Why Do You Run?

[Editor’s Note: Make sure to read all the way to the end because Geoff is hosting an essay contest to give away an entry to one of his Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps!]

There is one question in the sport of running that overshadows all others. Nearly everyone who runs has attempted to answer this question at some point. You might call it the ‘what’s the meaning of life’ question for runners. It’s so vast, confusing, and seemingly unanswerable that few runners choose to think about it with any kind of regularity, but yet it’s always there, lurking in the shadows. In most cases when the question is asked, we revert to an easy, shallow answer: “Because I like it; because it keeps me in shape; because it keeps me sane.” The question I’m referring to is of course, “Why do you run?”

I used to think about this question a lot more often when I had run a lot less than I have now. I also used to think about the meaning of life a lot more when I was 20 than I do now. In some ways I feel like ‘why’ matters a lot when you are learning any practice, but over time it becomes less important to know why. In some cases, this may be because we slowly learn that it really doesn’t matter why, but it also could be that with enough experience we come to realize that language isn’t necessarily equipped to answer these big questions. Perhaps the answer is more complex and profound than our imagination or our language is able to fully make sense of.

I generally find myself answering the question of why I run with a wide range of small answers which I hope come together to formulate a valuable larger picture. I run to explore and more closely understand the land. I run to help my mind understand itself. I run to further my relationship with my body. I run because it makes me happy. I run because it is shockingly fun to share running with other people. I run because it’s so simple. I run because it makes me a better person.

When I take all of these answers, as well as the hundreds of others which have percolated through my mind over the years, and put them all together, I come up with a definitive understanding of why I run. It all makes perfect sense to me, and yet despite its certainty I don’t know that I can accurately put it into words. For me it’s really more of a sensation than it is an explanation. I find it similar to the way that a smell can elicit so much depth and meaning despite it being almost impossible to explain why or how. I know that the smell of burning juniper is heavenly to me, but the answer, “because it smells good” doesn’t really begin to address the question of why.

I know why I run, but the answer is locked more in my deep psyche than it is in a place that I can readily draw from to create words and sentences. Each time I go out for a run, the answer becomes more definitive and more profound, and yet harder to explain.

The irony of writing an article which attempts to explain something which is essentially unexplainable is certainly not lost on me. That said, I do think there are a few answers hidden in my explanation, even if they are subtle and indirect, and the exercise is a productive one. I can’t explain to you why I run any more tangibly than I can explain why I like the smell of burning juniper, but in both cases I can feel the answer somewhere deep inside me as obvious and certain as can be.

The question now in my mind is how other runners answer this question. I’ve talked with other runners about this on occasion, but in the same way that I don’t regularly talk with most people about the meaning of life, I also don’t typically ask people why they run. I’m feeling bold, though, so I’m going to put it out there for anyone to take a stab at tangibly getting the feelings you harbor inside of you out. To make it an even more intriguing question, I am going to give away a free entry to my Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp for the response that we decide best answers this question! Yes, you read that correct. A week of running in the mountains in Alaska with all food, lodging, and ground transportation included ($1,475 value!) is yours for free if you are chosen as the writer of the best short essay answering the question, “Why do you run?”

[Editor’s Note: The contest closed on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. Thanks to everyone who entered!]

Please read through all the details below before submitting your answer:

  • Giveaway includes all camp entry fees. You will be responsible for your travel to/from Juneau, Alaska.
  • The Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp (and therefore this essay contest) is only open to participants aged 18 and over.
  • Entry will be valid for any one of the following 2015 sessions: Feb 20-26; Aug 1-7; or Aug 10-16. (The June 21-27 session is full and is not an option for this giveaway.)
  • Please read through the camp website before submitting your entry. Only enter the contest if you plan to attend one of the three available sessions.
  • Please keep your essay to 350 words or less.
  • Submit your essay directly to Geoff at [email protected] with the subject “iRunFar essay contest”.
  • Please put your essay in the body of your email message so we do not need to deal with incompatible attachments.
  • If you wish to chime in on this topic, but do not wish to enter the contest, please submit your thoughts in the comment section here on iRunFar. Please only email Geoff with essays which you wish to submit to the contest.
  • Deadline to submit essays will be 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, January 21.
  • The winner will be notified via email, and announced here on iRunFar on Wednesday, January 28.
  • Any essays submitted may be published on iRunFar. Please let us know when you submit your essay if you don’t want it published, or if you want your name to remain anonymous.
  • The question, “why do you run?” is a very general question, and thus, there is no specific answer we are looking for. Simply answer this question in 350 words or less and we will select the one we think answers this question in the most creative, thought provoking, and well-stated way.
  • Good luck!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

You heard Geoff! Submit your essay to him via email to enter the contest. Feel free to comment here with other remarks, but know that a comment to this article is not considered entry into the contest.

There are 5 comments

  1. dotkaye

    when I was young the answer was simple, because it brings me more joy than any other activity. Now that I'm old fat and breathless, and every run brings its familiar assortment of pains and memories: it's harder to answer..

  2. piedsquipuent

    I turn around and have a look behind me, good… none are close anymore, and none seem to be closing on me. I have a comfortable advance, i can relax a little but cannot let my guard down, they don't run fast, but who knows. It was close at the beginning, but all the training i put in was worth it, especially the VMA sessions which allowed me to power on early and be fast, digging in a safe distance.
    Running, it's all i seem to do these days, pretty much every day, not that i was lazy before, but that event, the one that changed my life, all our lives actually had me thinking…Run, it's for your own good, the only way: mentally, to deal with the pain and drive away the relentless “why me” thoughts, and of course, physically i want to stay in shape, live as long as possible, my children depend on me.
    The coming hills will further slow them down, i have been using them as training, know them like the back of my hands, it will be over for them. Jumping on a log and running along it's lenght, an idea springs to mind, once across the river, i drop the two containers i am carrying, pull the log to my side of the stream, this will slow them down even further, they might not even find the trail afterwards.
    Picking up my nutrients again, i continue up the hill at a slower but steady pace until i reach the summit. Once there, i bask in a stunning sunset view of the surrounding hill, the river gently flowing its way down in the valley. Below i hear voices, mumbles and grumbles really, they have reached the river, but do not know where to go anymore, i look at the weights i have been carrying for the past hour, turn my face into the setting sun and smile: 2 year old "Chuncky clam chowder"…. why do i run? Zombie apocalypse survival… What else…

  3. IowaMtnLover

    Not much of a writer, but that was the most fun I've ever had while writing an essay. One of the quotes I've had on my wall phrases it much more eloquently. I apologize for not remembering the author. I feel like it may resonate with a lot of us: "We make sense out of running. The act becomes a metaphor the runner can use to understand the rest of life. The effort, the consistency, the joys, the pain, the failures, the successes, the friendships, the sense of place, the monotony, the mountains, the sidewalks, the surges, the work, the heartache, the beauty, the simplicity, the suffering–all of these experiences the runner creates out of his act–become templates for understanding himself and the world around him. We runners develop a set of meanings which help us to create and experience life in a richer way. Running is a practice of meaning. That's why it is a practice of freedom. It gives us freedom to make sense out of the crushing confusion of life."

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