Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why do I run?

A good friend and one of a few runners who have influenced me the most always has this to say about ultras: “Highs and lows, peaks and valleys…”  I never ask myself this question during the highs, but I’m pretty sure every runner has when they’ve hit a low.

A little over halfway through Voyageur was one of those low spots for me, and I spent much of the second half pondering that question, “Why do I run?”  I couldn’t help but think about all the other hobbies and interests that sound so much easier.  If I kept the hobbies I had when I was a kid, I’d be spending most of my free time fishing, collecting coins, or catching butterflies.  Think about it…on a bad day of fishing, the worst case scenario is still a relaxing day on the lake.  On a bad day in an ultra, the worst case scenario usually comes with a whole lot of pain and misery – or even worse, the dreaded DNF.

So, back to yesterday at Voyageur, as I left the turn-around at the Duluth Zoo, the biggest decision I had left to make was which aid station I was going to pull the plug at.  I threw up four times in three miles, was way overheated, lost all fluids, couldn’t eat anymore, had no energy, and the body just felt like it was shutting down.  All I could think of was how pointless this was, and for the first time in my life I was trying to come up with reasons to justify calling it a day.

When it came down to it though, I think it would take more guts for me to actually willingly choose to take off my number than to keep going.  I dragged myself to an aid station around mile 18 or so.  Thank goodness Tony was there…as several of us found out yesterday, there is nobody better than Tony to pick you up and kick you back out on the trail.  After he got me stocked up with some Gatorade and ice and after several cups of coke and ginger ale, I was back out on the trail.

I did feel better relatively soon after that.  It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s crazy how you can bounce back from rock bottom to rebound and feel better.  I never felt real good and had to drink all my calories for the last half, but was able to keep it moving slow and steady to the finish when I didn’t think I could.

I’ve said this before, but making it through an ultra on a tough day is sort of like an episode of Full House.  There’s always something bad that happens in the middle, but in the end it is all resolved and everything is perfect again.  As frustrating as it was and as much as I questioned, “Why do I run?” during the race, as soon as it was over I had no doubt about the answer and my love of the sport.

All in all, the 30th Minnesota Voyageur is in the books thanks to Andy and Kim Holak, who are such great people and race directors.  The volunteers seemed especially incredible this year.  And I’m always excited for many friends and training buddies who finished – some their first 50 miler, some with great races, and others who just grinded it out on a hard day.

Someone who I met after the race shared with me some great words of wisdom, “The sun don’t shine on the same horse’s ass every day.”  For some reason, I liked that a lot.  I think the more you can take a tough day in stride and still enjoy it, the more good days you’ll have in the long run.


  1. Brian (all), that same Tony showed up at the turn around aid station while I was finding shade, drinking and eating anything I could find to cool down, stop the leg cramps and just feel better. Tony's words of wisdom to stop me from turning my number in were (sort of) encouraging. '1) It's a long walk to the parking lot, so just hike out of here to the next aid station, 2.) it's going to cool off with the rain coming and 3.) take S-caps every 15 minutes to get rid of the cramps.' It didn't rain. I am sure the hike to the parking lot wasn't as bad as the 200 foot climb (since he had his youg daughters who followed him in flip flops, and all the S-caps in the world did not hold back the cramps the second time through the power lines. At the 40 mile aid station, I came across a Minnesota sports legend (Olympian of a different sport), I will just refer to him as Jeff, a native of that area. I am not sure if he was waiting for me or looking for an invite from my wife and daughter to be driven back to the finish. Well my wife and daughter would have no part of either Jeff or I packing it in with 10 miles left. So we started hiking in from mile 40. Well, there is no better time to form a deeper friendship than hiking it in with some flat and downhill running. And now the day after, I am thinking about a swim workout tomorrow morning; running this week; training for the Des Moines marathon (think of how much easier of a course compared to Voyageur), and what is the appropriate ultra to (hopefully) conquer to redeem myself.

  2. Way to tough it out, Doug! I was a bit worried about you when I saw you out on the course, but when I heard at one of the aid stations that you left the zoo and started the return trip I knew you'd make it back. Great job on your first 50 miler! I also had the pleasure of running with the Olympian for a while too! Glad you guys got through it together. Can't wait to hear more soon on a run!

  3. Brian,
    I like your Full House analogy. I've learned more from the tough races when I've wanted to quit than any of the races where everything clicks. Sorry to hear you had a rough day, but glad you had the guts to tough it out . . . you're just paying it forward for someday when you'll think, "I've felt way worse than this!"

  4. Thanks Adam...yup I think it can be good to have those days that toughen you up.

    I'm excited for you man. Congrats on the AT...unbelievable what you went through! Can't even imagine it. It was great to follow along with the updates every day. I thought about you being out there on the trail every day many times. Hope you are taking it REALLY easy these days!

  5. I'm taking it easy (only because I know I need to). I'm actually really itching to race! It would be super ugly though as I'm struggling to even run 8 min. pace on the roads. It's going to take a while to break the "AT shuffle".

  6. Brian,

    Glad you made it to the end. It was a brutal day for sure. Not being able to hit our targets is tough and can really pile on when the going gets tough. I had to learn that first hand, as this is the first race I have done that I set firm time goal for myself, which I missed by a mile. More like ten miles actually....

    I didn't want to mention it when I saw you heading back after the zoo, but you looked worse than I have ever seen you. I told Helen that it must be that your hair is getting longer. She thought it was that you were wearing a different color shirt. I think I was just trying to convince myself that you weren't out of sorts. I didn't want to believe that even you were having a tough day, because that meant I was in for a worse day. Kudos to you for pushing through!

    It was a beast out there for sure, and I will try and take your sentiments to heart, but probably won't be able to embrace it until after the swelling goes down and my stomach feels "normal" again - "the more you can take a tough day in stride and still enjoy it, the more good days you’ll have in the long run." BP


  7. Chris...sounds like we both had a tough 2nd half. I'm just glad my parents weren't there like they were the last couple years...I think my mother would have pulled me out at that skyline aid station.

    I was glad to hear you and Helen made it through are tough, way to gut it out. I maybe didn't look like it when you saw me, but I was excited for you then. You seemed like you were on a pretty good pace. But then again we both know the first half of a 50 miler doesn't mean much.

    Recover well Chris...see you soon man.

  8. You nailed part of the reason I run. Every one of these races you have a chance of failure. It is a lot less likely in shorter road races. What is the point of doing a race where you know within seconds what your time will be?

    The "Sun doesn't shine" quote is from Dave Dehart. My favorite Dehart quote is (actually from his dad) "You're going to get 2 things in this world, an ass chewing and a cup of coffee"

  9. Yeah I totally agree Matt. In road running you totally get what you train for. In ultras, there are a whole lot more variables.

    There's something about setting out to try and accomplish something that you have no guarantees you can do that is sort of exciting.

    Good luck with the rest of the Sawtooth training, Matt! I'm excited for you...slow and steady on that trail. You are tough...just constant forward motion and next thing you know you'll be drinking beer in Lutsen.