Monday, May 19, 2014

Reasons for running

I run to revenge myself.

Marco Olmo, 2007 winner of the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail (UTMB) at age 59, in One Step Beyond (2009), a film by Paolo Casalis and Stegano Scarafia, produced by BODA’.

Certainly, anyone who competes in ultra marathons/trails has been asked the question "why?" Probably they've wondered about it themselves - I know I have. I don't generally dwell on it very much except to remember the feeling at the end of any run, not to mention race, which is reason enough of course (the fun, the thrill, the sense of achievement), otherwise I might question myself into quitting a race.

Beyond that? Well, I don't know if I run to revenge myself - I'm not sure I have much revenge to exact. I do feel that I have often run for redemption and a renewed self-esteem and sense of self...

I think the best is just to keep a running tally (no word pun intended):

  1. Because I can.
  2. Because one day I might not be able to.
  3. It’s a cheap sport if you don’t get carried away with ‘equipment fever’.
  4. It’s my only unique accomplishment: comfortably running 100km is not something most people can do (though the rapidly growing interest in trail running and my advancing age is making that less and less true).
  5. It stems the sensation that life is passing me by.
  6. Keeps me in shape. (Has saved my life.)
  7. Answers my need to feel things intensely, though I am quite incapable of managing intense emotions.
  8. Allows me to cope with the paradox in #7.

These last two laundry list items hide a question that I have been asked far less frequently than “why do you run?”, which is “what do you think of when you run?”.

This question is far more insightful than the former, and usually asked by people who have actually dedicated a certain amount of time to running and come away feeling that it is “boring”.

Why should it be boring? It certainly can’t be any less compelling than swimming or even biking. You’re outside and can enjoy the landscape—do people get bored hiking? I suppose so. But I think the fundamental reason for feeling bored is that we have a hard time being alone with ourselves and our thoughts.
Deep into an ultra, you enter a zone of “no-mind”. Of course, you are always peripherally aware of the stress you are placing on your body, you can feel the heat (or the cold), the weight of your backpack, the aches in your legs… You never let those thoughts gain too much traction, however, at the risk of entering a downward spiral of doubt and even despair that can lead to failure. I often find myself calculating how much distance I have covered, and how time it will take me to reach the next check point. I can’t do it for any great length of time, however. My thought processes freeze up after several hours, my brain is a mental marshmallow...

I thought before entering an ultra-trail that I would be having amazing flights of insight into life’s most complex problems. The truth is, my mind was empty, completely at rest—an extraordinary feeling.

And so... running for the silence

I did not compete in my first Marathon des Sables expecting to find silence, but that’s the greatest gift I received. And then I lost it.

So now I run and run to find it again and again. One day I hope that I won’t let it go.

Silence is a spiritual treat as rare as the flower bird parrot of Thailand. So often we do all we can to avoid it. I can understand that: silence scares me. It gives me vertigo, like empty space. So I run to exorcise this fear, embrace my phobia. That is why I run: for and towards silence.
Sometimes I wonder whether it isn’t a futile quest. Does silence truly exist? Isn't it a bit like the color black, the absence of something? And can we measure absence?
I really don’t know much about silence. So little. Almost nothing at all.
Not yet.
I’ve run for my father, for health, for my life, to impress my friends, my wife, my children.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process, all about what I would like to release and let go.
Now I’d like to run in a way that is devoid of any sense of ego, because I can.
To share the gift and the beauty of that silence.

To run because I can...

Running to share

And this means that I must run for a reason, for a cause, for those who can’t.

This is why, since the Marathon des Sables in 2006, I have tried to tie a particularly grueling trail run with raising money for a foundation. Like so many other runners. So that adds two other items to the list:

  • I like the spirit of trail running and the people competing in them.
  • When lived to the fullest, devoid of any notion of personal achievement, it leads to a sense of generosity, forgiveness and love of the world.

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