Endurance athletes are a different breed. These are not the recreational types. These are definitely not ESPN from the recliner types.
Why does this subset of humanity feel the need to subject themselves to pain and often true agony in pursuit of an end that brings no real benefit to the world around them. What is their cause?
After learning of my love for the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride, or hearing of another 100 + mile ride, people often comment that they could never do that, and ask "why do you put yourself through this?" I also enjoy running and can easily spend 45 minutes to an hour and a half on the road or trails. I get the same comments - especially when I go about these activities in the rain or cold or both. So I've begun to ask myself the same question - "Self, why do you do this?"
(After writing the last paragraph I got up from the computer, and ran (literally) the 3.2 miles up to Kaiser to pick up my youngest daughter's prescription, and then the same distance back - in the rain. No doubt many splashed past me and asked - Why? Could I give a coherent answer?)
I'm speaking more specifically to endurance sports such as running, cycling, cross country skiing, and swimming the English Channel. I'm not the first to ponder this, but having a love for sociology along with a habit of pushing my own lungs to the limits, I present my thoughts on the topic.
This is what I've come up with...
1. I need a challenge.
Yes life is tough enough. Work is challenging. Making ends meet in a recession is tough. Raising and loving a family is hard work. I don't really need more struggles - or do I?
I have found that somehow cycling and running have become a metaphor for all those areas. I learn, I train, I bonk a few times, I train some more, I finish stronger each time, and find that the adventure was well worth the time it took. I've "hit the wall" 10 miles out from home, put the phone back in my jersey pocket, and just rode it home. I have found that even in this small way, I can push through "it," whatever "it" is.
2. It's the people.
I have a lot of friends. I don't necessarily need or want more. I refuse to FaceBook. But, I love meeting cyclists with a passion. I've met so many cyclists, runners, and hikers that share my love for the wind in my face, that it's almost natural to speak and exchange stories "on the run."
3. It's the solitude.
This is the other side of #2. Some days you see no one - and it's good. You can only understand this if you are the type that recharges in solitude. You either get it or you don't and there isn't much to say about it other than that.
4. It's the stories.
What's so great about Robinson Crusoe if he doesn't get lost at sea and stranded on an island?
What's the point of reaching Mordor and tossing the One Ring into the fire if you can't return to the Shire with stories that will make their heads swim?
What's the point of having these exquisitely created bodies capable of amazing things if we never push them to do amazing things - and then tell others how it happened. Half the fun of riding the 2009 Wine Country Century in the rain was recounting the experience afterward. What's better than a good story, unless it's a good story that you get to tell to a spellbound audience.
5. It's the great outdoors.
If you have defeated every level of every video game from Super Mario to Halo, you may not understand this. Some of us would rather be outside. I've designed my dream house in AutoCad, and the square footage of the windows is greater than the floor plan of my current home. If I can't be outside, I want to at least see it. (Arguably my time spent typing commands into AutoCad is little better in this context than the Mario Brothers, though cognitively, I see it as vastly superior) If it weren't raining right now - I'd be out on the patio squinting at my laptop. If cycling were relegated to indoor tracks and running to treadmills - I wouldn't do it. I like seeing the seasons change around me and watching the hills reflect the colors of the seasons. Here in the SF Bay Area, we have seen the golden brown hills transition into a deep lush green, and now begin to speckle themselves with fiery orange poppies and a half dozen other colors and varieties of wildflowers. It won't be long before the hills again transition to a golden brown, announcing loud and clear for all to hear - "The mountain bike trails are drying out!"
6. Because I want to. I don't always want to, but when I do, there's nothing else that can replace the desire. I could live the rest of my life in peace and happiness without cycling or running. However, I would miss it dearly. In reality, I don't know why this desire rests on me, but of all the things in life that can consume spare time, there are many worse than processing excessive amounts of oxygen on Bay Area back roads.
Why do you do what you do?
Give it some thought...