Thursday, November 18, 2010


This week I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnazes.  I picked up his book awhile back after I had a breakthrough with running and suddenly I couldn't get enough of it.  I wasn't all that interested in going faster, but I had the overwhelming desire to keep running more and further.  I had this huge curiosity for endurance and Ironmans and ultrarunning.  Curiosity.  That's really where most of this all started for me.  What has kept me going is a little harder to explain.

Anyway, back to Dean.  Once we got past the embarrassing first impressions where I made a complete ass of myself**, I got to listen to him speak about running.  First, to a smaller audience at the local running store during small conversations, and then to about 500 people at Montgomery Park.  This guy has done some incredible achievements in his lifetime (huge understatement), but he touched on some things that I was able to connect with even though I'll never come close to his accomplishments.  He said that he gets asked three main questions by people:
1) How do you do it?
2) Why?
3) What do you eat?

In my mind, numbers 1 and 3 seem easy enough to figure out...if you have number 2 figured out.  These are the reasons he does what he does -- because he can, to see if he can, because he's driven, to feel alive!, because he enjoys it, because he's curious.  He didn't mention to stay in shape, become famous, to get attention, for the glory, or to impress anyone.  He runs just because.

When I was training for Ironman last year, I commonly heard that you need to remember the reasons WHY you want to be an Ironman.  Because when it all sucks and you don't think you can do it anymore, those reasons will keep you going.  The problem for me was that I didn't really have any good reasons.  At least none that I could verbalize while making any sort of sense.  And sometimes, those reasons kept evolving.  I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly why I was changing everything about my life to do this, I just knew that deep down that I wanted it badly enough to keep going.

If I close my eyes and try to visualize my favorite place, somewhere I feel the most peaceful and excited and content and motivated, all at the same time.  It's not sleeping in on a cozy morning, or lounging on a quiet warm beach, or curled up with a book in the tub, or drinking a glass of wine while watching a summer sun go down.  I love all of those things, but I envision myself simply running.  Landing on crunchy fall leaves, breathing in cold air, listening to the pat pat pat pat of my feet falling into a perfect rhythm.  My subconscious will work through the accumulated worries until things become clearer.  And then my mind will go silent and I get a sort of peace that I can't get in any other part of my life.

Of course it's not always that serene and pleasant.  Sometimes I have to force myself out the door.  And sometimes I never even get out the door at all.  But each time I go for a run, I gain something from it.  Even if it sucks, I often learn about myself along the way.  And I have this awesome vault of memories of running along the river at sunrise or sunset, heading down old back roads and smelling the blackberries ripening, watching the leaves fall down and blanket the ground, and making first footprints in a snowstorm.  And those memories are enough to keep pushing through the low parts to get to more of the good parts.

So even though I still have a hard time answering the question of "why?", I think Dean was able to explain it as good as it can be explained.  To feel alive.  Because I can.  To find inner peace.  Because I'm curious.  Passion.

**Embarrassing moment 1: I was the first person to greet Dean when he walked into the store.  Exactly 2 seconds after stuffing my face with a dinner roll.  I smiled as he came up to me and shook my hand, while I was frantically trying to chew and swallow a mouth full of dry bread.  "I'm Dean!"  All I could do was nod my head and give him the signal to hold on a sec.  He waited until I was able to sort of talk and introduce myself with bits of food stuck to my teeth.  Nice.

**Embarrassing moment 2: Later on I asked him to sign my book.  Even though it was warped and mildewy and not very well taken care of.  Hey, I like to read when I'm in the tub, remember?  The problem was that I had purchased the book used and he had already signed it to the previous owner.  I was hoping that he would turn to a different page and not even notice.  No such luck.  Thankfully it resulted in a lot of laughter while I tried to explain my way out of it.  And then he signed it "Sarah, You're a nut!  I love it!"  Except that he mis-spelled my name, which made things even funnier.  In any case, I was honored to be called a nut by one of the nuttiest people on the planet.