When people find out I’m an ultrarunner, they typically do one of two things:
#1. Seem politely disinterested in a way that I assume that, to them, ultrarunning is such a bizarre, foreign concept that they don’t even want to try and comprehend it and would prefer to drop the subject. Sort of what I do when someone says they are really into country music.
#2. Show varying amounts of incredulous interest: “How is it possible for anyone could run that long? How do you train for that? How do you eat? How do you sleep? How do your legs/feet not hurt?”
They ask me the “hows,” but very rarely the “why.”
Which is good, because I can’t even really justify why I love running long distances to myself.
- “Oh, you get to run in beautiful remote places…” Well, you can hike in the beautiful places. And honestly, running is a bad way to relish in scenery since you have to keep your eyes down.
- “I love challenges.” Honestly, I don’t really love it. At my last ultra (The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in December 2016), I spent the last 20 miles just praying for it to end. It was brutal. But it was the second time I did that race, and I very well may do it again someday.
- “The people in the ultra community are great.” Yeah, they are, but for me that’s more of a bonus, not necessarily something that’s keeping me there.
- “I can eat whatever I want!” I can probably eat more than the typical person and avoid weight gain, but I don’t “eat whatever I want.” I actually seem to have to eat less than other people just to maintain my weight.
- “I get such a sense of accomplishment after finishing an ultra.” So this is true. But, what’s to stop me from getting a sense of accomplishment after a 5K PR? Or even from some decidedly less selfish pursuit, like volunteering?
It’s not just that I can’t articulate why I like ultrarunning… I honestly don’t know why I do it. It’s a hobby that makes no sense. In fact, it’s an extremely impractical pastime (and I am generally practical to a fault).
So this quote by David Blaikie (who, from what I can tell is a runner and a journalist) really strikes a chord in me. I will try to hold onto this idea as I struggle through that final miles of my next ultra — miserable, with my head down, trying to coax more PB&J sandwiches in the deepest realm of my being.
“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …”
– David Blaikie