Sleep Deprived Musings Of An Ultra Runner

As teachers, we encourage reflective thought in our students.  We are encouraged to be reflective practitioners with our teaching and continually review, refresh or improve out practice.

The weekends adventures (all be it, joining and supporting someone else’s adventure), and the looming start of my challenge (26th of July) has given me some time to think.  A couple of things kept cropping up during the run in random conversations.

1.  People don’t understand why

This is a common thing said by fell and ultra runners.  People find it difficult to comprehend the reason behind what we do as runners.  The distances are hard to comprehend, the lack of sleep, need for food and the persistent forward motion are also tricky to grasp.  Why would someone give up comforts for such a mundane activity?

I’ve thought long and hard about this, not being happy with the “if you are asking you won’t understand” response.  It seems (for me anyway) to stem from a love of the elegance of it all.  To be able to navigate through empty landscapes, cross vast expanses of land and scale mountains with an air of effortlessness, is just simply put, graceful.  There is something of the greek myths and legends about the people who take on these journeys, were even failure to complete a challenge becomes a victory in itself.  Simply completing one of these endurance challenges wouldn’t be enough for someone to understand the reasons why for one simple reason…

The reasons why is ephemeral, and shifts.  What begins as a way of digging yourself out of a dark hole changes into a myriad of colourful reasons, with only one common theme.  A persistent drive to move forwards.  It seems for me the only common theme to my reasons for  taking on these challenges is seeking a simplicity in my existence.  A way to constantly redirect those inner demons that slow my development as a person.

2.  What are you running from?

Often disguised as the question ‘why do you run?’ or “why did you start running?”, the question is still the same.  What is it that you run away from?

The reasons are personal, but they seem to be variations on a theme.  Most people run because they realise that they aren’t happy with themselves, whether it is their weight or bad habits.  I started running to overcome a low point, where happiness was something fleeting, but now I simply run to be.  Not to see if I can run further, not to hide problems that I don’t want to acknowledge and not to prove a point or seek some ego boosting prestige.  Running tends to bring with it a sense of freedom and a sense that you are in fact being your true self.  Clarity in thought, responding to your bodies needs, moving with the landscape as apposed to fighting it and experiencing the moment.  In fact, the moment itself seems to stop having the same meaning.  I find it shifts in length, at times being short and others stretching out as though it could be infinitely long.  Despite this chaotic nature, one thing brings it all together.  The sense of nothingness that engulfs me.  Not a nothingness where I seize to exist, but more an indifference to the normal demands on a person, where you can just be.  I’ve struggled to put this feeling in to words, and I still find it difficult to do so.  All I can say is this….  it is the one mental place, were it is possible to truly acknowledge who you really are and measure your value and significance.  Realising that we are but a tiny blip in time is somewhat scary and to many sounds a little depressing but its this feeling that brings a smile to my face every time, regardless of the pain or tiredness Im feeling.

It should be interesting to see whether my thinking shifts, or whether I discover anything new about myself.  Long endurance challenges are said to be the perfect arenas to see what we are made of and to test our limits.  I have even heard ultra running legends say that they reveal a person for who they really are.  Right now I have just two desires in terms of the challenge…  To complete it successfully and not disappoint those that have given their support and to allow the selfishness of the whole adventure do some good for others who are less fortunate.

So…  after that long and rambling piece of philosophical thinking, why do you run?

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