There are a handful of questions that you can count on getting when someone finds out you run. Most of them have easy answers:
Q: How many miles do you run a day?
A: Depends on the day.
Q: What's the farthest you've ever run?
A: 26.5 miles (I was sloppy on the turns at the Dallas Marathon)
Q: How fast can you run a mile?
A: I'm a distance runner, so faster than you but still not that fast.
Q: I hate running!
A: That's not a question.
Q: Why do you do it?
There it is.
A question that I don't always have an answer to.
Ask me as I'm clipping off 5:40 miles in the back half of a long run just after sunrise, when the endorphins are flowing and I feel like I can race anyone. With tears in my eyes, I'll profess my love for the sport. How it gives me an identity, gave me something to build myself around in my formative years, how it pushes me to be the best version of myself and find out what I am truly capable of.
Ask me two days later when I'm fighting back a different kind of tears because I was supposed to be running 6:20s on Sunday, and I'll just shrug and say it helps with tuition.
There are a million and one reasons to run. But those are reasons, lowercase r; finding The Reason is another thing entirely. Some reasons (little r) include:
Medals and plaques
Good looking clothes
Good looking shoes
Good looking legs
The food (so much food)
Getting to hang out with girls in spandex for a couple hours a day*
Not being winded after climbing stairs in the library
Passing out the second my head hits my pillow
*My teammates are amazing people and I am privileged to know them well enough on a personal level to know they are beautiful inside and out. But that outer beauty means they can indeed rock some spandex.
I don't mean to make light of little-r reasons, though. There are some reasons to run that are definitely significant without being The Reason:
Running and the accompanying lifestyle means I'll probably get to live a long and healthy life. I'll be able to see my children grow up, have kids of their own, and maybe even meet a great-grandkid or two.
It has provided me with friendships that border on brother and sisterhood. As teammates you see each other at your highest peaks and your deepest valleys, in total victory and utter defeat, and the relationships that come from that will last a lifetime.
Races and meets provide me with a battleground to test myself not only against other athletes, but against myself. Am I better version of myself than I was the last time I toed this line? Have I hardened myself not only physically, but mentally? Will I give in to the voice that says it's okay to slow down, or will I grit my teeth and see how much deeper I can dig? (That mental toughness and discipline is one of the many things that carries over to the world outside running.)
But these are still just reasons. Why, then, do I really run? If I stripped all that away - the medals, the food, the fitness, the friendships - would I still run?
Obviously this is one of those big hypotheticals that is impossible to answer honestly until you're actually thrown into the situation, but I think I would. If no one came to watch, if no one fired the starting gun, if there weren't even a clock to race, I think I'd still do it.
I love running, that's what it comes down to. Ask someone why they love their mom, or their spouse, or their dog. They'll give you reasons, like I have, but they'll struggle to come up with The Reason - again, like I have.
The Reason is all the reasons, but it's none of them. That's not me trying to wax poetic, that's simply what it is. I love my dog because of how excited he is when I open the door, how he checks in on me every couple minutes as I'm going to sleep, and the way he flops down against me on the couch after a long walk, but I don't love him for any one of those. There's no way to take it apart and pinpoint one Reason why I love Archie. The sum is greater than its parts, and it's the same with running. Medals, PRs, health, teammates, gut-wrenching workouts, long bus rides... Put it all together and you have my Reason.
(But really, it's like 95% for the food)