Why do you run?

Santa Cruz, CA, where I ran my first half marathon.

Motivation is a complex concept.  In theater, the most compelling actors are those who understand the motivations of their characters. What does this character want? What does this character want to accomplish? What is motivating this character?

When I first entered the world of ultrarunning, I asked several elite ultrarunners why they ran.  Their answers, superficially, seemed compelling. One runner said he did it to see how far he could go. One runner said she ran in honor of a dead relative.  On the surface, these seem like acceptable, persuasive motivations.

However, the deeper I get into this sport, the more I realize that motivation is never just one thing. Rarely can motivation be summarized in a pithy elevator pitch. Motivation is many-layered, difficult to describe, and, most importantly, changes over time.

I run for many reasons, and have run for many more reasons. My motivations for running will inevitably change in the future, too.

However, the reason I started running was humility.

The Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135-mile footrace in Death Valley. The race is run in July, when temperatures regularly reach 120 degrees.  It starts at Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. It finishes about halfway up Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Cumulatively the course boasts 19,000 feet of elevation gain. The course snakes through some of the most treacherous desert in the world. Runners have to run on the white line on the side of the road to prevent the soles of their shoes from melting.

I had the opportunity to crew for a runner who participated in this outrageous excuse for a weekend activity. Just watching him run this race was transformational.

Afterwards, a half marathon didn’t seem like something worthy of being called a challenge. A runner would have to run ten back-to-back half marathons to approach the distance Badwater covered.

I ran my first half marathon around a 0.5-mile track at UC Santa Cruz. I ran it by myself. It took a very long time. The varsity cross-country team started training after I started running, and left before I finished.

My first motivation to start running was the realization that no matter how far I ran, someone would always have fun farther.

Today, when asked why I run, I give a crisp elevator-pitch of a response. Motivation is too multifaceted to sum up in a single conversation, and, most of the time, casual conversationalists don’t want to hear more.

Whatever their motivation, runners keep heading out to the trails. Every day, runners are compelled to get out of bed and tie on a pair of running shoes. Something’s got to keep them moving. Something’s motivating each and every runner.

No two runners run for the same reasons. I’d also wager that there are very few runners who run just for one reason.

And there are many of us who may never be able to fully articulate why we run. But, until we can’t run anymore, we’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And delivering pithy one-liners that don’t adequately describe our real motivation.

Question: What do you say when people ask you “Why do you run?”


  1. My pithy one liner is “I run because it sets me free, instantly, no matter what is going on in my life.” However you are so right in that there are many reasons and yet I can’t articulate exactly why I run, I just do. Great post!

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