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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 someone asked on Facebook — why run across Texas? — has turned out to be an exceedingly difficult and at times philosophically complex question, partly because after some introspection, I’ve decided many of my reasons are dependent on each other. A single, simple answer has somehow eluded me.

There are several common reasons people choose to do epic runs:

  • for your “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”

These are often intertwined.

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

I wanted other people with Type 1 diabetes to see that they too could dream big and accomplish big things despite the disease.

I 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.

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. 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.

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. Ego alone cannot carry you over the long haul.

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 who were hardest to impress inevitably found some way to minimize the accomplishment in their minds; and I have gradually learned that is emotional baggage I don’t need.

And yet, none of these really suffices.

I have to ask myself not why I run, nor why I run so far, but why I continue to do these things when no single reason is sufficient to explain what it feels like to want to do them, to plan out the dream, then to go out and live it 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)