Just about every time I tell someone that I run 100 mile races I get reactions that starts with shock and surprise, followed by the universal question “why would someone want to do that?” It’s a question we all struggle to answer in words because the it’s so glaring obvious to us. I find myself stammering out a few incoherent sentences about enjoyment or some other aspect, but to me, I find it more incomprehensible as why you wouldn’t want to run 100 miles. The idea of not wanting to do this is as foreign to me as the thought of wanting to spend a Saturday in bed or enjoying a lifetime docudrama on a dad’s misadventures at the grocery store. To me, what I do is the natural expression of who I am. I want to spend all day in nature, hanging out with these incredible people, drinking good beer, and yes running. So in some sense running a 100 mile race is no different than any other activity that people enjoy. However, I feel there are some things we can pull out that attract us to this idea.
First and foremost, there is something about the distance which captivates my imagination. 100 miles! It sounds impossible. The distance is extreme enough that the first time we hear about it, we cannot fathom it. It’s the unknown. It’s like someone 300 years ago hearing about this exotic land across the sea and wanting to experience it firsthand. With so few real frontiers available, the modern explorer may turn inward and desire to explore their own limits. How will I feel at 60 or 70 miles? What about the finish line? What is it like to have this experience?
Second, I think most people running these races are in search of something unique. I suspect a lot of my ultrarunning friends may be like me in that we search out the strange and unique things. I cannot be interested in “normal” things. My wife says that I have to find the strangest thing to be obsessed with. Due to the strenuous nature of running 100 miles, it is still fortunately considered strange. I hope we never lose that.
Third, the ultrarunning community provides us with a tribe. We all have similar experiences that most people cannot relate to. Through this shared experience we have a group to identify with. I think it may be a reaction against modern culture which tends to promote sameness. We watch the same tv programs, go to the same schools with the same curriculum, so that we can all be part of one giant group called “americans.” But, it’s all cold and impersonal. We may not really feel that we fit into the national culture, so we retreat to our mountain trails to be with people we share a deeper connection to. People we have bled with or shed tears with, of joy and pain.
Lastly, I think running 100 miles allows us to have an emotional journey. We get to experience the full spectrum of human emotions in one day. It is a spiritual and emotional quest of personal understanding. One I hope you as my reader get to one day experience for yourself.