Why Do You Have to Run So Much?

[Editor’s Note: The beauty of life is the beauty of life, no? There are so many things to love. It’s the nature of the human spirit, perhaps, to grow deeply attached to many beautiful things, our family, friends, hobbies, adventures, homes, to name a few. In the following essay, Leon Lutz articulates his love for both his family and his sport.]

“Why do you have to run so much, Daddy?”

My dear Lily (and your little sister, Piper Bea),

If I’m being honest, and for the sake of both you and Piper Bea, I must and will be, I’d seen the question in your eyes a time or two before you actually spoke the words. More than likely I assigned that look to long days and a child’s want to always, always, always move on to the next adventure, hoping that the sentiment existed only on the very surface and lacked actual residence in your worries.

Lily and Piper

Lily and Piper

As the words hang there in the air, waiting for me to accept the challenge of offering an acceptable response, I now recognize their sincerity and beginnings rooted more deeply than just in moments of exhaustion or boredom.

At six years of age, you must find two hours waiting for my return to be interminably long. And that, of course, allows for only a short run in comparison to half days, full days, days on end in the backcountry seeking, perhaps, the answer to the very question you just posed. The older I get, the more fleeting hours and even days seem to be, but you haven’t yet been saddled with the sobering perspective of aging, the consciousness of expiration dates and a notion of fewer years ahead than behind. Thank goodness. I actually find relief in knowing that this is not yet graspable for you or your sister. I celebrate it and ache at the idea that you both one day will comprehend the ceaseless, unrelenting march of time.

By the look on your face, I can tell that you’ve decided I wasn’t listening or don’t have any intention of answering your question, but I do. I’m trying.

Many other children, husbands, wives, partners, parents, friends have asked this very same question of runners scattered all across this enormous (though not so enormous as you might think) planet. Each of them has deserved an honest answer just as each person who asked the question is equally deserving of his or her right not to provide one. But, for you, I am trying.

Much of my answer lies in the sensations conjured by watching you and Piper Bea race about the backyard. It is the same emotions I experienced the first time you twisted your little newborn hands into my beard and unfurled a yawn seemingly too big for your little body before falling asleep nestled beneath my chin. Witnessing inaugural smiles, first words and teetering, exploratory steps elicited similar feelings. All of those initial revelations and awe-inspiring discoveries were connections to a world so breathtakingly beautiful when uncluttered by all that you at six do not, simply cannot, yet know. How sad it is for me to accept that you will not be and cannot be kept from one day knowing.

When I run and especially when I run long and far, all that I’ve come to know (or think I know) of the world washes away and I am better, much better, for it. The connections that came so easily at four and six years old, connections that seem nearly impossible to make at 39, become quite possible. Not only do they become possible, Lil, they happen. Bodies that would pass wordlessly on a city street or a suburban neighborhood engage effortlessly in comfortable conversation. Laughter, genuine heart-happy laughter, is the norm amongst ultrarunners and occurs without the reservations of political correctness or the shadowy assessment of present company.

That furrow in your tiny brow reveals your frustration at trying but failing to understand that last sentence but I couldn’t be happier that the weight of social constraints is one foreign to you, at least for now.

I’ll say it another way. You don’t like closed doors, do you? I’ve watched you approach them with the same disdain I feel, your posture almost demanding access to the other side. Life is full of closed doors, Lily, and I too tire of them. Out on the trails, doors that are closed in our everyday are opened wide. No, that’s not quite right. They aren’t opened so much as they just aren’t there at all.

Please don’t mistake my yearning for the outdoors and my passion for running as a need to escape the world on the whole or a suggestion that all of life is constraints, enclosures and nuisance. There is so much to love about our family, our home, our neighbors, school and, yes, even work. You and I have talked quite a lot about balance both in the physical sense of avoiding toppling over on the playground or while riding your bicycle and in the less easy to understand way of keeping from feeling like you’re being pushed, jostled and overwhelmed by everything being asked of you by your friends, your teachers or Lindsay and me… Sorry, Mommy and me.

For providing me with that second kind of balance, trail running should be given significant credit. Rather than serving as an escape, my time spent running and exploring keeps me from getting dizzy and losing sight of all that there is to love in a sometimes crazy world. I may lose my physical balance, take a misstep and fall while running, but the rest of life seems to spin a little less out of control thanks to my time spent on the trail.

I suspect that doesn’t make much sense either, does it? But it is true.

Me and the Kids

Me and the kids.

