Good question. And it is one that I am asked on a regular basis. I have actually put alot of thought into this over the last couple of years. For a long time, when asked why I run distance, I really didn't have an answer. It was just something that I was drawn to for a reason that had not yet been made clear to me. I thought that maybe I was running away from something, or running toward something. Over the last year or so, I have made some major life changes, and I was worried that once my life settled down some I would lose my desire for running long distances. I thought that maybe my unhappiness had been fueling my drive to run.
Thankfully, I was wrong. I still wanted to run, and I still looked forward to signing up for repeat ultras to see if I could beat my previous time on that course. (One thing about trail ultras, you really can't compare times between races. The terrain and weather conditions over 50 or 100 miles makes each course very unique. The only way to attempt to track your progress is to compare your time against the time you ran at that same race the previous year - in my opinion. And, what is this blog but a whole pile of my opinion?)
With that possibility off the table, I had to dig a little deeper to attempt to figure out why I was putting myself through so much discomfort, and yes, even pain. As much as I would love to give you a sexy answer like, "I'm running away from an abusive past" or "I'm running away from my addiction" or "I'm running for enlightenment", sadly none of those apply. Except for the enlightenment part, and that is not a goal of my running, just a pleasant by-product.
What I have finally figured out, when all is said and done, I am running because I really LOVE to race. I love ultras and everything that comes with them. I love the goofy people who participate, and the amazing, self-less people who volunteer. I love the "you're on your own" attitude of the race directors, and the "We'll help you out, but don't be a dumbass" attitude of the volunteers. It makes me happy to run in the woods or over rocky hills through cactus all alone. The solace is a form of meditation for me. It is interesting to me to see what might go wrong during one of these races, and to figure out on the spot how I will deal with it so that I can continue.
Before road races, I get butterflies in my stomach and I always have that "Get me outta here" feeling. Then the gun goes off and all is well. Before trail ultras, I always have a sense of calm, a sense of being exactly where I am supposed to be at that moment. But, my absolute favorite part about running ultras is lining up at the start and having no idea if I will make it to the finish line. THAT is very exciting to me. I love the feeling that whatever decisions I make between mile 1 and 50 or 100 will determine whether I can achieve my goal. I have made bad decisions and finished half and whole marathons. I have seen many people make bad decisions at ultras, and that usually ends in a DNF (Did Not Finish), or worse, a couple of nights stay in a hospital. I know it is just a matter of time until I DNF, alot can go wrong - especially on technical trails where a fall may send you rolling down a steep, rocky hillside. I hope when this time comes, so does a lesson. Then the bruised body and ego will be justified.