On the Ultra List ultrarunning e-mail list one subscriber surmised:
“…some people get into ultrarunning to prove to the world that they’re “tough.” Deep down inside they feel weak, so they compensate by doing something physically difficult.”
Or to prove it to themselves. Running ultras is hard, painful, expensive, dangerous and pointless. So, why do it?
To which I responded as follows.
- Hard? Yes.
- Painful? Not like poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick. Most real pain can be relieved instantly by stopping, if it gets bad or dangerous. Running can be uncomfortable sometimes, but it’s manageable.
- Expensive? Only if you let it be. I’ve been broke much of the time I’ve been an ultrarunner. I train more than I race. That helps.
- Dangerous? Danger is relative. Sure, I could fall down, get bitten by a snake, or collapse from heat exhaustion far from help. But I do my best to prevent that. I have no desire to get hurt.
- Pointless? I suspect that to those who keep doing it, it’s far from that.
Some of us have an impetus toward personal achievement built into our firmware.
Few persons get to do the things in life that they truly want in their hearts to do if only this and only that were true, and in short if only life were somehow different. So we settle for what we can get.
As recently as early 1994 the thought that I would ever run long distances for fun and personal satisfaction had never crossed my mind.
I won’t presume to speak for females as to what motivates them to do hard physical things. They have babies — willingly! Frankly, I don’t understand it.
Often a male’s sense of self-worth is strongly tied into what he does in life, often extending beyond the simple satisfactions of having a loving family and knowing one has cultivated enough wisdom and common sense to Do the Right Thing most of the time. That should be enough. I’ve acquired all that, but for me it’s not enough. I need more.
We are motivated to excel in our chosen work — not necessarily for money or recognition, and certainly not to demonstrate ourselves to be better than others in some way, but for the sheer joy of personal accomplishment, to know we have tackled something challenging and done it the best we are able.
That expression “chosen work” can refer to what a person does for a living, or it can refer to the entire gamut of life’s activities.
As for me — I’m now 62 years of age. In retrospect I haven’t gotten to do what I both wanted and expected as a primary work in life. I’m good at the work that I do, but I’m not great and never will be. I’m a lot better at the work that I did not get to do, for reasons that are irrelevant to this discussion. I’m confident that if I had gotten to pursue it, many people would know my name from sources outside of some blog, email list, or web site; but at a critical crossroads in my life something happened and things changed. That shouldn’t bother me, but it does. So I’ve sought a measure of satisfaction in other pursuits.
When I took up running in 1977, at age 34, it was for fitness. I met a woman in her forties, the mother of seven children, who jogged every day, and thought it was cool, so I tried it myself and kept it up for a few years, but then my enthusiasm faded. I guess I didn’t get enough out of doing it at that level.
When I took it up again in mid-1994, I found a way to make it both challenging and fun, and I’ve been at it ever since. But it was not until I discovered that I have an unforeseen capacity to be out on a trail or a track a really, really long time that I found the activity that allowed me to tap into something that would give me the deep sense of satisfaction I’d been looking for.
Not everyone I know knows or cares about what I do as a runner. Most people know me in other capacities, because I do many other things besides run. A few non-runners know about the ultrarunning and ask questions, and some act like they’re impressed, while others are indifferent. I don’t do it for them. Some garden variety runners know I’m an ultrarunner and pretend to think I’m crazy; I believe that beneath the surface they admire me for it. I don’t do it for them. Most ultrarunners who know my actual performance ability are aware that compared to other ultrarunners what I’ve done is quite average or below — I’m a mid-packer on the best day of my life. But I don’t do it for other ultrarunners, either.
I run for myself, because as I’ve learned, and was reminded as recently as this afternoon, I love the very act of running for a long time, meeting the onset of cramps, pains, tiredness, and discomfort, finding a way to deal with it, and going on despite it. And when I do that I feel like it’s worth it.