That's the biggest question I get in response to my attempt to run a 100-mile race. And that's the question I've been struggling to answer for myself.
In my mind, running ultras is completely wrapped up in cancer. After all, I ran my first 50-mile race (the North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge) as my way of celebrating 10 years of survival. I ended up having such fun with it that I continued running ridiculously long distances.
Although I had spent most of my adult life thinking that I hated running, and therefore refused to do it, I had long been very active and outdoorsy. It's entirely possible that I might have eventually found my way to trail running without cancer.
So what's the reason? There must be a reason.
Lots of people offer their own ideas about my psychological makeup that makes me inclined to do this. One person thought I'm overcompensating for having had cancer. (Not sure I really get that one.) Another wondered if I'm trying to hold on to my cancer experience by giving myself such high hurdles to overcome. (Definite NO to that one. That is not a part of my cancer experience I want to hold onto.) One of the reporters who wrote about the race thought maybe I keep pushing myself to find out where the edge is, what is too much. Ron thinks I feel most alive when I have a really big challenge, a really big uphill struggle. My coach just thinks I enjoy having a goal that is just a little out of reach - it makes me laugh at the absurdity.
Me? I just think it's fun. I stumbled my way into something that I really enjoy. All the various psychological reasons are interesting and possibly all part of it. But in the end, it's just fun. All aspects of it: the goal, the planning, the mental challenge, the focus, the thrill of doing something I never imagined I could.
Well, that's not quite all. I also love it because I can. I am capable of running - and running really far. And that capability is really important to me. You see, I have had 2 major experiences in my life that put that capability into doubt: my fight with an aggressive breast cancer; and my accident, when I was run down by a taxi as I was crossing the street, leaving me with a damaged spine.
I know what it's like to be unable to force my limbs to raise my body off the ground. I know what it feels like to need help to get out of a chair, or struggle to walk to the next room. I have been that person who could not pick up a dinner plate. I have struggled to climb the stairs out of the subway. I remember when walking to my mailbox was a major goal, and how it took me a couple of weeks - each day going just a few feet further.
I also remember how liberating it was to just keep trying. To just keep moving forward. To refuse the limitations of my body, in whatever tiny doses I could muster.
And so, here it is, 2012, and I can simply enjoy trying to run a stupid-long race.
And I can enjoy hearing the other runners' tales. How one was smoking 2-3 packs a day until a year ago, and then started walking on the treadmill.... Another was obese and decided to change. He started working out, tried to eat more sensibly, and then started to run...and kept running. I met a man whose father and uncles had died early. He simply decided he didn't want to be like them. There was the mother of 3 small children who just wanted to get back in shape and have a little time to herself. And the man just diagnosed with MS....
I love that they are all just ordinary people, trying to do something better. None of us are great athletes (they all finish in the front). We're just people who set some goals, made some plans, made the time for it in our too busy schedules, and tried.
One of the most meaningful things to come out of my race came from someone else - someone I didn't know until my last visit home. When I got home to Pekin, I went for a massage to brush off the stress of travel and watching forest fires burn way too near to my house (I almost had to cancel my trip to my hometown & the race). The massage therapist was young and strong, but quite overweight. She talked about how she had started running a little, and was thinking about trying her first 5K, but wasn't sure she could do it. I saw her again after the race. She had the article about me from my hometown paper, with my picture on the front page. She talked more about running. She still thought running 100 miles was plenty crazy, but she was so inspired that she had signed up that morning for her first 5K.
I still don't have an answer to Why? That didn't seem to matter to her. And I don't think it really matters to me.
If you're interested, there are links to the newspaper articles about my run on the Life-Cise News Page.