Running Ultra Marathons (100+ Mile Races) Can Teach Us a Few Things
I found Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner set nicely on my keyboard. My coworker, Robert, who knows I run and read stuff like this left it there for me. I cracked it open and couldn’t put it down.
Dean Karnazes writes about his 100+ mile ultra marathon running feats, but he does so much more. Karnazes had reached the point in his life where his life had no meaning and purpose. He had a void in his life and his six figure salary couldn’t fill it. He explains how he turned to running, something he had love earlier in life, and found a renewed sense of purpose in his life.
My sense of meaning is closely tied to my spiritual life of the Catholic Christian persuasion. He has what sounds to me like an outright running religion alternative. I don’t say that critically but as something that caught me off guard – pleasantly by surprise.
He describes running distances that border on sheer insanity and discusses how people often approach him asking why he does this. He’s run 135 mile treks in Death Valley during the summer time. He’s one of the few who have run a marathon to the South Pole at temperatures hovering around -35 degrees Fahrenheit. The final story of the book covers his two day Team Dean run to Santa Cruz beach.
What struck me about the book and what kept me at it was how he spoke:
- about being alive,
- about having meaning in your life,
- about having something that passionately drives you.
He writes about the loss of his sister and how that strained the relationship between his parents and siblings. Running has brought him closer to his parents who join his wife and children as a support crew on his adventures (not at the South Pole) and this is one of the things that drives them.
Here’s a quote where he talks about living more than just a mediocre life and finding your life’s meaning:
Most people never get there. They’re afraid or unwilling to demand enough of themselves and take the easy road, the path of least resistance. But struggling and suffering, as I now saw it, were the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not constantly demanding more from yourself- expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.
I expect inspiration and philosophizing like this from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, but that’s a book that covers Frankl’s search for meaning after surviving years in Nazi concentration camps. It’s NOT what I expected from an ultra marathon runner’s book. Karnezes has clearly connected with something deep inside him that gives him purpose and extreme running is a key part of that.
As you plan the next phase of your life (and if you’re reading my stuff you’re probably going through something like a college to career transition, a job loss or a potential career shift) think about what really drives you. You’re going to be limited somewhat by your circumstances. You have to somehow pay the bills and deal with your responsibilities. But I want you to really ask yourself, “Where does me passion lie? What gives my life meaning?”
For me it’s working with my technical and sales teams. I haven’t always been jazzed about what I do at work, but I’m fortunate that my work today does inspire me. I carry it with me in my nonprofit work like this blog helping job hunters. And where I certainly have it is when in comes to my wife Any and the three daughters that I love so dearly.
Consider a few last lines from the book:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “WOW!! What a ride!”
The scene reminds me of my bike riding days as a kid skidding out just because we could.
Don’t sell yourself short. Find your ultra marathon and take it on whole heartedly. Avoid the easy way. That way usually ends up falling short of where you need to be. Take the challenge and go where your creator (that’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit for we Catholics) or higher power or inner strength or karma or whatever wants you to go so you can make your life so much more worth living.
Hope this helps!