First of all, I don’t run that much. I’ll run about 2,000 miles this year, which is about the distance from Los Angeles to Chicago. Not even far enough to get across the country. The “why do you run so much” question was first asked to me in middle school, when I started running every day after school in between cross country and track seasons. One day I went home, ran, then went to a friends house, where a cadre of my peers had gathered for no apparent reason. My answer then, was “I like to,” and I left it at that. I liked to, and I was pretty good at it. I liked to, and it eventually earned me a college scholarship. I liked to, and I felt like I should stick with the one thing I seemed to be good at.
The “why do you run so much” question was later asked by the first therapist I saw after college as I was in treatment for my eating disorder. “Why do you run so much, and more importantly, do you still want to?” she asked me. I didn’t know. I was tired of running at that point, and my body was worn down and worn out. The most substantial break I’ve ever taken from running happened my senior year of college when I had hip surgery. My second most substantial break was the year after I graduated, when I stopped running so much and started eating enough and learned what life could be like without the sport of running front and center.
After I moved to California, I started running on trails. I met people doing crazy ultra marathons-running 100 miles at a time. I like trail running better than road running at that point. It was less competitive and more supportive. Less about being super fast and more about enduring. So I ran a 50 miler, then another. Then I ran 100k, and another. Last fall, I ran my first 100 miler, and in a few days, I’ll run another.
I get more joy out of running now than I ever have, probably because nothing is on the line. I don’t need a scholarship anymore. I don’t need to perform well every weekend. I’m not trying to make it to nationals, and I don’t have coaches breathing down my neck. Now, I’m just interested in how well I can endure for how long. I’m interested in becoming strong. I’m committed to finding my pain threshold and working past it. There is nothing necessary about running 100 miles, or even 50, or even 26.2. I could be healthy and fit and barely run at all.
A colleague of mine recently asked the same old question, “why do you run so much?” This time, I said, “because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.” Running has been the most tangible way I’ve learned to endure. When I was fighting my eating disorder, I was weak. I couldn’t endure very long. I could barely muster up 12 miles for a long run. A 5k on the track felt endless. My body was wasting away, and I felt it, I just didn’t want to believe it. And as I’ve built back my strength, I’ve learned that real endurance doesn’t just come from running. Real endurance requires fuel. It requires mental fortitude. It requires a support system. And, it requires time.
The more I run, the better I know my body. The more I run, the better I understand my limits, and the more equipped I am to break them. Time is our most valuable commodity and sure, it takes a lot of time to run long races. It takes time to train. More importantly, it takes time to learn to endure. Some people will live and die never knowing how much potential they have to endure. I just don’t want that to be me.
Another question my therapist asked me, way back when I first entered treatment, was “what are you afraid of?” At the time, I was afraid of food. I was afraid of being big. I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough to make it to nationals. I was afraid I wasn’t good enough, period. Now, I’m not afraid of any of that. I’m afraid of being too comfortable, of getting complacent. I’m afraid of forgetting the difference between real pain and the pain I sign up for when I choose to run 100 miles. I run “so much” in part because the pain of running a lot is nothing compared to the pain of life. But it does make me stronger, and it does give me the confidence to face whatever pain life throws my way. Pain is inevitable, and being strong, just like being weak, is a choice.