Why run 100 miles? Well, it’s really hard to explain. The reasons are buried deep inside me and seem clear, but those same reasons are very hard to put into actual words especially into coherent thought out sentences that would seem sensible to most people. When most people hear that you are planning to or that you did run 100 miles they get this look on their face that indicates they think you might be a little nuts. They generally are kind about it but express that they can’t understand why you would do that. It is even hard for other runners who share the same love and joy of running that you do to understand. How do you explain why you would do something that is so foreign to what seems to be the natural state of human existence? Why would you put yourself through that?
For me I think a big part of it stems from how I got started in running. I started running primarily as a way to get into shape after really getting out of shape, particularly after starting a very sedentary desk job. My goal was to run a 5k. Once I found I was able to run a 5k I began to wonder what else I could do. I found that there were 10k races and I trained for and ran a couple of those. Then I set my sights on running a half marathon. I found with more training and more running I was able to complete a half marathon. I don’t know if I would say I was enjoying running at this point but it gave me goals to aim for and strive for as a way to get healthier and fitter. What could I accomplish as a fitness goal?
I wasn’t happy with my finish at my first half marathon because I managed to injure myself doing something stupid (trying to itch my calf at the same time as I continued to run) and that lead me to limping across the finish line in some degree of pain. So I pretty quickly decided that I was going to run that race again. At the beginning of the next year I joined our local running club and began to go to group runs. As I met more and more of my fellow runners I began to enjoy running more and more. The more people I became friends with and the more I talked to them about running and the things they were doing in running the more it stoked my fire for running. FYI I you befriend an ultra runner there is a 90% chance you will eventually run an ultra.
I became increasingly interested in trail running and met trail runners. I became more and more inspired and excited by the wide variety of things you can do in running, especially in trail running. In trail running every race is different, every run can be different. Plus trail running married running with my love of nature. It was the perfect fit for me. In trail running there are a wide variety of races and each race is on a course that will be nothing like any other course you run on. Every race is a completely new experience and I found this even more inspired. It is something I love about trail running. I love new experiences. I generally don’t run the same race very many times, because I just like to do different things. Even if I love a race I may not run it all the time because I just want to do something new.
This growing desire to push myself physically to see what I can do and the inspiration of doing something new helped to grow my spirit in ways that I never knew possible. When I started running I didn’t even know an ultra marathon was a thing. All of a sudden shortly after meeting this group of amazing and adventurous people I was running one.
When you talk to people about the adventures they have had doing something you love and how they have challenged themselves and then you set it in a framework of something you already love like being outdoors it really just stokes this fire inside you and grows your passion and excitement for just doing things. Exciting things. Hard Things. Fun things.
Maybe this is the kind of fun that only runners understand but testing your body is fun. It is fun in a way that is not really easy to explain. Either you are someone who likes to test their body physically or you are not. Either you are someone who likes to challenge themselves or you are not. I would argue many of us if not most of us actually do like to challenge ourselves but we just don’t think of it that way. I never did before I started running. Think about all of the hard things you have done in your life, especially those things that you chose. You didn’t do them just to torture yourself. You did them for some higher reason. Some reason that seems unquantifiable. That is the same reason I do hard things in running.
As I got baptized in the fire of ultra running I became aware of the fact that I was able to do more than I ever thought I could do. When I ran my first half marathon I said I would never run a marathon, NEVER. To be fair I have never run a road marathon, but I have now run 6 marathon or longer races in 2 years. I have learned as I have become more experienced in running that the more I do the more I can do. You kind of have a mental shift from I could never do that to wow I actually just did that, what else could I do. That can be completing our first 5k or completing your first half marathon, or for me the biggest shift came after completing my first 50k. I think that is when my mind really began to think about what am I actually physically capable of doing.
Once my body confirmed to my mind that I could be on my feet for more than 8 hours in a very challenging race it opened up a new realm for me mentally. If you let your mind go there you will become fascinated by it and then it will take hold of you. I think people think about all the things they can do but they do not let their minds fully occupy that space, they don’t give their minds permission to truly think about what they could do if they put their effort into doing it. Running more than a 50k would not be easy but could I actually do it if I put my mind and energy into preparing for it? I began to feel like the answer was yes.
As I talked more and more with my fellow runners about running and became aware of the amazing events that happen all across the United States and the world for that matter and I became aware of the incredible elite athletes who win these events it was hard not to become inspired. But you know what is even more inspiring than that? More inspiring than the elite athletes are the regular every day people that compete right alongside the elites at these events. Sure they don’t run the crazy fast times that the elite athletes run but they finish the same races. They complete the same course cross the same terrain as the elite athletes. They finish the race. Knowing that so many other people actually do this thing called ultra running and that so many people run 100 mile races was incredible. How could I not put myself to the test when so many other people were doing it?
It really became less about could I do it as how could I do it and when would I do it.
You run 100 miles because you get this feeling inside that you are capable of more and you have a desire to find out exactly what you are capable of. You want to unlock that human potential. That is what drives it.
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