With the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon one month away and the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon two, the question many people ask is, “Why do you run?” Two professional runners check in on the topic in the books “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes and “The Extra Mile” by Pam Reed.
Both have won the Badwater 138 mile desert run. Both have run 300+ miles at a stretch. Both are genetically, disciplined freaks who work hard at being able to run forever. And both of their stories are born out of loss.
Dean’s sister died when he was young, and he attributes much of his drive to run to his loss. In fact, he has turned his talent to raising money for cancer stricken kids. Not a morose man or seemingly guilt stricken man, Dean is much like his nickname: a machine.
Pam’s story is a bit more complicated. Plagued with anorexia much of her life, she survived one failed marriage and sustains another while organizing the Tucson marathon. Pam is famous for competing and winning against men in ultra distance events. She has broken new ground for women’s athletics, yet many have never heard of her.
Both make a small attempt at answering the question, “Why do you run?” Neither have much more of an answer than, “I like it, and it was what I was born to do.” Neither speaks much to what they think about when running. Running is almost pure escapism for them. Pam gives the best answer, I suppose. She says that no one looks at Shaquille O’neal and wonders why he plays basketball, so no one should look at her and wonder why she runs 100+ miles. This may be true for her but not for Dean as by his own admission, he doesn’t have a typical running physique.
Essentially, these two are just good runners. They endure the most harsh of conditions for incredible amounts of time, and run more miles than many walk in a lifetime for one reason: they can. They are good at it, so they do it. They don’t describe it as fun necessarily, but the lifestyle is enjoyable to them.
In my previous review of Dean’s book “50/50” I wondered why he made no mention of God in any way, either positive or negative. He doesn’t in “Ultramarathon Man” either, but Pam does. She merely says, “I believe in God.” It would appear that to both of them, running is their spiritual side though it lacks any personality of focus. They feel spiritually healthy when they run.
I agree to some extent. Running for me has moved way beyond a mere physical discipline. It does keep me healthy, but it also makes me more focused throughout the day. However, its greatest benefit for me is the ability it gives me to pray and meditate. My best times of conversation with Jesus are on the road (and not just praying, “Please help”).
What I have found among many runners in the Garner/Raleigh area is something very similar. I know several endurance bikers and runners, and their prep and dedication to exercise are like a spiritual commitment. They won’t miss an opportunity to hit the trail. In fact, one of my EMS buddies even said as much. Exercise is an act of worship. What exactly is being worshiped is the proper question, but that is a question to be answered on another day.
Feel free to weigh in with comments or emails to let me know why you run. And check out both books if you want to be challenged to push your running further. Perhaps one or both of the runners will read this and weigh in as well.