Synchroblog: Why Do We Run?

Friday, April 18, 2014

In second installment of UltraVT synchroblog, I was tasked with coming up with a topic that "had a little controversy" and would ultimately promote good discussion within our group.  I suppose one neat thing about participating in the synchroblog with a group of likeminded college students is that, as intellectuals, we can appreciate and embrace differences in opinion without feeling like our beliefs or values are being challenged.  That's the beauty of the entire thing; new perspectives promoting and fostering a rich dialogue among friends.

The topic I decided on, as seen in the title, is Why Do We Run?  This has been an underlying theme in many of my posts and one that I attempted to tackle in an open conversation last spring, Lets Talk Running Motivation.  One excerpt from that post that helps set the tone for the discussion:

I have a personal struggle with motivation that teeters on an unhealthy addiction.  I often have a feeling of guilt until I cross off that days mileage.  It made me think.  What drives me to run? 
I think it is important to reflect and reevaluate periodically, taking a step back see the bigger picture.  I'm excited to read what my peers have to say as I think it is a challenging topic but relevant as ultrarunners because of the inevitable "but why do you run so far?"

What role does running play in your life? 

For me, it is important to continually remind myself that running is something I do and NOT who I am.  This is a big one in my opinion, especially in our generation, because we keep such busy schedules and are so driven to climb the ladder or get to the next "thing" that we hardly stop to enjoy the moment.

For instance, last Sunday morning I completed a massive accomplishment by finishing my first 100 mile race.  A race that I devoted a huge amount of time, energy, and money toward...and it was over in the blink of an less than a day?!?  You know what I mean.  Michelle and I discussed before Umstead 100 that I would NOT sign up for another race in the week following Umstead.  Rudy, without any knowledge of this discussion, made sure to tell Michelle to "not let me sign up for any races the week after."  I'm proud to say that I didn't.  That's not to say I didn't look but I didn't pay for or actually sign up for any races.  Small victories.  The point being that, we are often too quick to think about what's next that we rarely stop to appreciate the things we have, or in this case have recently accomplished.  I think by not signing up, I savored the success of completing my first 100 mile race in a stylish fashion.  Further, I would argue that I'm the happiest I've ever been following a race.  I spoke with Kristen about this on our run on Sunday morning, the post race depression.  After months of planning, training, and hard work the event is over and far too often is over in a fashion that does not meet our idea of "success."  We justify our performance by telling ourselves "I could've done this differently" and "I should've trained this way" never being satisfied with our performance.  I believe this is an inherent trait of runners, specifically runners who consider themselves "endurance athletes."

Running, in this way, is both productive and equally destructive.  The coin is two sided; races and events serve as source of focus and drive when motivation is lacking to train and simultaneously act as selfish pursuits of achievement that are detrimental to relationships, professional goals, and social lives. I spoke with some friends about this in early February as I expressed my concern about how selfish training for a 100 mile race is and the toll it was taking on all three of the above mentioned aspects.  Training placed an additional, and entirely unnecessary, burden on Michelle to pickup my slack while I spent hours running each weekend.  It was entirely unfair.

So why continue to do it?  Simple: mental balance.  Now, I understand all the aforementioned selfish training and unfair talk in the previous paragraph is enough to warrant hanging up the sport altogether.  But since I began running again in late 2011, I've been a happier and more balanced individual than I can ever remember.  Getting out the door, even if only for a few miles, gives me an opportunity to clear my head, unwind from a long day, and personally reflect on my life and behavior.  It's my thinking time. Selfish?  Absolutely.  But do I feel that I am a better friend, son, teacher, and fiancĂ© (soon to be husband) because of it?  There's not a doubt in my mind.  I don't think anyone, or at least very few, individuals who run 100 miles races and put in 60+ mile weeks can do so unselfishly.  The compromise then is choosing and pursuing races that allow for a resemblance of balance.

For me, I need to ensure that running has it's place within my life without taking it over.

When did you start running and why?

