Confessions from the Trail: But, Why?

I was blown away by how much ya’ll liked my post on ultramarathons and I’ve decided to sit down to answer some of the common questions about ultra’s as well as specific questions about my training and races. I hope to post bi-weekly, but let’s be honest, between a full-time day job, prepping for my book’s release next month, and the long training sessions, that might end up as a pipedream! But I’ll knock out the questions and occasionally fill you in on how training for BUTS Barely Ultra (13.5 mi Heavy Half), Mississippi 50 (50k), and the Bataan Memorial Death March (26.1mi) are going as well as what the forecast for whether any of them will go is based on the pandemic.

First Confession from the Trail: the most common question I’m asked is, “but, why?” usually paired with a look of horror when I describe the distances of some of the races. 50k (31.1 miles), 50 miles, 100 miles, 200?? Why indeed.

I’ve read and seen enough of Simon Sinek to know, it all starts with “why?” Why would you devote 4, 6, 8 months of your life to this goal? What’s in it for me? There is no prize money (not for amateurs, anyway). Nike doesn’t sponsor trail runners and ultramarathoners. Training is long and intense. Injuries stack up. Races are far from civilization, so there are no fans to cheer you on.

Why in the world would anyone run an ultramarathon?

I’ve run, and completed, a lot of races

I can’t pretend I speak for every ultra runner out there. Hell, half the time, I can’t even speak for myself (usually after a long climb up steep terrain and I’m doubled over wheezing). But I have my reasons.

I think my first reason parallels the apocryphal story of George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Everest: “because its there!” I love a challenge, and the lure of a fresh challenge calls me like a siren’s song. The challenge is there. Sir Edmund Hillary rose to the challenge and is credited as the first climber to summit Everest, of his challenge, he said: “it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” In pursuit of this goal, I conquer myself.

But what does that mean for me? For one, I want to push my body to its extremes; push myself to what we call the Pain Cave. I’ve done half marathons on road and trail. I’ve done a marathon. I’ve completed five half Ironmans. Nothing makes you feel you have conquered your body like covering 70+ miles by swimming, biking, and running. I want that same feeling from conquering the trail.

I’m also aware that every body comes with a clock. It begins to tick with the first lungful of air and the second hand moves until… it doesn’t. I’m rounding the corner on forty and while my doctor tells me I’m in excellent health and have the body of a woman half my age, my knees creak as I climb the stairs. My shoulders have been through more round of physical therapy than I can count. I recognize that while I’m in great shape, it won’t last forever, and I want to chase down my adventures while I still have spring in my step.

Why indeed.

Then there are the mental aspects of the pursuit. I love a challenge. “It’s there!” And while the second hand is inexorably moving forward, I’m still capable of this pursuit. Not everyone can say that. I’m honest enough to say that I take particular pride in doing what others cannot or will not. I’m a horrible person who feels a sense of smug superiority at accomplishing goals of which others only dream. I have motivation. More importantly, I have dedication. And I have more ambition than three people combined. Channeling that determination and focus into a goal like this keeps me from world domination and being an insufferably smug bastard. Well, most days. It sneaks out every once in a while.

There is also peace in this pursuit. Running the trails beats me down. It punished my body and keeps my ego in check. There is peace in that kind of humility. On a chemical level, there is a peace in the endorphins that quiets my mind in ways that therapy cannot. I’ve come a long way in battling my demons, but sometimes an hour or two on the trails does more for shouting down horrible thoughts than any therapist or pill can do for me. (YMMV and don’t think trail running is the be-all, end-all of mental health.)

Why indeed.

Why do I chase a goal that has eluded me? A goal I’ve failed at three times so far? One that, honestly, I might never achieve? Because it brings me peace. It brings me joy. It keeps me mentally and physically balanced. It keeps me humble.

The trail doesn’t care who you are. The trail doesn’t care what car you drive, how much money you make, or what your job is. The trail chews everyone up with equal relish and grinds the humility into them. Just like life, you bring your best and hope its enough to survive.

Chase your dream.

Happy trails!

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Just looking for wild stories of cave diving, ultramarathons, blacksmithing, or powerlifting. Yeah, I’ve got those too!

6 Comments on “Confessions from the Trail: But, Why?

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