It has been two months since I released my first book, and although I have an entire chapter in there about how silly the “Why do we run?” questions is, it ironically has become the most common question I’ve been asked since then in interviews and podcasts. And so I have been forced to formulate a rough answer.
That, combined with the fact that I am now five days away from running my fifth 100-mile race (the Zion 100 in Springdale, Utah), I find myself in an introspective mood, and very much wishing to answer that question for myself.
Why run 100 miles?
There has been some debate going on in the blogosphere as to the value of racing. Why not just enjoy trail “training” runs, without the pressure of a goal race? Why bother with the entry fee, the crowds, the packet pickup? And I can certainly see some validity to those arguments.
I think of my friends like Jason Robillard or Ashley Walsh, who have questioned the sanity of running 100-mile races and have more or less given them up (for now). On a rational level, their arguments make sense. Yet the 100-mile distance still calls to me, whispering my name through sandy canyon walls and from the top of rocky summits.
Over the months, I have seen friends enter ultras and drop out because it was “boring.” This, I don’t understand. A race can be many things for me, but boring is never one of them. When I was a kid, if I ever complained about being bored, my dad would make me do pushups or clean the toilet, so that may explain my aversion to the state of boredom. Plus I can’t shake my father’s voice ringing in my ears: “Only boring people get bored!”
No, I am never bored on the trail.
I think of my friend Christian Peterson who is forever encouraging me to balance my training with Crossfit-ish supplementation, a detour that I have embraced for Zion 100. My mileage decreased in favor of strength work, core work, plyometrics, and even yoga. Though I enjoy when a workout change leaves me expectantly sore, I can’t help but also think of my friend Nathaniel Wolfe who wisely advises: “Stop trying to get in shape. Just do what you love and let your body take whatever shape is best suited.”
What I love is running more miles. Maybe “balance” isn’t the best thing to strive for when training for a 100? Maybe balanced people don’t run 100 milers.
So why run 100s?
I’ve spent the last couple of days of digging through my brain for a list of reasons. I was hoping for a Top 5, or a Top 10 list, but I could only come up with one thing.
Quite simply, I run 100 miles because it’s the only thing I do that demands my all.
This distance takes from me all that I have, and the thrill of surrendering myself to the trail—to that extreme—is unparalleled.
I was inspired this week by the music of Joe Pug, who seemed to speak to my 100-mile aspirations in his Hymn #76:
“To love me is to sit upon the mountain.
Every step is harder than the last.
But to find a step above it, is to triumph—is to summit.
Taste the frigid water from the tap.”
I need some things in my life to be hard. I need some things to demand more of me—to insist on everything.
Every so often, I need more than a training run. I need to pour all my heart out… in a race like this.
WELCOME TO ZION
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