Last month, during the waning hours of the Western States 100, I was approached by an older gentleman while I waited on the infield for the final few finishers.
“AJW, I don’t want to bother you but I’ve been dying to ask you a question. After all these years in the sport, what are the three things that keep you coming back?”
As I was starting to think about formulating an answer to his question, a ripple came through the crowd as it was announced that Scott Mills, the oldest runner in the field and on his quest for his 18th finish, had cleared Robie Point and was heading for the track. In that moment, I thanked the gentleman for his question, told him I’d get back to him, and shuffled up the road to meet Scott and his crew.
I never had a chance to get back to the gentleman with my answer, so I’ll do so now. Here are the three things and keep me coming back to running:
Of all the things in my life, nothing has taught me more about the importance of discipline than long-distance running. The willingness to put in the work, day after day, week after week, and month after month is a prerequisite for the ultrarunner. Without discipline the long-distance running endeavor and its inevitable partner, simple, good, old-fashioned hard work, is a shallow and incomplete exercise. However, with discipline, accrued over time and honed through a series of successes and failures, we become better runners and, I dare say, better people.
Many of us who are closing in on middle age have battled a similar internal debate. What am I doing and why am I doing it? What is it in my life that really matters? While most of us focus on the ‘what,’ running has taught me to focus on the ‘why.’ I have found that once I’ve answered the why question, the what tends to flow from there. Running gives my life structure and focus, allows me to address the issues of the rest of my life, and makes me a complete person. Simply put, the absence of running terrifies me and that alone gets me out the door every morning and makes me more of who I am. Nothing gets me closer to the essence of my being than running.
The Capacity to Dream
In an increasingly busy, noisy, and complex world, running propels me into the future. Running opens up my conscience to the big picture and allows me to look ahead to something better, something bigger, and something deeper. The dream of that special something out there is made plain in the daily act of putting one foot in front of the other. I am not sure why this is but I know it’s true. Most of the long-distance runners I know, especially those who’ve been at it for a while, know this inherently, running exposes us to a dreamscape full of wonder and possibility, as long as you let it. That, more often than not, is what brings me contentment at the end of a run and closes the circle on the challenge of beginning.
And so, Mr. Friendly Stranger on the Track at Auburn, those are the three things that keep me coming back. Nothing glamorous there, I know. But in the elegant simplicity of our sport, I prefer to keep the fancy stuff tucked away. For it is through discipline, purpose, and the capacity to dream that I find most of my comfort. And in that comfortable place I have found a home.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Sufferfest Beer Company in San Francisco, California. Sufferfest is the first brewery I know of to actually produce a gluten-free beer that is palatable. Their Taper IPA is a solid 7.5% ABV beer that is smooth, flavorful, and crafted in a way that makes you want another. If you’ve eschewed gluten-free beer in the past, give this one a shot.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- First, Mr. Friendly Stranger on the Track at Auburn, are you out there? I have to wonder what inspired this question of AJW? And even more, can we ask your question of you? What keeps you coming back to running?
- This exercise should be useful and enjoyable for many of us, so what do you think? What makes you come back to running on your dedicated and passionate basis? What drives you to put one foot in front of the other so many times over?