Why Run?


Lee McKinkley and I training on the Way Too Cool 50K Course

Lee McKinkley and I training on the Way Too Cool 50K Course

Let’s do a little math. Say I average about 1 hour of running per day and I mostly run everyday. Sure there are the weekends when I will run for a couple hours on a Saturday or Sunday but let’s be on the conservative side and say just 1 hour a day, every day of the year. That’s 365 hours or just over 15 days, a serious amount of time. Now do a little more math and assume I continue this routine and retire from the running routine at age 65, in 25 years. I will have spent an entire year, 365 days, or 8,760 hours running.  This is if I just start counting now. This doesn’t even include any time I’ve already invested. 

I have to ask: is this the best use of my time? Will I look back at some point and regret not spending the time doing something else? I mean, 8,760 hours. That’s a significant amount of time. The same can be said for a lot of little things. Over time, the little things can start to add up. That $4 cup of Starbucks a couple times of week will exceed $10,000 in just 25 years. And 25 years might seem like a long time looking ahead but looking back you realize time rolls right along, faster than we ever expected. 

We rationalize the run. Exercise. Sure, some people go to the gym for an hour. Some people play golf or tennis or swim. The exercise probably keeps me healthy on some level. Before running, I tipped the scales at over 205 lbs. Now I’m about 170 lbs. Better? Probably. A little bit of exercise each day helps me relieve stress, unwind and often solve some coding issues. Some people do yoga. Few things clear my mind like a run through the mountains. But while some problems can be solved with a run on a trail, most problems won’t be solved by going for a run. Work can be incredibly demanding and stressful. This week I’ll put in more than 50 hours at work so that 1 hour a day, working my heart, stretching my legs and clearing my mind seems necessary. Maybe for all those hours I’ll sink into running, I might be extending my life a few more years. This is impossible to know although, if all things were equal and two people arrived at age 65, one having exercised and one having not exercised, I would probably put my money on the one who had been exercising, unless we are talking Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. Although there are some studies that show running might prevent the onset of dementia.  

But is this why I run? Is this why I spend time away from my family, time away from other activities that seem to be calling me? Usually, twice a week I will take Dylan with me and push him along in the jogging stroller and we’ll stop to see the horses. On these days, we are spending time together, maybe laughing, maybe practicing his ABC’s. But so much of the other time is spent alone, somewhere out there pushing myself through another mile. My schedule can be erratic which means I will seldom go for a run with someone. Right before moving from Santa Rosa, I had connected with another local runner, Bob Shebest, and we started running together. Had some great conversations running together, then I moved. But the friendship formed on those Annadel trails has kept us connected. In the last 2 weeks, twice I’ve run with Lee McKinley as we get ready for the Way Too Cool 50K. Yet, most of the time, there’s a rush to get out the door and then once out the door, another rush to be home.   

So what’s the point? What’s the big deal? Is there anything special about being able to run 26.2 miles, 50K, 50 miles or even 100 miles. What’s gained from being able to step outside and run a marathon in under 3 hours? Not much. There’s no fame and fortune waiting for you at the finish line. I’m not going to qualify for the Olympics. Not going to win the Boston Marathon. But it is funny when non running friends ask “So do you think you have a chance to win something like the Boston Marathon?” 

Do I look Kenyan to you? 

So why invest so much time into something, something that probably isn’t going to matter that much in the long run? 

If you are going into a race, these are not the questions to be asking yourself. You don’t want to be seeking a purpose halfway into a race. During a race, you need to be mentally prepared to suffer and focus on pushing the body to the limit. There should be no other focus than crossing that finish line as fast as possible. Yet, for me, so many times at the longer distances, the “Why?” question seems to surface. A 100 meter dash provides no time for philosophical musing. Whereas a 100 mile ultra can invite too much of “Why am I here? What’s the purpose?” 

But it’s good to ask the questions and think about it every now and then. The thing about running is that it is so selfish and can be self-centered. It’s hard to find ways to balance that but that’s one of the joys of pacing other people. The focus is on getting them to the finish and their accomplishment. How’s that for a justification? 

So why do I enjoy that 1 hour so much? How is it that on any given day or night, I can feel so alive in that hour? I’m not running away from my problems. Not escaping. Not looking for something else. It’s my evening walk in the woods, a time to contemplate, to plan, to reflect, to remember and to recharge. And the thing about time is that we will fill our time with something, be it family, work, shopping, reading, TV or Facebook. I know if not a simple run, something will quickly absorb that 1 hour. If I multitask during that 1 hour run by practicing the ABC’s with Dylan or listening to a good Audible book, then maybe I can justify the hour a little more.


2 thoughts on “Why Run?

  1. Napa Valley Marathon today — was reminded, watching all those hearty souls run by, of author Mark Helprin’s words, that the treasures of this earth are courage, laughter, love, and movement. No doubt, our ambition (obsession?!) for personnel excellence creates a momentum that carries with it a certain inertia that by force of gravity drags others into becoming better versions of themselves, and full of more courage, more laughter, more love, and all because of movement. Energy begets energy. Shine the light!

    From “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin –

    “‘No,’ Hardesty said firmly. ‘You don’t understand. My father had a way of speaking, a way of doing things indirectly so that we could learn while he slowed decisions and held them open to view. When we were young, if we asked him what time it was, he wouldn’t tell us, he’d show us his watch. Everything he did enable others to learn. He was desirous that we ‘by indirections find directions out.’ And, in this instance, his wishes are very clear to me. Perhaps if I didn’t know him so well […] I would have a choice. But I have no choice here, not if I am to fulfill his ambitions for me, and, like him, rise out of myself and become something better than what I am.”

  2. “Energy begets energy” is a great quote and there is something about being in the midst of energy and excitement that inspires. Watching the Napa Valley Marathon today, there must have been some small part of you that missed being out there and running the race. Your competitive blood starts to percolate, ever so slightly, but it’s in you and you can sense it. There are so many mountains to climb out there. I wonder if trying to climb the same type of mountain, over and over, trying to climb it faster, brings the expected results. Gladwell’s 10,000 hours is a big amount of time! It’s a long journey. We have so many bigger purposes in life and running is just a tiny fraction of what makes us. I’m happy to be able to slip outside and enjoy the trails, run through the streams and along the mountains. But there are the days that for a brief hour, running is the purpose. My intensity has dropped the last couple years but it can still demand a lot. Sometimes I wonder when it will be OK to take the foot off the gas pedal and slow down? Probably not any time soon.

    Why ____? I think we can ask the question about almost anything.

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