Why I Run: Beyond the Marathon

NBCChicago's Stride blog aims to cover Chicago's dedicated running and active lifestyle committee. We've asked some of those individuals to share with us their motivation for getting out there and pounding the pavement. This is why they run: 

“I wonder if people ever run more than a marathon?”

I had just finished a grueling 20 mile training run in preparation for my very first 26.2 and my thoughts raced tangentially, with varying degrees of prudence. I dismissed that particular one as simply insane.

“Surely no one would be that crazy, or that masochistic?”

Still, when I got home the first thing I did was consult the Google oracle, which led to the purchase of Dean Karnazes’ autobiography Ultramarathon Man. Two days later and halfway through the book, I had already made my decision: I’M DOING THAT!

In this case, “that” was ultrarunning -– going any distance beyond 26.2 miles on your own two feet. And I was catapulted into trying it myself after being wooed by my own potential.

Could I really run 31 miles? Fifty miles? 100 miles?

After some research, I found a whole community of kind, welcoming and passionate ultrarunners, here in Chicagoland. Since most ultra events take place on gentle surfaces, they are closely associated with trail running, so I soon found myself spending the majority of my weekends in suburban forests, running and running and running.

Eight marathons, six 50ks and three 50 mile races later and I am still running long. This fall I will attempt my first 100 mile race, which has led several people to ask me, “Why, Jeff? Why do you run? And why do you run so far?”
First, it feels good. For me, it feels really good to run for a long time. At home with my feet up, I love the happy wasted feeling associated with completing a multi-hour trek.

Second, there is immense satisfaction that comes from knowing I can cover great distances on foot. Exploration is in my blood and spending hours exploring the woods or an urban jungle is a great way to experience my surroundings.

It also keeps me grounded and in the moment. On the run, there is no texting, no driving, no worries about paying the bills or meeting deadlines. The only requirement is putting one foot in front of the other. It allows me to focus on my breath, to feel my body moving through space.

More than that, ultrarunning is a celebration of life. It’s a testament to what a brilliant machine the human body really is. Physically we are much more capable than we think. It only takes dedication and mental toughness to uncover one’s true potential.

But perhaps the most rewarding of all is the metaphor of the run and its awesome assist toward personal growth. Knowing I can run from Bridgeport to Waukegan whenever I feel like it is a powerful feeling. One that gives me confidence to strive for excellence in every possible way.

Plus, moving faster than rush hour traffic is a bonus.

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