Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Going Ultra

In the movie "Run, Fat Boy, Run", every time someone mentions something about running a marathon, the other person invariably replies: "Why?". Most people have no desire to run a marathon, let alone train for it. They know it takes a long time, maybe even more than 2 hours, and that there is a "good" chance of death or injury. Some people ask you how long that particular marathon is. In other words they know nothing. At least, they've heard of marathons though. Some people, when they get to a certain point in life, will train for a marathon, run it, and never run again. "Run a Marathon", CHECK! They're not really runners, they are just going down their bucket list. Some runners will run their whole life without running a marathon. Runners run.

When people why you run marathons, it's hard to explain. One does not have to run long distances to be a runner. I've read somewhere that the health benefits of running plateau after about 15 miles/week, so if this is true, you can't really justify it health-wise. It's not really fun. Running for more than 18-20 miles hurts, thus the challenge. Yet, most people, although they don't have any interest in running a marathon accept that it's a socially acceptable goal. The media talks about it. They are an Olympic event. Society approves, to a point.

When it comes to Ultra distance running, none of that applies. Few people have heard of it. Most people don't accept that it is humanly possible to run 50, 100 or more miles or that it's a good idea to attempt it.

My family tolerates my running/triathlon training but they are not what you would call supportive. They are mildly amused by it, and accept it because they see it's important to me. When I told my wife I was signing up for a 50 miles race, she was very distraught. Isn't a marathon enough, she asks? Other people I've mentioned it to just look at me with a blank stare, converting miles to kilometers in their head and then looking for some mistake. I don't really mention it anymore. The mother of one of my daughter's friend, who had heard about it from my daughter, told me to be careful not to get the "runner's heart". WTF? She's a physiotherapist for god's sake.

So why 50 miles? The distance doesn't really matter. Once I run 50, I will probably go for 100 miles. I'll see after the 50 if I want to go further. Climbers have the Everest. After that, there's nothing higher, so there's a limit to their madness (even if it's such a crazy one). With running, you have to decide for yourself, because you can always run further.

Even though I can't think of one overwhelming good reason for this quest to reach some kind of personal limit, I'm introspective enough to know that I do have a number of issues to resolve and that running is my battleground.

I've spent most of my adult life sitting in front of a computer, building a business and when I finally sold it a few years ago, my relationship with work changed a bit. Although I like my job well enough, I don't identify as closely with it, it's not as personal. Instead of a purely intellectual challenge with vague and uncertain rewards, running brings a physicality, intensity and immediacy that I crave. Running for long periods of time allows us to "become" running. Now.

As a kid, I've always been the "brainy" one. When we ran as kids, I was always a few steps behind. I guess I might be overcompensating by running, biking and swimming faster and further than any of my friends, which I still see regularly.

As I hit the mid-40's, it amazes me how fast life went by. An image I sometime use is: when I'm rocking by the fireplace in my old age, what am I going to think about? I want to be able to remember that I lived life intensely. There are few positive experiences as intense as a running race, especially a long one. It's good pain. It burns through your soul. Once you're done, as much as you can remember wanting to stop, the actual memory of the pain quickly fades away. When you recall the race, you remember the mental struggle rather than the physical one, your heart races a bit, a bit of adrenalin enters your blood stream, you go inside yourself, you stop seeing what's in front of you and you feel like you are running. 

That's what I want to remember on my rocking chair, looking at the fire. I want to run forever.


Anonymous said...

I recently connected to your blog, and must say that I just loved this post.

There is a certain soulfulness to running that is just inexplicable.

George Houston said...

You make some very good points.

"My family tolerates my running/triathlon training but they are not what you would call supportive."

That quote is true.

If you are not a runner it is hard to understand the 'why' much less the feeling you get from running.