Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why I Run

As a regular reader of GZ’s blog, I admit that some of his recent posts have caused me to think in depth about my life as a runner, my motivations and, simply put, why I do what I do. Runners—especially ultrarunners—have a lot in common. Go to just about any race in the US and you’ll see a bunch of like-minded people all getting along pretty splendidly. Most runners run with a goal of finishing. Others have their own unique goals, such as celebrating life, raising money for a charitable cause, setting a new PR, qualifying for an event (e.g., Boston, Western States, etc.) or competing. Whatever the motivation, it’s not unusual for us runners to gather after a race, with beers in hand, and tell war stories while howling at the moon.

I can say with certainty that I run because it’s what I love to do. The desire to run is innate to my being. I’m sure it’s the same way with artists (which I was as a child), musicians, writers (which I am) and the like. If running weren’t in my blood, there’s just no way I could have finished a marathon, much less “graduated” to ultras, enduring crushingly hard efforts such as 131 miles in 24 hours and the last 13 miles of the 2010 and 2011 Leadville 100 races (I'd also be remiss in not including the last 10K of the 2008 Cleveland Marathon, a ~38-minute stretch where my life flashed before my eyes because of the pain I felt trying to get into the finish under 3 hours, which I did). Without love for running, I never could have pushed myself to get better or gotten through more than a few dark moments, much less wake up every day before dawn to train.

My motivations continue to evolve. It all started with my goal of finishing the Ogden Newspapers 20K in the spring 2004—which I did. Then it turned to finishing a marathon, which I did in the fall of 2004. Then it evolved into a quest to qualify for Boston, which I did in the spring of 2005 and have done many times since. Then I turned to finishing my first ultra, which I did in the summer of 2005. Breaking 3 hours in the marathon was a huge goal that I finally accomplished in the spring of 2008. My big goal of finishing a 100-miler soon turned into a goal of winning a 100-miler. I checked both off the list. Check. Check. Today, my two big goals are a new PR in the marathon and to break 20 hours at the Leadville 100. While my goals have certainly evolved, what hasn’t evolved is my constant desire to accomplish new things in this sport.

And yet I’ve tamed quite a bit in recent years. From 2007-2009, I was dialed in—logging triple-digit weeks left and right—and would have run on broken legs and through a brick wall if that’s what it took to achieve my goal. Today, maybe because of the humility living at altitude has forced upon me, or maybe because of an aging body, or maybe because of—dare I say—a little more wisdom, I’m not quite as competitive as I used to be, but I’m still driven and I’ll lay it on the line if I need to (and also bust my ass to hold off a surging competitor). Whereas I used to focus on competing against other athletes in ultras, today my focus is more on competing against the course, the conditions and maybe a specific time (like sub 20 at Leadville).

A life dedicated to running is, in many respects, a life of sacrifices and choices many non-runners just wouldn’t make. Maybe this is what makes us runners odd birds. When not with my family, my idea of a good time is going for a new PR on the Manitou Incline, or running 100 miles through the mountains surrounding Leadville—whereas most other people have a good time by going bowling, watching movies, and stuff like that. I sometimes feel guilty about the selfish nature of what I do. On Saturday mornings, when many dads are eating pancakes with their kids or taking a walk with their wives, I’m out on my long run…logging the miles by myself (which means pancakes with Noah come at lunch, and that walk with Anne often happens in the afternoon). I’m usually asleep by nine ‘o clock every night, when many people are just getting into a groove. And I’m up before dawn every day of week getting in the miles even if it means sacrificing sleep and drinking too much coffee. Every August I drag my family up to Leadville to follow me around for 20+ hours while I try to achieve a personal goal. And I’ve been selfish in what I’ve asked of my body. I’ve run and raced despite severely sprained ankles, blown-up knees, a torn ligament in my foot, bloody blisters, pulled muscles, frayed tendons, black toenails, fevers, altitude sickness, near-hypothermia, the flu, GI issues and other ailments that would have most folks at home in bed or at their doctor’s office. At the end of the day, it’s all about choices.

I think my family supports what I do because they, too, see that it’s in my blood. Discouraging me in what I do would be like taking a brush from a painter...or a surf board from a beach bum.

Maybe I’m a selfish prick for doing what I do and how I do it. It’s entirely possible that I justify it by saying things like, “Well, I’m setting a good example for Noah,” or, “This makes me a better person for my family.” Whatever the case, I don’t think I’ll ever stop running—even when the day comes that I’m barely able to make the cutoffs because I’m too old or broken down. Yeah, I know that one day I’ll be standing in an aid station at the Leadville 100 when the cutoff volunteer has to have that dreaded “come to Jesus” conversation with me. And that’s OK. But for now I think I’ll go for a run.


  1. Long time lurker, first time poster. Great blog entry and I think for a lot of us, it hits home. I think especially for us 40 somethings... I sometimes find myself trying to duplicate a workout I did when I was 16 or 17 and in the midst of cross season where I was putting in 90+ miles a week and running sub 16 minute 5k's... Right now I'm just so appreciative that I have a wife and a family that tolerates me dragging them out to races across the state to watch there old man drudge up some medal or trophy just so they can claim it as there own. But your right about one thing, running is running, and you either hate it or love it. Those of us that love it will find what ever kind of motivation and excuse to get out every day and become one with nature...

  2. At the end of the day, it’s all about choices.


  3. You really nailed this on the head Wyatt. I have at times questioned the "selfish prick" factor when it comes to running and racing. Most notably was last year the morning before the Jemez 50 mile race. I was getting ready in the hotel and I asked myself "why?" And I really thought it selfish of me, spending the time for training, racing, and traveling not to mention the money that could be used for 1000's of better uses.

    I will never win a race and I will soon (but hopefully not too soon) lose the ability to go faster or improve my racing times. But I still do it because I do like to believe that somehow, someway it is making me a better person and in the end that is what serves my family, my friends and society the best... a better me.

  4. I have been at XC Nats a couple times and asked myself ... why the hell did I get away from my family to run around a field four times as hard as I could ... and that field is 2000 miles away from home and I am doing this with a bunch of skinny other guys I don't know.

    Probably for the t shirt is the answer most times.

  5. I feel much the same Wyatt. Priorities change, but just like you said, "it's all about choices." Great post.

  6. Great post really DOES hit the nail on the head for a lot of us. I too will probably never win a race, and at my age will be slowing down more than speeding up probably. But I love running. Just love being out and doing it.

    It "might" make me a better person / dad / friend / husband...but if I were to be completely honest, that isn't why I do it.

    I do it because I love it. For me. And even though it isn't a proud badge for me to wear...yes, because in this corner of my life, I'm a selfish prick.

    Thanks for the post.

  7. Andy: At last year's Jemez 50M (which I also raced) I asked myself "why" a bunch of times. But it didn't have anything to do with guilt. It had to do with the fact that I got my ass kicked. On Pajarito my life practically flashed before my eyes. That climb was a bitch! :-)


  8. There will never be enough reasons for us runners on why we do what we do and why we love to do it.

    Being happy is selfish and if it means that running is selfishness, so be it. We're all selfish at some point, but if we're not, what else do we owe to ourselves?

    Your posts are such an inspiration especially to those who are still planning to go through a marathon training program. There's just no room for giving up in this lifetime - not yet.

    Cheers on this post!