Ok, so the sensationalist title may invoke the term “click bait” from some of you, but hear me out because this is a valid discussion. I hear this conversation over and over and have thought about it A LOT over the years as I have evolved as a runner. I didn’t always fully understand it myself, but like many other people had to look internally before I really figured it out. This question is deeper than many would think and takes time, experience, and reflection to really understand. In the end, the answer to the question is…who cares!
Consider myself for example, I happen to enjoy MANY facets of running. I enjoy the act of running, but also enjoy the competitive aspect as well. I run for many reasons, but when I sign up for an event, my intent is to give it my all on that particular day and leave everything on the course. I personally don’t understand things like the Color Runs and other such events because I don’t comprehend why you would want to sign up for something you could do for free (have fun running) without even be timed for it. This is the way I am wired, but should my approach discredit these types of events or the people that participate in them? NO! People have their own reasons and motivations for doing what they do and that is OK! I have heard people call guys like Dean Karnazes sell outs because they spend so much time on stunts, gimmicks, and publicity. Does this mean that Dean Karnazes isn’t just as passionate about running as the rest of us? NO!
To these people, I ask them to step back and look at what guys like Dean and organizations like Color Run have done. Our sport has exploded as a result and has gotten people to get off of their couches. More and more people are finding out what we have known about running since we began our own journeys. My six year old daughter is running the Color Run tomorrow; this will be her first 5K. She is so excited that she has been talking about it for weeks while she continually marks off the days on her calendar. I promise you this, she is going to have a ton of fun and, underneath it all, she is going to have that fun while running! Isn’t that the best, most important part!? Running, over the years, has truly become an all-iinclusive sport with something for every type of person.
This brings me back to my original point. Are you a runner or jogger? My answer is still the same…who cares! We all run for different reasons and motivations. Like fingerprints, the reasons driving each of us to run are never the same. We need to nip this “us versus them” mentality whenever it comes up in the running community. We are a group that is known for being tight-knit and supportive. If you ever find yourself telling someone else “You are not a real runner” (or even thinking it), stop yourself, give them props for doing their thing, and remember that the important thing is that each of us finds that thing about running that brings us joy and celebrate it. And if you happen to run into one of the naysayers, ignore them and do your thing because no matter what, we are all runners!
Like many other people, I transitioned into ultra trail running from several years running on the pavement. Training for road races often consists of structured plans that incorporate speed work, tempo runs, hill repeats, fartleks, etc. While these things can and do carry over into the ultrarunner’s training plan, one thing that is often overlooked is hiking.
I too was guilty of ignoring hiking almost entirely during my first couple years of running trail ultras. After all, I came to believe through my time training on the road that I had to run, even during my easy runs; hiking was a waste of a workout! As I have progressed over the last few years, I have realized how critical it is to effective ultra running. Here are some of the benefits I get from hiking:
- Ultra runners (especially those that run mountainous courses and longer distances) know that steep climbs and hiking go hand and hand. We all have also experienced the dreaded 3+ mile uphill grind that seems to go on forever. Incorporating hiking during your training helps master these scenarios. In addition to conditioning myself for the mental grind, many of my time improvements have come from becoming a better, faster hiker.
- Hiking is also great for injury prevention and rehabilitation. Whether or not you simply want to give the body a break from the pounding or you are just getting back into the swing of things from a prolonged injury, hiking is a great way to accomplish these things while also incorporating a productive training session.
- When we are running, we often forget to stop and enjoy the scenery. Hiking affords us the ability to take our time, look around, and take in the fresh air. I often spend this time with my family too, which is a great way to bond and expose them to the beauty of the outdoors. Hikers allow us to cherish one of the main reasons that cause most of us flee the roads and head for the trails.
So, whether you are new to ultra trail running or a veteran, take some time to take in the beauty around and don’t forget the hike it out!
We all know the questions and comments that we get on almost a daily basis that typically revolve around such themes as “you’ll mess up your knees” or “I don’t even drive that far”. Mostly I will brush these off, but occasionally I run across someone that is genuinely interested, typically because they are also interested in running. To these people, I try to explain that running is often deeply personal and that you could probably ask 100 runners the same question and not get the same answer. However, these instances do often cause me to reflect on my personal reasons for running.
- Peace and “Me Time”. While I do have my moments of social expression here and there, I am actually very much an introvert. If you have ever read “Quiet” by Susan Cain, you would know that social interactions and the constant hustle and bustle of today’s fast-paced life can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Running, especially on trails and away from the city, provides me an outlet to get in my own head, to unwind, and to embrace the quiet beauty around me. It is my natural medicine that never fails to recharge my batteries.
- Perspective. Trail running has changed me so much as a person, which is easy when running in the Wasatch Mountains. I embrace my beautiful surroundings. I am more aware of the natural beauty around me and have become more protective of it. My priorities in life have shifted so much (and continue to do so) since I started running. I value “things” less and “experiences” more in the grand scheme of things. I volunteer more. I stop and pick up trash when I see it on the ground. I care about the world that my children are going to inherit. Sure, I still love my toys and I don’t drive a hybrid (yet), but I also realize that things like my family, nature, memories, etc. are way more important and worth more than anything I could ever buy.
- Fitness. I would be remiss for leaving this out. In fact, this was the main reason that started it all. Running has helped me reach a level of fitness I never imagined before as a high school kid with asthma or a post-college overweight desk jockey. I love the doors that have been opened for me because I am healthy and fit. I can literally see the world around me from atop mountains and that is fantastic! I can be almost certain that when my kids get to high school, I will still be able to keep up with them. For me, this will always be a motivator.
So, in a nutshell, that’s why I run and why it was so easy for me to fall in love with it. While it is not the only part of my life or even the most important, it is very much a part of who I am…it is one of the pieces that make me whole. I understand that running is not for everyone, and that is ok. However, the next time you are reading one of my many Facebook posts or listening to me ramble on about my last run, just smile and remember that it is a huge part of what makes me me! 🙂