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Why Do Epic Multi-Hundred-Mile Runs Anyway?

“All of our life has been a wicked ride.” — Melody Gardot

What started as a simple question on Facebook — why run across Texas? — has turned out to be complex and exceedingly difficult to answer, partly because after some introspection, I’ve discovered my reasons are dependent on each other. A single, simple answer doesn’t seem to exist.

There are several common reasons many people choose to do epic runs, and these are by no means exhaustive.

  • for “15 minutes of fame”
  • bucket list / retirement dream
  • charity fundraising
  • issues awareness / education / advocacy
  • personal challenge
  • to honor an epic wager or promise
  • to prove a point
  • to set a record
  • to work out personal or mental health issues
  • completing a spiritual journey
  • because “this is who I am and this is my destiny”

My most basic and obvious reasons for running across Texas and later, the US, were simple: because they are difficult to do even without Type 1 diabetes, and I wanted to first prove to myself I could do them despite Type 1.

I also wanted other people with Type 1 diabetes to see that they too could dream big and accomplish big things despite the disease if someone like me who didn’t even start until his 40s could do it.

I also wanted to show people who still live with ingrained prejudices about type 1 diabetes and lifestyle that I am out there living a far healthier life than they are in their genetic utopia.

Finally, I wanted to bring attention to the fact that people like me who are bona fide athletes can take every bit of advice to eat right and exercise and still wake up diabetic.

There are many other reasons I could have chosen that would have been legitimate:

I could say it’s because I wanted to educate the ignorant or influence policy makers, but there are easier ways to make a point.

I could say my desire was to do something of moon-shot complexity. To pull off such things requires what I call “expeditionary thinking“: mentally packing, equipping, weather planning, time and financial budgeting, and contingency planning well before the actual physical event. But simply being logistically able to pull things off is, as mathematicians say, necessary but not sufficient.

I could say I was pushing myself to impress friends, or proving to my father that I was worthy of his love. But my friends and my dad would have loved and supported me no matter what, and those others who were hardest to impress inevitably found some way to minimize the accomplishment and I have gradually learned that’s the kind of emotional baggage I don’t need.

However, to answer “why do epic?” with “because it is epic” begs the question. What the ego conceives must inevitably meet head on with the realities of actually doing the Big Run. The process of training one’s mind and body to push to the edge of its limits will grind you into dust. Even if it is your reason for starting, ego alone cannot carry you over the long haul and to the finish.

The truth is that none of these suffices alone, and even together they fail to capture the soul of it all.

None of those explains what it feels like to want to Do the Hard Things, to plan out the dream, then to go out and live that dream while you still have the chance.

None of us lives forever. There are things I want to accomplish that I won’t be able to do that if I stop early. I’m almost 60 years old. None of us knows when we step out the door for our morning run whether or not it will be the last time we can. We do not know on any particular day whether our best days are behind us. We only know that one day they will be.

I do not fear that day. But I know it will come. Before it does, I want the tattoos, the pain, the elation, the transformed perspective, the little victory dance, and the warm satisfaction of having done something really big and difficult.

I want the memory, not the dream.

When I put up my running shoes for the last time, I don’t want to look back at what I meant to do but never got around to doing. I don’t want to think of the time I wasted or the excuses I offered and accepted for lassitude or inaction. I want to be able to stand hand-in-hand with my wife, look out the door at the setting sun, remember our adventures, and say to myself without regret, “Well… that was one wicked ride.” (<–Music credits: Melody Gardot)