March 21, 2011

Run Ultras - Why Do I Do It?

The moon breaks through the twilight.  Its light glows on the path before me. Over my head looms the night’s sky and in front of me the steely blue horizon is fading. I notice a tiny yellow star, twinkling.  Then it finally occurred to me why I’m out here. 

This week I signed my name on an application, licked a stamp and dropped an envelop in a big mail box on the side of the road. I drove away and looked in the rear view mirror. I could feel the skin tingling on my back.  That feeling of anticipation, kind of like jumping from a cliff to a lake far below. I’m now airborne, and there is no turning back.  Exhilaration seeps in.

Inside the envelope was an application to the Angeles Crest 100 mile run.  But sealing the envelop was my decision to run at least six ultras this year as part of the Southern California Ultra Runner Grand Prix. This is a “points earned for races completed” series of ultras with 19 races from 50k to 100 mile distances.       

Sometimes people ask why.  Why do you do 50, 100 Miles?  Ok, yes, its a little different, I’ll admit.  What are the alternatives, golf?  Tennis?  Enough said there. I used to like surfing, but found it to be a little boring, waiting for the waves and all.  Cycling?  Way too much emphasis on equipment to be a genuine endurance sport for me. Swimming? Great for kids.

Viktor E. Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning that the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps, men suffering in horrid conditions “experienced the beauty and art of nature as never before“.  In this book he writes “If someone would have seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty.  Despite that factor—or maybe because of it—we were carried away by nature’s beauty...”

Frankl published more than 30 books on theoretical and clinical psychology.  He maintained that the primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud believed, but the  discovery and pursuit of what we find meaningful.

So what does all this mean? I’m not really sure and I wish I had the answer. Maybe being carried away by a moonlit path or a steely blue horizon, or feeling the simple exhilaration of sealing an envelop, has something to do with why I do this.  Maybe I've come to realize that it's the simple things, those I used to take for granted, that matter the most.          

I hope you are carried away by your own moonlit path.  


Hone said...

Awesome post. I just read Mans Search for Meaning last year and really learned a lot. It is a must read for everyone.

Of course the only happiness I have ever experienced in an ultra is when the finish line comes into sight!

Have fun out at AC but have more fun in the training that will get you to the start line. I always enjoy that aspect the best.

chris mcpeake said...

I have tried and failed to explain the draw to others. Sometimes its not even really clear to me

Good luck at AC

Unknown said...

Great post. I signed up for two 50k's this year and when I dropped the envelope in the mail all I could think was, "what the ____ did you just do?". Glad to know others have trouble explaining the draw too. Hopefully I can read Mans Search for Meaning before my first one :)

Will Cooper said...

Gents, great points. Good to know I'm not alone out there with some of these thoughts!

Rachel said...

sometimes i think it's the things we can't explain that are the most important and powerful.

Unknown said...

Great post.... Great outlook on life/ ultrarunning!!!

Gotta run.

Danielle said...

Hey! New reader here. I've never run an ultra, but I've crewed many for my father. Looking forward to reading your posts, and good luck with the Angeles Crest!

EricG said...

Hey Will, I read a quote last year that I love. "If you understand, no words are needed. If you don't, there are a not enough words to explain". Or something like. Peace E

Will Cooper said...

Eric, that kind of sums it all up.

Unknown said...

awesome book

Electronic Medical Records said...

Running is a very good habit and it is the best and easiest form of exercising which is essential to stay fit and healthy for a long time.

Emz said...

I FREAKING loved this!!

Awesome Will.

I'll be thinking of this as I see the moon - for way too long. ;)

shannon said...

Truly inspiring, Will! The Southern California Ultra Runner Grand Prix series sounds like a blast. Good luck!

I think ultra running is becoming much more mainstream than it was a decade ago. It's not uncommon at races anymore to overhear people taking about running marathons as training runs for their ultras.

There's something very appealing about running 50 or 100 miles in the pristine beauty of Mother Nature's mountains and valleys, untouched my brick and mortar buildings and combustion engines! :)

Dominique said...

This is nice. Ultras may be daunting for some, but for others, it's like knocking off the peak of Mount Everest. This is a good one. Keep it up.

Mike said...

Hi Will,

we have a fantastic ultra community over here in the UK and we pretty much share your enthusiasm for that moonlit path.

I'm not sure whether its a compulsion, a need or maybe an addiction but I too can`t help heading for those far horizons

The cameraderie is unsurpassed as you well know! good luck in your running, I'll keep on eye on your postings - terrific stuff and best wishes

Kevin McGonigal said...

"the discovery and pursuit of what we find meaningful."

I love the pursuit. I can't wait to see what I'm capable of and I continue to surprise myself.

Unknown said...

I like runnung because it is good for the whole body. To get prepared for running on a long distances I usually take Navy Seal formula, which quickly brings me up. It is manufactured by MGNutritionals and was developed specially for the Army, but it is good for everyone who needs more energy for active lifestyle.