Remembering how much I love you, your mother and Piper Bea is easy and doesn’t require any reminders, but other things can be taken for granted. Mowing the lawn, paying the bills and fixing all the little dings and flaws that need fixing can definitely add up to my not fully appreciating how lovely it is to have our house. Eight, 12, 24 or more hours on my feet and many miles of effort have a funny way of making home seem really, really precious. Solitary runs which I enjoy nearly as much as those shared, if in a different way, make me that much more appreciative of conversation and interaction upon arrival back home and at work. Even the end of long races that included time spent with others brings the promise of reuniting with loved ones or, best of all, receiving big hugs from sign-toting daughters! Long hours on the trail and the freedom from external demands also provide a clear focus, otherwise often lacking, when I go to work day after day, week after week without a break.

All of that perspective is a wondrous benefit of running so much, but it isn’t the honest answer to your question. The answer, getting back to my earlier point, is joy. Innocence, sadly, is fleeting. Unrestricted movement and an unfettered engagement of the senses with nature are the closest I’ve come to reclaiming innocence and restoring the naiveté that makes each new discovery a miracle. Being outside is on its own nearly enough, but coupling the outdoors with running gets me all the way there. When I run, I am not jaded. When I run, all that I see, hear and feel is seen, heard and felt anew, experienced for the first time. For the first time, every time.

When I run, Lily, I know joy. I really do. I’m fully immersed in it without any interference. It isn’t something that I’m reading about or seeing on a television screen and recognizing as happiness. It is happening right there inside of me. Inside of me and all around me. It’s the same unencumbered joy that you experienced (and your adoring parents, too) with those first smiles, first words, first steps. It is the astonishing sparkle in your eye when you waved to me before stepping on the school bus for your first day of kindergarten and the corresponding pride that brought tears to my eyes. Remember how excited you were to show me you could hang upside down from the swing set and do flips underwater at the pool? That joy, that’s what running gives me. Racing down every new trail (or old, familiar trail for that matter) is like pulling off that first flip or realizing that I’m doing it, I’m doing it… I am actually hanging upside down!

It’s wonderful, isn’t it, Lily?

I don’t ever want to miss out on your latest achievement, your newest discovery. More importantly, I do not ever want to be present only to then take any of your joy for granted. The balance of running and all else that life is and can be helps to ensure that I never overlook the things that fill you with joy. Maybe you’ll even find in time that running is for you too one of its sources, but it doesn’t ever need to be, not ever. So long as you find an activity, a person, something, anything that helps you find connection, balance and love, I’ll be there to help you celebrate it.

Oh, how I look forward to one day asking you why you do whatever it is you decide you best like doing so much. Even if I think I know the answer.

Love you always and at every moment,


There are 74 comments

  1. Evan B.

    Beautifully written. Running is meditation, indeed – I know it keeps me sane and calm and centered, and makes me a generally better person to share with my loved ones. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Jeff H

    Leon – that was very sweet. It made me reflect on the many shared experiences I have had over the years with my now grown runner daughters – both the joys and the sorrows. Snow shoeing high on the Continental Divide Trail in utter silence, cresting a ridge with one of them at each elbow, the medal ceremony at a middle school XC race, tears after a disappointing championship race, a quiet car ride to my first ultra and cheers at the finish, emails about training and decisions, and most fresh in my mind running up a pass in the Penine Alps and then descending through the forest stride for stride with my daughter leading the way. I hope whatever direction you and your girls' lives take you are able to share these sorts of moments with them. Thanks!

  3. Jason

    Great article, it reminded me of one of things I wonder about during ultras if Agent Smith from the movie The Matrix was right : "But I believe that as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering."


  4. Steve L

    People can be selfish, running is beautiful. However, our four children think running is no fun as did I until my mid 30's. Thanks for sharing the article.

  5. max

    well aren't you bitter. A man explained the joy he experiences while alone in the mountains and how it causes him to appreciate those in his life more, I suggest you try some of that.

  6. HeatherW

    I find that my own running really helps keep the sports practices and games in perspective. There are so many parents on the sidelines that are living vicariously through the kids, and I don't think that's healthy. For me, since I already got MY sport on, I can just sit on the bench and enjoy watching them play. Or, since my daughters play field hockey, and there's usually a track around the field, I'll do laps rather than bark orders at them from the sidelines.

      1. Waldo


        Agreed. Forgive my transgression. It just blows me away that someone can look at such an honest and thoughtful piece of writing and respond with bitterness and cynicism. Please feel free to remove my prior comment.

