737 miles. Over 115 hours -- merely numbers behind the last 3 months of my time on the roads and in the trails. From early morning tempo runs along the East River to weekends comprised of back-to-backs long days -- crossing state lines and breaking mental barriers. More than 100 packets of gels, at least half as many Clif Bars, and God only knows exactly how many minutes I've spent in front of the computer each night reading up on and feeding my appetite for all things ultra-running. All of that time, all of those miles, all of that focus for one ultimate reason: the Bel Monte Endurance Run - 50 miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's really hard to look back on all the time and effort I've put into these past few months in an objective manner, but I can't help to be anything other than the simple subject of my own actions. But on this morning's short easy run up the esplanade I began to grasp everything that's now behind me and the one thing that lay ahead. The Bel Monte Endurance Run this coming Saturday is sure to be an experience like no other. A technical course filled with absolutely stunning views (from what I hear and what I've seen in pictures) will make for the venue of my first of what I hope is many ultramarathons. The training is in the bank, and with just one or 2 progressively shorter shakeout runs left before a few days of complete rest, I can finally say that RACE WEEK IS HERE.
I remember signing up for this race the same as I do for every other race over the past few years. Regardless of the distance the entire experience of picking and preparing for a key race is always memorable. To me, that is only a small part of why running is so special. It's much more than just a passion of mine or the main way I stay fit and healthy. I have been known to have an addictive personality to the point where I find something I like, make it something I love, and then see if it can be taken even further. Relentlessly persistent someone once said -- actually that someone was me and that one time was about 4 seconds ago. Friends and family members, co-workers and complete strangers, they all seem to ask me at some point why I run. Then, after they find out how much I run or what races or personal distance goals I have planned, they follow up with my favorite question: Why on earth do you run that long/far/much?! My first reaction is always a smile and then usually the vague response of "Because I love it and it is one of the few things I find complete happiness in. 'Pure bliss,'" I always tend to tell anyone who asks. But then, after explaining that there are much 'crazier' runners out there who go farther and faster than I can dream of conquering in the near future, I usually find myself asking myself the same initial question I just thought that I answered.
Okay, so I run because I love it, but for something that takes up so much of my time and a decent amount of real estate in my thoughts, it must be deserving of a more detailed answer, right? Ironically today, on one of the shortest runs of my current training block, a moment of clarity caught up with me and I enjoyed its company for a few miles. Why do I love to run??
Well, the truth is that I did answer the question, but how much of it did I exactly answer? Many times, especially during my peak training weeks when I'm out there for four, five, or even six hours at a clip, I find myself looking out into oblivion asking myself what am I doing? why am I doing it? and is this all so real? None of those questions are garnished in doubt and there has NEVER in any way been an instance where I've considered hanging up the shoes and leaving the roads to the cars and the trails to the horses. Sure, I'm always wondering about my undeniable passion for the sport and the lifestyle I've come to embrace, but it is always nothing short of satisfaction and a smile coming from deep within. However that still doesn't mean that I'll never stop questioning my running. Perhaps it's really more of a self reflection than a recurring game of 20 questions with myself. In short, what I'm getting at is that it seems to be built around a two-tiered response- A: Yes, I love to run first and foremost because I enjoy it. The feeling of this simple, organic movement of the self over any kind of terrain and at any pace you please is more than mildly amazing in my opinion. And B: I honestly discover a new additional answer to that same question every time I lace up my shoes and head out the door. The fact is, for something so simple like running, pinpointing all the reasons as to why it's such an integral part of my being is a truly complicated thing.
So today, my newest additional response to that simply complicated question -- Why I love to run: because every mile behind me has formed what I am right now... And what I am right now is all I can give to the roads and trails of my future.
Right now, what I am is ready for 50 unrelenting miles of Virginia trails. 5 days 'til Bel Monte. Stay Relentless.