A few weeks ago, I wrote on Twitter that I was (just barely) starting to think about the possibility of signing up for a 100-mile run.
Toby, who has a way of keeping me honest when I get these crazy ideas, asked whether it was because I really want to do a 100, or if it just seems like I should do one because it’s the logical next step after a 50.
The answer was that I really want to do a 100, someday. Like 26.2 miles and 50 miles once were to me, 100 miles is a distance that seems and sounds impossible. And the idea of doing something like that charges me up, inspires me, and plain makes me feel alive.
But then I asked myself a harder question.
Try this. Take an activity you spend a lot of time on, or something you have a lot of emotional stake in. Then ask why you do it or care about it.
Once you come up with an answer, ask why that matters to you. Keep on asking why, and see where it gets you.
When I was a kid, I was a big baseball fan. Whether the Orioles won or lost had a significant impact on how happy I was, the same way many of you are either having a good or bad Monday depending on how your NFL team started the season yesterday.
But when I asked myself why I cared about how a bunch of grown men played baseball, I couldn’t come up with a reason. Most of them weren’t really from my town. They weren’t my friends. And win or lose, I could take no responsibility for the outcome.
My conclusion was that rooting for a pro sports team wasn’t worthy of so much emotion and time. The decision to stop caring about it wasn’t necessarily a conscious one, but it happened over time. I still root for local teams today, but unless I’m betting on a game, I really don’t get attached to the outcome the way I used to.
The point isn’t that caring about pro sports is wrong. If watching your team win is something that fills you with pride for whatever reason, great. In that case, asking why will probably help you enjoy their wins even more. But the point is that if you’re going to put a lot of time and emotion into something, it had better be something that really does matter to you.
Why I like running far
When I first thought about it in this way, running 26.2 or 50 or 100 miles seemed like a pretty dumb use of time. Running that far to end up in the very spot you started seems like an incredibly pointless endeavor.
The training certainly isn’t much fun. It’s the most relaxing and least painful way I know to stay in shape, but if it weren’t for the race at the end of it all, I wouldn’t do it. (Trust me, I can think of more enjoyable things to do with a morning than to spend five hours running 30 miles to get ready for a race.)
So it must be the race that makes it worth it, right? Nope. The actual race isn’t fun, for me at least. It’s a little exciting at first, but inevitably it gets hard and I can’t wait to be finished so I can sit down and drink a beer.
So, why do it?
I suspect everyone’s reasons are different, and I’m interested to hear yours.
But here’s why I do this stuff: There is nothing that feels better than doing something I used to think was impossible.
Intellectually, we know that lots of people run half marathons or even 100 miles or walk across coals or jump out of planes or start businesses that succeed. But some part of us, let’s call it our gut, simply does not believe these things can be done.
And when you work hard and eventually do one of them, you are living proof that your gut was wrong. Then all of a sudden, your horizons expand. Things that used to seem impossible don’t anymore. You become willing to take new risks, commit to new things, and to put yourself out there and your name on the line. You have a new reason to get out of bed, because now there’s more stuff available for you to do with your life.
Then you find something in a whole new class of impossible. And then one day you do that more impossible thing, and your eyes are opened even wider.
That feels good. That’s why I do this stuff. What about you?
This Saturday, I got to see vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke speak at the D.C. Vegfest. The audience wasn’t a crowd of athletes; it was a bunch of vegetarians who I’m sure were mostly there to get some good food and meet like-minded people.
So Robert’s talk wasn’t really about weightlifting or sports. Instead it was about passion, about making the most of your time on this planet and leading a life that you’re proud of, whether that’s through fitness, service to others, or loving animals and the earth. He summed it up with a Mark Twain quote that he mentioned in my interview with him the week before:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Robert lives by this quote every day, in the way he works his butt off to spread the ideas of veganism, fitness, and plain old caring about what you do. And caring about what you do starts with understanding why.
If NMA seems a little bit fluffier than usual today, it’s because I’m still high from listening to Robert speak and getting to hang out with him for a little while. If just a little of that has rubbed off on you, then I’m happy.