runners of all walks of life are often asked this one question by non-runners, which, while simple and only constructed of a few words, begs a thinking process tantamount to answering an Epistemology course exam question. it's worse for ultrarunners as, to most pedestrian spectators, we're appearing to be half-assedly attempting suicide, or at least slightly deranged.
"why do you run?"
simple, reasonable answers exist for this question.
"for the mental clarity."
"my dog needs to take a dump."
"fun starts at the end of my comfort zone."
"I want to wear short shorts, even if my peers think it's socially unacceptable for someone of my physique."
few realize that the wide range of responses applicable to this
question actually forms a bigger, more fundamental reason for why you
run. the problem is that this reason does not manifest itself through
words but only appears as a mild sensation while you're running.
henceforth--the more tangible an answer becomes, the harder it is to put
it into sentences.
this eleventy-bajillion part feature, I will attempt to put my spin
into the runner's search for meaning. as noted, the resulting draft of a
runner's rambling manifesto will be guaranteed to DNF. each post will
connect to a previous post in some manner, forming a giant puzzle of
indeterminate size and product. however--i hope this sisyphean endeavor
will help you find a more purposeful consciousness to your running
But Leo--haven't you covered this already?
Yes, I have actually.
Instead of an existential topic, this post is titled as such to let you know that I'm not dead yet. Keen readers will note that I haven't posted trail porn as of late or written up a race report either.
The former is mostly because I find myself running in the same place (West Bragg Creek, Alberta) in the winter months and quite frankly, that shit gets boring after a while, being covered in snow all the time. The latter is because this year will be a healing year and I will be focusing on stewardship instead of racing, with my race/travel season commencing later in May. So apologies on the lack of FOMO aggravation, but that shit will come later.
Instead of answering the almighty question today, we are however going to talk about trail porn though, and how its absence helps me come up with entries to this silly series of rants.
If you've run with me regularly, you'll sometimes here me talk about my quasi-running coach at work who occasionally goads me into cramming a half marathon over a lunch run with at least 250m of gain each time. This man used to be a fellrunner back in the UK, and when I can actually keep up with him, he'll regale me with stories of another life lived in the UK.
To make a long story short, fell running is essentially mountain running around northern Britain and other European locales where courses are usually longer, steeper and completely unmarked. There is a lot of money that could be poured into this sport, but there are two things preventing this. The first is that most of the races happen in bumfuck nowhere; even getting to a suitable viewpoint to spectate the race away from an aid station is ridiculously onerous so you essentially don't have a big enough audience. The second is that most of its stakeholders appreciate the raw, grassrootsy visceral spirit of the sport and would rather not have a large corporate body with dollar signs for eyes come adulterate its mandate (see: Leadville post-2010).
Barring the fact that this mindset is hard to come by in a more materialistic North America, I've actually found that this same visceral spirit seems so foreign given how GoPros, smartphones and GPS watches seem to be standard-issue in our running gear these days. Do we even run anymore for a reason other than to document the event and find some group-approved gratification?
I'm not going to lie--I'm extremely guilty of the narcisstic side of this balance. My Facebook cover and profile picture changes once every Friday morning like clockwork, usually showing me somewhere aggravating your FOMO while running. But as of late, I've scaled back on the number of selfies and actual photos taken while running, for the sole purpose of living the moment instead of documenting my run. You could say that views are earned and henceforth you deserve that mid-run selfie with the shit eating grin on the top of the mountain, but to be fair--when you whip that phone out, you're already living retrospectively, thinking about how you'll look back on this. To put it in the words of M.T. Anderson--you are living "with the future view of the present scarfing down the present itself".
So, if you're ever inclined to answer this almighty question on a run just like I do--leave your phone holstered or pocketed. Don't let your storytelling method define the story you want to tell. Charm your mind more than your jumpshots and Strava activities charm others. Make each run worth remembering, without the use of historical cues. Live the dream. And just run.
And as for my lack of activity--rest assured, for I am probably out there somewhere, tearing the trails up with that shit eating grin in bliss.