Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why I run...

In the course of a conversation this past weekend with my mother about what my sisters were up to (they participated in an eclectic spiritual retreat in south central Texas) my mom asked me why I run. She suggested that my running is very much in line with what my sisters were up to. My first reaction was to deny a connection, perhaps there are indeed one or two. Is running an eclectic spiritual experience? Sure – it certainly can be.

There are many reasons why I run. These and others are captured within this blog, in photos and video, quotes and personal experiences that are beyond the scope of the written word. (If you’ve run into the dawn on a cool, crisp morning in the woods or mountains or watched a late summer full moon come up headed into a night of running you’ll know what I mean.) This post will attempt to describe a number of the reasons why I run…

I run because I’m an athlete; never thought I would or could call myself that. I was never that good at sports that involved some degree of coordination and the ability to throw, catch, chase, pass, hit or kick a ball. I’m an ectomorph so I didn’t fit in real well playing American football. As a runner there’s no real requirement to be coordinated or have the ability to catch or throw anything. Yes – I’m the last guy that got picked for any teams forming for Grade School Physical Education. And yes, I’m that kid that stood out in left field with my mitt over my face wishing I was fishing instead of standing out in left field. When it comes to athletics I’m an ultradork.

I run because I’m a member of the approximate one tenth of a percent of the people that do. Let me say that in a different way. According to Wiki.answers approximately 15000 people run ultras in the US. If you divide 15000 by the US population of 300M you come up with a very small percentage! Looking at it from a different perspective check out what the Center for Disease Control has to say…

I run because every now and then I can run for someone else at a charity event like the Brocken-Challenge or Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux.

I run because my body and mind say that “I shouldn’t” or that “I can’t”. There are many mornings particularly here in Europe when I think, “It’s cold, raining and dark. If I go out I’ll probably catch a cold and besides, it’s dark. I ran yesterday and I have a run planned tomorrow; heck I could get a run in later this afternoon (NOT!). I honestly loath the first 2.5KM of just about any training run. It’s getting over that first hump in training that leads you to pay dirt. It’s knowing that “pay dirt” is out there that feeds the dedication to train.

I dread the sixteenth hour of a twenty-four hour mountain race like Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux. It usually comes late at night on a lonely, poorly marked trail going up yet another tough climb in the middle of nowhere. It’s these times where deep inside I hear a quite, demanding voice that won’t let things rest - the voice of will. It’s a will to endure and a dedication to what I’m about. That voice and spirit know all too well that the pain of running now is fleeting; quitting is forever.

I’ve found that finishing a marathon or ultramarathon is not just an athletic achievement. It is a state of mind. A state of mind that says I can surmount almost any physical, mental or spiritual obstacle. “Going for a run clears your mind, but running 100 miles clears your soul,” Keith Knipling.

As we course through life we sometimes think that we have it all figured out. What we too often neglect to consider are those moments that change our lives forever. One such moment was my diagnosis of colon cancer. I run because I have cancer. I run because I’m at war with cancer. It is medically proven that colon cancer and running don’t get along. Running offers tranquility, a coping mechanism, a weapon in my struggle with cancer and freedom. Every day that I can run is a celebration of not having to pursue chemotherapy or be stuck in a hospital.

I run because running offers serenity whether running alone, with my wife or with a friend at dawn under a cold rainy sky in the French Alps.

I run because I crave the chase; I crave the race. No, I’m not that good; I’m a middle age, middle of the pack ultra athletic dork. Training forces me to concentrate my mind and effort. It gets me to the race. I dread, yet love the night before a race. It’s here that the sharpest reviews occur. It’s here that I can reveal my OCD behavior in the preparation of my kit. It’s here where nerves are on edge. It’s here just before the start that you look into the abyss; seek the will and go. Yes, the first five, okay, the first ten kilometers are filled with doubt and sometimes loathing. It’s after that first ten where mind and body settle that things begin to get wonderful. AC/DC is playing; it’s usually dark and I have time to work out all of the problems with technique, pace, posture and focus to conquer the next 10…, 30…, 50…, 70KM.

I once read that there are two types of runners extrinsic and intrinsic. My take is that we all start out as extrinsic runners – it’s all about reinforcement. Through reinforcement there is a transition that occurs with time and experience that leads runners to become intrinsically motivated. It’s at this point where athletes run for the pure pleasure of running. The love of the experience enables them to persevere during the inevitable highs and lows of training and racing. President Theodore Roosevelt poignantly captured this sense while speaking on “Citizenship in a Republic” at the Sorbonne in Paris in April 1910.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

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