Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why Run? (Last thoughts).

"This is already a long time ago, I can remember the feelings but I can't still have them. A common prayer for the over-attached: You'll let it go sooner or later, why not do it now?" - Michael Herr, Dispatches.

The eternal question?

'Because it's there' the quintessential mountaineering answer. Doesn't quite get to the heart of it.

The question should be why write, or paint or make films or sing or dance or play a musical instrument. Why create art? Running is the same, or maybe for you it's lifting weights or rock climbing or swimming in a cold lake.

Movement is a natural expression of being human, like art. To such an extent, that if you don't do any of the things listed above then there is something fundamentally missing from your life. It has to be more than being a passive consumer.

A moving koan. The answer is there, but you can't quite grasp it or vocalize it.

You run to escape, you run to go home, you run to remember, you run to forget, you run from the past, you run to ignore the future, you run for now, you run to be like someone else, you run to create your own identity, you run to lose yourself, you run to create your own myth, you run to think, you run to not think, you run because you have to, you run because it's a choice, you run because it's free, you run to be social, you run to be different, you run for your spirit, you run because no one understands you, you run to understand, you run for comradeship, you run to be part of something, you run for no one,  you run to disappear, you run to be alone, you run to feel, your run to not feel, you run to understand pain, you run yourself into the ground, you run to ground yourself, you run to see if you can find your breaking point, you run to be stronger, you run when you are angry, you run when you are sad, you run when you are happy, you run to cope, you run to create memories, your run to erase something and start again.

Some people run for PBs and split times. This seems limited in its scope. Too constrained.

You are compelled to run. In bitter cold, unforgiving heat, brilliant sunshine, drab dull dark wet mornings and endless mediocre grey days. With aching joints and a pounding head. Searching for a meaning. But mainly just running to go through the motions.

But mostly it's prosaic. I once made up the statistic that 1 in 20 workouts are sublime, 1 in 20 are terrible, and 18 in 20 are mediocre/ going through the motions/ get it done. In truth I probably overestimated the number of good workouts, but you are always chasing that golden moment.

The answer as to why you do something is always clearer when that activity is taken away from you. It is always easier to know what you don't want to do with your life than what you do want to do.

For me it was the usual story, running at night and then waking up to 2 litres of IV fluid in a strange room. Be careful, we don't know.

The moment was always coming, it had been encoded in me from birth, I just didn't know it at the time. Years later someone would tell me.

He told me to be careful going West (a true story, crossing time zones can kill). But I had spent my whole life heading West, like some 'Oakie' looking for the promised land of California.

I held my breath for a few years. They told me. And I breathed out.

There would be one last hurrah,, but my heart wasn't in it. I ran into Chamonix as the sun fell behind Mont Blanc. The mountains had kicked my ass. I knew it was over. Another chapter was forming, this one was closed. An unsatisfying unresolved ending. The kind that some people hate to read in fiction books. But life is like that.

There would be no Hardrock, or UTMB, or Badwater or 6 days in Mustang.

There would be no more endless beach run that went on forever, or 10 hours passing like a minute. There would be no more sunrising on the Downs, with a distant sketch of twin windmills, as horses run towards me through the mist, as I run on alone.

And after all that 20 minutes on the road was never going to be enough.

There are other Annapurnas in men's lives, but when Maurice Herzog wrote that, he had made it to the top of Annapurna, if he hadn't, he would have kept going back like all the other obsessed mad men and 'Conquistadors of the useless'.

Like telling Picasso he could only ever use an Etcha A Sketch (to be fair Picasso would have probably done pretty well with an Etch A Sketch) or telling Monet he could only use a paint by numbers. The 5k park run was never going to be enough, so I let it go. It's not that Etcha A Sketch, paint by numbers and 5ks are bad or worth less, you just can't go back.

The dopamine rush of equipment. Seeing the rucksacks, hydration options, trainers and GPS watches. Like the paraphernalia of drug addicts. It's best to go cold turkey.

Just another story about lost love. They all are. Me and the trail were never going to be just friends, it was more complicated than that.

Who the hell wants to take the road most taken?

Like a retired punch drunk boxer who keeps making ill advised comebacks trying to recapture the glory days and getting beaten to a pulp. It's best not to step into the ring again.

If you haven't got the answer to the question after running 100 miles, then you wont answer it, so you might as well let it go and move on.

Sense memory, the way the cool air hits on a clear morning in the forest near where I live (where there isn't actually a forest, another mystery), a faint odour of earth and passing rainstorm. Molecules of pine vapor. And it all comes rushing back. A Proustian Madeleine moment of memory recall.

A forest where there is no forest.

Songs from my youth resonate, fragments remembered 'Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse..' Yes, probably.
'You get used to anything, sooner or later it becomes your life'. Yes, may be you do.

You carry it with you.

Why run? All I can say is...

       Twin Lakes.
                I kept running.


  1. That, my friend, is the Nail on the Head right there...

    Gary "Once a Runner" Collins

  2. This is beautiful. Exercise -- running or lifting -- really goes so far beyond just "getting in shape," or "looking good." When you find a deeper purpose in it, it becomes so much more. Thanks for writing.