Why We Run by Dan Schmidt

Trail Run Above Salida
Trail Run Above Salida

Getting down to the basics of why we run intrigues me. As much as I love the sport, I often become very anxious before big races and question why I’m about to undertake something so rigorous and down right painful. I often hear the prerace talk about having to be tough and to grin and bear it and to face head on the demons out there on the course. And I ask myself “…hmm, and why am I doing this? I’m no masochist. In fact, I can be quite the baby when it comes to pain.” Although there is a facet of the sport that is challenging, I believe there is something more we can tap into, something that can take us to another level in ultra running.

There is something mysterious and spiritual in a long trail run. Perhaps it’s the connection between yourself and nature. It could be the endorphins that kick in that put you in a state of euphoria. Or it could be what shamans of old experienced as nirvana. Whatever it is, it is like nothing else you can experience without putting yourself on a long trail with nowhere to go but forward. I’ll have to admit, it does not come every time I run.

The last time I recall it coming on was in a race after a period of real struggle. It was at mile 34 after a long time of feeling so bad that I wanted to drop out. All of a sudden the pain and struggle left me. I’m just cruising along. Similar to what I hear about an out of body experience, I look down and see my legs hammering away. It’s a very simple and primitive feeling. I feel like I’m very young again with boundless energy, or like a deer or fox bouncing along the trail. Everything comes together and I feel so good. At that moment I realize why I run. It doesn’t matter where I place in the race, who’s ahead of me or behind me, or anything else. I feel content. There’s no place I’d rather be or nothing else I’d rather be doing. I’m by myself in my own little world that is beautiful and serene with no cares, no tension, no noise or distraction.
Life can be a bit crazy in this world in which we live. Things are so competitive and stressful. Unfortunately I often see others bringing the same tension into running. It’s fun to win the race, but not all of us are in that position. But even if we are, I think performance as well as experience can be enhanced with this perspective.