By Michelle Ekrut
I get that question a lot. Why do I run? Why trail? Why ultras? Why 30, 50, 100 miles? Why now, when running these distances takes me from my young family so much? Why, when pushing these limits can hurt so much? Why do I need to do these things kinder people call unfathomable and inspiring, but the more brutally honest term crazy, insane, or just plain stupid.
My husband asks this question frequently. He straddles the line between kind and honest. I know he is proud of me, but he does not doubt I am also crazy. But then I sometimes wonder myself if I am more crazy than most. Sometimes I don’t wonder, I know.
In general conversation, I quip that I started with the 5k and just kept going. I usually get a laugh, some shaking heads, and a quizzical look that sizes up my sanity. Most people ask a few questions about logistics: did I really run all night, do I stop at all, do I eat, do I sleep? And then they move on, bored or just dumbstruck by something they can’t actively understand. Only my closest confidants, my husband and a few friends, really want to hear about my adventures. Only a handful care to be regaled with the stories of the highs and the lows, the mental and physical struggles, the pain and the pleasure of moving when you thought you couldn’t move anymore.
Ultrarunning is a lonely sport. Hours and hours on the trail, nothing but the squirrels and your own head to keep you company. Quiet and solitude. And when you return to the real world, you are still isolated and alone, standing among but not part of the crowd. No one fully understands what happens out there on the trail, and most people don’t even really care.
Even when you run with others, eventually the conversation wanes; running hours side by side will do that to you. And you are left with the camaraderie of bodies moving through the wilderness. A solitary togetherness.
To some this solitude is frightening. They cannot fathom the time spent in their own head. But I crave it. The time to let my mind float, wandering through thoughts like a dream. Thinking but not thinking at the same time. My thoughts and emotions move through me, not tethered to sentences or structure, not burdened by propriety. Out there on the trail as my body glides along single track, stumbling on roots, twisting over rocks, my mind is no longer confined by schedules, relationships, responsibilities, and rules. Slowly, the stresses of the day surface, and my mind, unencumbered by conscious thought, moves through them, putting each in their place. Moving past the day, words flow through me with my breath, forming and reforming in my head as I drift in and out of day dreams. My best writing happens then, on the run, my body as the words, the trail as the paper. As the hours pass and my body tires, my mind quiets, everything fades to the background, everything becomes the run. My feet, my breath, the air, the trail. Nothing and Everything encapsulated in one eternal moment.
Michelle Ekrut is a wife and mother, running and writing her way through life in Texas. She has run more ultras than marathons and last fall buckled up at her first 100-miler. She has been writing most of her life, but most of it stayed in her head until recently. She writes about life and running at runwriterepeat.com.