(Note: this is less of an informative blog and more of a me pondering my fitness choices and ultimately life itself blog!)
I may have done something a bit crazy. I signed up for the Pikes Peak Ascent. Just thinking about it gives me a mixture of excitement and fear that is hard to sit with. It felt like a logical decision at the time. After all, I love hiking 14ers and I like running half marathons…might as well combine them! But as my lungs burned and my legs dragged while I ran up Mt Falcon this past weekend, a run that is a measly 1/5 the distance of Pikes and not even close to the elevation, I had to ask myself: Why are you doing this?
And in the moment I couldn’t answer. I’m not a total stranger to endurance activities that others might find insane. I somehow made it through the 120 miles and 10,000 ft of elevation gain in the Triple Bypass. That was hard, but doable. Of course I barely rode my bike at all the entire next year I was so exhausted afterwards! The Pikes Peak Ascent, however, is billed as “America’s Ultimate Challenge” which is even more intimidating. So why am I willing to subject myself to such potential heinousness?
When it comes to athletic endeavors that challenge both the mind and body, why do we do it?
We’ve all heard of the natural endorphins that kick in after running or other exercises, and maybe that is a factor. There are also studies about the beneficial effects of nature on your psyche. So clearly there is a mental benefit to such athletic endeavors. But I don’t believe that’s the prime answer. Is it the sense of accomplishment? Winning a battle with ourselves (isn’t that technically also losing a battle with ourselves?!) Does it give us a sense of purpose? Is there one right answer?
I think that if you were to ask a lot of athletes why they do what they do they would not be able to give a beautifully articulated answer that made sense to the general population. Clearly, I can’t either. Maybe I’ll be able to say when I reach the top of Pikes on August 17, I mean assuming I can even talk at that point! What I do know is the feeling. And the feeling is probably a big part of the reason. Unfortunately I cannot put into words the feeling I got when I reached the summit of my first 14er (as an adult, I don’t count my summit of Grays Peak at age 7), but I remember exactly how it felt. It was a mixture of excitement, triumph, beauty, and something else. I literally almost cried. There isn’t a word that accurately describes the experience. There isn’t one perfect word to respond to the “why”.
I’ll leave you with a quote from someone I’m a big fan of, mountaineer Ed Viesturs, on the topic of “why”. In his book “No Shortcuts to the Top” he addressed the question of why he chooses to risk life and limb to climb these treacherous and potentially deadly peaks (a question that I would imagine a lot of mountaineers get). I think his answer pretty much sums it up what I’m trying to say. Ed’s answer was “If you have to ask, you will never know”.