my limits, provide enjoyment, build friendships and strengthen my faith.
Yiannis Kouros (above) was born to run. He's made a life of going long...and setting almost every ultrarunning record there is.
As far back as 17 or 18 years of age, I felt the urge to "go long." I pondered running the 20K Elby's Big Boy Classic (now known as the Ogden Newspapers 20K Classic) in my then-hometown of Wheeling, WV. I also pondered running a marathon. I just didn't know how to do it, or even if I could do it.
But then in 2003 I met a friend in Indiana who introduced me to the world of distance running. I finished the Ogden 20K (1:32) in the spring of 2004 and then joined the Wabash River Runner's Club. A few months later, I completed my first marathon, a 3:22 at the 2004 Columbus, and a race later qualified for Boston. These events, which unalterably changed the course of my life, confirmed my natural identity as a distance runner.
The weight I'd struggled to lose began to melt away as my mileage increased, my diet dramatically improved and my happiness sored. Today, I'm 47 lbs. lighter, so much happier, stronger in my faith, and many friends richer than I was before finally tapping into my love of distance running. Running has been good to me.
Those who weren't born with the innate desire to run don't understand why people would choose to spend inordinate amounts of time engaging in an activity many associate with punishment. In high school, my football coach made us run as punishment. This never deterred me. It was the running I most liked--including punishment running. I ran the third or fourth fastest mile on a team of more than 70.
For runners, running is far from punishment; it's fun and fulfilling. It's just what we do. The health benefits are merely happy byproducts of our passion. If running were unhealthy, we'd probably still do it.
Go to any race in the country and you'll quickly realize that runners possess many of the same qualities and find community amongst one another. Strangers quickly become friends because we're all runners. We talk the same language and we value many of the same things. You can say "BQ," "PR," "Boston," "fartleks," "bonk," etc. and the runners around you will know what you mean.
While runners share many of the same qualities, there are some unique groups of runners, namely ultrarunners. Ultrarunners tend to be more into the metaphysical experience of going super long--the suffering and and self-transcendence of it all. Having run two 100s, I have experienced the separation of the physical and mental states--which Yiannis Kouros (pictured above) has eloquently explained. This is when your mind and soul separate from your body, which is suffering badly, and you find the strength within the deepest realms of yourself to keep going. If you can't find these realms yourself--realms few would dare venture--the physical suffering will become too much to handle and finishing a 100 will be next to impossible. To those who have no desire to separate their mental and physical states, ultrarunning is nothing more than insane, extreme and a freak show of sorts.
I've often found that people want to know why a runner would go 50, 100 or more miles at a time. They think a runner who will go that long must have some demons/issues they're dealing with--as if we're the Unabomber in trail shoes. We all have demons but, honestly, I like to go long because it's challenging, transcendent, fulfilling and a great way to create and strengthen friendships. I've also found redemption in running; I've lived with a lot of regret for quitting my high school cross-country team in 1987 (the theme of my just-out Marathon & Beyond story).
To the runner, a life without running is a life out of balance. This is why runners experience so much distress during an injury. Their life is out of balance.
Finally, just because many runners go long on Sunday mornings doesn't mean they lack religion. Far from it. Many runners I know are deeply spiritual. This is apparent in their words, deeds and running. For me, I couldn't run 100 miles unless I believed deeply in God, possessed strong faith and knew in my heart there is an afterlife. During a race and at other times when I'm experiencing a challenge, I have too often felt the presence of something far greater than myself for me not to be convinced there is a God. If running allows me to be close to God and do good works, it has to be healthy.
For the runner, running isn't a choice. It's the life they were meant to live. To each, his or her own.