        P.S. You know everyone else was thinking it ;)

  7. Mary

    People run for different reasons, because yours happens to be some other motivation, I go to the gym everyday for my vanity and don't need to run; it is one of the few things I love to do and not for vanity at all. I do it in part for peace of mind.

  8. Nicole Whiting

    I'm not quite sure what is meant by "precious". Too neat and tidy? Too sweet? Inauthentic? I think the majority of parents know all the cliches…"There's no correct answer." "You have to do what works for you and your child." "It's a process." Leon's letter isn't prescriptive; it doesn't suggest that there won't be hard(er) choices and balancing acts in the future. This is a heartfelt communication from a father to his daughters at a point in time. There's dozens, hundreds of "Wait untils…" and that's ok. "Wait until…" doesn't negate the joy found in this moment.

  9. adam w

    Great words dude. But what brought tears to the eyes of this rookie dad where the words of the folks sharing how they hold the scales on balance.

    Being a runner and a part of the tribe will be a gift our children will be much better off for in the long run. It takes a village. Even if they hate running when they grow up….I bet they'll hate it with passion !!

  10. Nick J

    I have two kids – 2 and 6 and a wife of sorts (we're not married but it's been too long now to refer to her as my girlfriend and we don't like the term "partner" either). Anyway, I run an average of 10 hours a week, mostly mornings (pre-breakfast) or lunchtime (skip lunch). I'm self employed and try to stick to 40 hrs a week work. I like to sleep for about 8 hours a day. Soooo It's summer – waking time is about on average, say 15 hours daily. Multiplied that by 7 we have 105 hours a week to play with… So work is 40 + 10 for running and take that away from 105 leaves me 55 hours a week to spend with the family…

    55 hours a week! It's no wonder my wife/GF sometimes has to ask me to go for a run! And you know what my kids just don't seem to be bothered about Dad not being there, they're pretty good at amusing themselves.

    Nope zero guilt from me. Besides I believe in an inconsequential and indifferent universe where there is no such things as guilt and selfishness, that's just a human perception, it's all relative man… There just IS…

    So so for a run, because if you don't you'll just get in a mood and shout at the kids anyway…

    1. Kunlong

      Nick, as much as I hear and get what you are saying, but every house hold is different and the needs of the children are different also.. I am in a separate situation and it is still difficult. thank you for listening

      Kunlong Babatunde

  11. Kunlong

    I am a single dad going through so much when it comes to this be the best daddy you can be thing. I have always felt the feeling of not being a good dad because I never had a dad physically in my life, but i have learned to accept and forgive him. I have found a love and passion through running that I can't get anywhere else except my Mother and most important, my son. No one can touch that unless I found the right partner. My son means the world to me and everything I do, he is a implant inside of me mentally and physically, and enjoy the ride with me. I have never believed this before, but the most important part of this is being a partner with someone whom believes in your passion, and also believes in activity that involves more movement. THis is not to say that your wife, husband, boyfriend,and or girlfriend, is not a good parent, but I think it helps.

    This note you wrote to your children made me cry a lake because of what I am going through now and other time before it.

    I thought my EX got it when I ran with my son's picture when I did Leadville 100, but that was not enough. He is my light and no one can touch that and it sounds like you are the same way. It sounds like you have the support and just keep on communicating.. Hope to meet you on the trail someday Dad!!!

    Kunlong Babatunde

  12. Liesel Bradford

    Actually, I'd say 100% of the people that AREN'T self-absorbed runners were thinking exactly what I was thinking.

    And I agree with Bryon – insults are the last refuge of the weak minded.

  13. Liesel Bradford

    except he wasn't explaining his joy, he was using his joy as an excuse to be an absentee father. kind of a big difference. I give you a C- for reading comprehension on this one.

    1. LindsayL6

      Liesel- I feel that I need to step in and clarify. Leon wrote this as an explanation of why he runs. The only reason his children ask him why he runs is because they are highly inquisitive 4 and 6 year old girls who ask why he does EVERYTHING he does. How do I know? Because I am the mother of his children and his wife. The only thing that is absent due to his running is his sleep. He happens to run in the middle of the night after his family has gone to sleep. When we wake up, we love hearing about his adventures on the trail the night before. It’s entertaining and it shows our girls what lies outside of their little world. Leon is an amazing father. Anyone who actually knows him knows that he is father and husband first. Everything else falls in where it can fit. This article describes why he chooses the make sure that running fits in somewhere.
      Your comments are so harsh; I feel that you may be projecting the feelings you have for someone else onto Leon. I sincerely hope you are able to work through those feelings so you can move on with your life or at the very least be able to see things as they are and not from such a dark, pessimistic place.

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