Smelly Armchair Musings: Why Do I Run?

Why do I run?

In normal, daily life it is common for someone to ask how your weekend was and what you did. Answering this question, though, is never easy for me. How do I respond?

“Well, I ran a 25 followed up by an easy 15 the next day. Checked out some sweet single track.”

I’ll have to explain what a 25 followed by a 15 is (25 miles on Saturday and 15 miles on Sunday). I’ll have to explain what single track is. And I’ll be met with seriously blank stares followed by incredulous questions, the most common of which is, “Why on earth would you do that?”

Why on earth indeed? Why do I choose to run hours and hours every weekend? Why do I like ultras? Honestly, rather than trying to explain myself, I find it easiest to just laugh and say, “Haha, I know, right? I must be crazy.” Because this drive to run is down at the core of my being- how do you explain something beautiful that is lodged in the depths of your soul, to someone else who does not have that same thing there? You can’t. Not really. But… I thought I’d give it a shot. I know everyone who does run has different reasons as to why, but here is my little story.

I grew up outside, and I’m sure that’s where I gained my love of the outdoors. I spent the entirety of my summers running around barefoot in the woods (or I had my nose buried in a book- I’m a person of extremes). I climbed trees, I swam in cricks, I picked berries, and I played with crayfish and frogs and toads. I explored the wilds around my house and I knew their secrets. This was my world and my soul ran free.

Fast forward however many years it’s been (it’s a number that surprises me!), and out of necessity, I now live in a development; in a city. For many years here, my soul just kind of sat in a hole, bewildered perhaps.

One day, amidst babies and house cleaning and whatever else I did, I realized that I needed something that was all mine; something that I did just for me and only for me. This thing could not be because someone else told me to do it, or because someone else wanted or needed me to do it, it needed to be because I wanted to do it. So I ran.

I started out just running a little around my development, until my friend said, “Hey! Let’s run a half marathon!”  and I said, “Holy crap that’s far, okay!” And really, that’s what started me down this path. She and I didn’t make it to that half marathon together, but I did end up running one. And it was hard. And I had a good time. All of this running was pretty good, until one day, I found it. “It?” you may ask? Oh yes, IT. My niche. I ran a trail.

And then another trail. Then I realized that these trails go off into really wild places, far away from cars and tech. I could have space to breathe. The constant tension in my shoulders could disappear. I could just BE. There was no one to judge me and no one to want anything from me. I didn’t have to try to make sense of social situations. There was no one who would look at me or look at my life and make any decisions about it one way or the other. I just was. And it was good.

Running by myself is great, but running with other people, sharing the glory of the world around me, is even better. I love these people, these trail runners, this community. We run and while we do so, we are relaxed. We can be in the moment and appreciate each other’s presence. We share our lives.

And yet these still are not the entire reason that I run. When I stand on the edge of cliff looking down and out, I see my place in this world, and it’s comfortingly small. As I run, I feel my muscles working, straining, rising to this new challenge as I climb a mountain or run across the rocks. I feel capable and strong. The feats that the human body is able to accomplish are incredible- do you realize that humans can keep moving LONG after most other animals collapse because they literally have no more ATP (the energy source for our muscles) left? It’s amazing that we can do this, if we just get out and start going! We are able to acclimate to almost any environment on the planet, if we get out and go do it. We can scale the highest mountains, cross the hottest deserts, swim the greatest waters. We can see waterfalls, jungles, crazy animals, incredible vistas. What other animal can do that as we can? None. WHY would I want to sit at home when there is so much world to see, and I am uniquely gifted to see it? I know what’s in my home, I don’t know what’s down that trail I have yet to explore. Whether you believe in God or not, this world is an epic gift that I would feel I was squandering if I only ever hung out in my smelly armchair.

So what am I saying, exactly, with all of these thoughts? Why do I run?  Well, the simple version is that it makes me happy. Anyone can understand doing something because it makes them happy, but I believe most people would ask, “Why do you run so much? Why not just run a 5K? A 10K? A half marathon? Or at the most, the occasional marathon? Do you really need to run a marathon pretty much every weekend?”  The answer to the final question, unequivocally is yes. I need to breathe, and the long runs are where I breathe the best. I need to be a part of a community, and these are my peeps. I need to explore my amazing planet, and I can do that best while running. It’s possible that Disney’s Pocahontas actually said it best in “Just Around the Riverbend.” Just because we grow up, does that mean we stop our awe and wonder of the world around us? Do I just stay home and do what’s easiest?

So, there it is. All of that, that’s my reason for running. You may disagree with me. You may think I’m wrong, or selfish, or something else entirely. I’m okay with that. I don’t write for you, but rather for me. I know that most people still will not understand, and I wouldn’t expect them to. This is something you either “get” or you don’t. BUT- I would say that all of us have something that we love. That something may be more socially and culturally acceptable than running long distances and so you may feel that it’s not the same thing, but it is. This sameness is something I have come to realize over the past few years and I hope it’s made me a more accepting person, at least sometimes. Trying to understand another person and see the world through their eyes is extremely hard for me- I think everyone should see things my way! But when I shut my mouth and slow down my race to take offense, I gain an insight into another person and that is priceless.

* On a side note, these are not my thoughts on a balanced life, but rather on my gut-deep passion. Balance is a whole other thing that comes into living the passion, and is best discussed in a different smelly armchair sitting. (See? Balance.) Sometimes I manage balance better than other times, as my exceedingly understanding husband can attest.

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