I started "running" during my sophomore year of high school when I went out for the cross country team in the fall of 2002.  I thought of myself as fit and quickly learn just how unfit I was. The team was a blast and we had a few kids on the team who were amazingly talented and naturally gifted with absolutely zero focus and dedication. Huge potential squandered. They made every practice hilarious, mainly because we were high school guys and everything inappropriate seemed funny at the time (why do I want to coach HS again?).  In the spring I decided to participate in track and field and fell in love with the sport.  I choose hurdles, despite my scant 5' 3" build, and quickly fell in love with the feeling of flying through the air over hurdles.  I'm not sure if I was driven or simply had a chip on my shoulder but I managed to make it to states my senior year and place 7th, good enough for all state honors.

Part of the reason I choose to leave my job as an engineer is so that I could coach at the high school level with the desire to help kids find a love of running, or at least pursuing an active and healthy lifestyle.  Once I got to college, I would go out for runs sporadically but never with any idea of "training" or consistency.  Eventually, a friend persuaded me to sign up for a half marathon, the Yuengling Shamrock half, which I thought I was going to die after.  In the fall of 2009 after completing the Journey of Hope, I decided I was fit enough to run a marathon.  Little did I know that cycling fitness doesn't necessarily translate to running fitness.  I swore I would never do it again.

The real catalyst for me signing up for my first ultra was my best friend Jeff sending me a link to Sabrina Moran's blog, who attended William & Mary at the same time that he did.  I was hooked and quickly signed up for my first ultra, another terrible idea, the North Face 50M, which I eventually reduced down to the 50k and ran in the summer of 2012.  The past few years have been a whirlwind of growing as a runner, specifically developing confidence in my fitness and ability to run beyond my self-imposed limits.

If you could only run one last run, where and with whom would it be and why?  

When I met Michelle, she wasn't a runner but in all fairness neither was I.  The first few times we tried running together were...well...disastrous.  Running partners need to run the same pace and our paces didn't mesh well together.  However, over the years, we've run together when I haven't been training and it has been AWESOME.  She knows it's my favorite thing to do together.  I know it's one of her least favorite things.  We're working on finding a happy medium.  I digress.  If I had one last run, or could only run one more time before both of my knees gave out, I would want it to be with her someplace beautiful.  Just a fun run along the water or a canal or in some new place we've traveled to.  Spending time doing what I love with the person I love most in the world.

Which is better, trail running or road running?  Why?

Tough question.  I came from a road running background transitioning to longer trail ultras after running my first half marathon eventually my first full marathon.  A lot of the runners I know ran a trail 50k as their first long distance race and completely skipped over the marathon distance.  I LOVE the feeling of running through closed city streets in a massive road race where you feel like for a few short hours, runners own the roads.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the ultrarunning community is SO much more close knit than the road running community.  We endure and suffer together, traversing massive mountains and covering grueling distances.  Trail races are limited by the number of runners a trail can accommodate and consequently are more intimate experiences.  Road running has my heart but at the moment, trail running has captured my attention and drawn me in.  I have a lot of lofty goals involving trail races and really only one that involves road racing, qualifying for Boston.  I suppose that's why I think trail running, and ultra distance racing will continue to keep me entertained for the foreseeable future whereas Boston may be more of a "bucket list item."

Groups or solo?

Deep inside, I'm fiercely independent but when it comes to running I find strength in others around me, whom often believe in me more than I do myself.  UltraVT is a petri dish of inspiration.  I think the following tweet after Monday night's group run sums up my opinion on the matter:

So there you have it!  The second installment of UltraVT Synchroblog.  All most of us will be publishing this Friday morning.  Be sure to click on the links under the UltraVT logo on the right side of the page as everyone else updates their blogs.  Writing this post has been an excellent opportunity to organize and consolidate my thoughts into coherent opinions.  And they're just that.  Opinions at the moment.  Perhaps I'll read another runners post and change my opinion.  Maybe not.  Either way, I'm excited to do another one.


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