Why I Run

by Carilyn on April 19, 2012

2008 Team USA 24 Hour

I wanted to be on a U.S. National running team.  The only problem was I was an almost-40 year old stay-at-home mom who ate lunch and played tennis.  I hadn’t even run in college, other than a casual 10k where a running coach told me I “was better than [he] thought,” (is that even a compliment?).  Truthfully, I had no business even watching elite runners on television, much less think I could ever be one.

But you come up with crazy ideas when you are desperate.

Ten years earlier, I had quit my job as a prosecutor when I gave birth to my twins.  After they were born, I went back to work, but the stress of trying to practice law effectively, with two small children at home, proved unmanageable.  I wasn’t being a good lawyer OR a good mother.

I tried my hand at Junior League, tennis, PTA, community class teaching, and a number of other volunteer and/or social commitments to give me some level of outside stimulation, but none of it was the right fit for me.  I had casually started running a few mornings a week with some girlfriends with the vague idea that I would someday like to run a marathon.  For a couple of years, I messed around, loving being a stay-at-home Mom, but dreading the hours when my kids were in pre-school.  I didn’t feel like I had a purpose when I wasn’t ‘mothering’.  I’d been working since I was fourteen years old.  I wasn’t good with downtime.

Slowly, I started running more and more.  After several months of building up my mileage, I finally finished my first marathon.  I went on to run three more, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in December of 2005.

Then I read a book that changed the course of my running career, and my life, forever.  It was “Ultramarathon Man,” by Dean Karnazes.  Karnazes was part of a small community of runners who ran races of distances greater than the marathon; usually 50, 60, or 100 miles.  I was fascinated by this.  I read as much as I could about ultrarunning, discovering that most races took place on trails out in the middle of nowhere and that many had you running for more than twenty-four hours.  It was running and adventure all rolled into one!  Where could I sign up?

I decided I wanted to run 50 miles.  But, I didn’t want anyone to know about it.  I wanted this to be my own private goal – something that I was doing just for myself, win or lose.  I chose 50 miles because it was long enough to get excited about, but I thought (prayed) it wasn’t long enough to kill me, and I would attempt it at the 24 Hours of Boulder race.

So, having picked my race, I began the daunting task of training for it.  The question was “how?”.  I didn’t want to ask anyone in my running group for help because, one, no one had ever run an ultra and, two, I knew they would think I was nuts.  I knew I had to keep my dream a secret.  I started running a lot.  I’d run with my regular group in the morning, take my kids to school, and then head out for a second run.  I needed to get my mileage up, but I didn’t want anyone to know.  I soon found out though that it’s pretty hard to train for a 50 mile race without anyone finding out about it.  Especially when your husband is the one telling everyone what you are doing.

“Stop it!” I cried to him when I found out he was the source of the leak.  “People are going to think I’m crazy!”

“They already do,” he laughed.  “Do you honestly think you can run 75 miles a week without anyone noticing.”

I was tempted to take my training indoors, to hide out if you will, running secretly on the treadmill, but that was even a little kooky for me, not to mention boring.  I continued with my training, refining it from running “a lot” to a specific plan when I signed up with a coach.  I dismissed comments from people about my obsessiveness when they found out how many miles per week I was running.  I ignored the looks of pity I got when I assured them I was having fun.

I tried to come up with the perfect (read, sane) answer to explain why I wanted to do this. There was no monetary reward for running 50 miles (heck, there wasn’t even a medal), and it went way beyond a rational approach to physical fitness.  But I was simply drawn to ultrarunning.  It felt right: Adventure and physicality rolled into one.  I could train for it relatively cheaply, it wasn’t (particularly) dangerous, and it didn’t require a team or a lot of equipment.  It just required time and dedication, both of which I had in abundance.  And thick skin to ignore all the snide comments, which I was working on.

But there was another reason I wanted to run 50 miles.  Because I had lost my nerve.  After my twins were born prematurely, life took on a much scarier hue.  Things that I had done before without a second thought seemed inordinately risky.  Having children, and especially preemies, makes you all too aware that life is dangerous business.  I became frantic that something bad would befall my children.  When they thrived and seemed less vulnerable, I widened my scope of fear to encompass my whole family.  My father suffered three heart attacks and my mother started to go blind.  I felt helpless to the whims of life and chance.  I wanted to feel brave again.

Running helped me get there.  Running a marathon made me feel capable.  Running 50 miles made me feel brave.

After I completed my 50 miler, I set my sights on bigger goals.  Within 7 months, I ran my first 100 miler during another 24 Hour event.  Six months later, I won my first 24 hour event at FANS in Minnesota.  I was hooked.  I wanted more.  I wanted to make the US National 24 Hour team.

(to be continued…)


Why did you start running?


Happy Running!




Kate April 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

OK, I love this post. I can totally identify with the idea of having a goal that feels big, a little crazy even. And I know exactly what you mean about the snide comments and talk of obsessiveness. It stinks a little because I could talk about running and racing all day long, but I’ve gotten to the point where I barely mention it depending on who I’m talking to because of the responses. But that’s what makes the blog world so wonderful…having those connections with people who love the subject just as much as you do! 🙂

I was never a runner, except for running up and down the basketball court, and I never wanted to be a runner. I was that person who, when the subject came up, said things about how it hurt my knees, I could never run, whatever. But enough of my facebook friends were posting about their couch to 5K training that I guess it kind of got in my head, and when my sister-in-law asked me about doing a 5K with her I said yes. I went from barely being able to run for 60 seconds at a time to running a (slow) marathon in just over a year, and though it took me a good year to actually enjoy running, I always loved the feeling of accomplishing something I hadn’t known I could.

Looking forward to your part 2!

Kent April 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I started running to try and get in better shape and hopefuuly avoid having a heart attack before (or after for that matter) my retirement – even though that’s not for 8 more years. I can’t wait to read the rest of your post – anyone ever told you that your an awesome writer!

Carilyn April 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm

And that is why you are known as Super Kate! I started following you because I love you sense of adventure, fun, and commitment. You are a great mom AND athlete, so I love reading your posts!

Carilyn April 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Wow, thanks Kent! That is so nice of you to say! And I think it’s totally cool that you took up running and that you are positive and enthusiastic about it. I know you inspire everyone around you!

Char April 20, 2012 at 12:22 am

This is so interesting Carilyn. I love reading about how people got to where they are and yours is quite a story. I started running just to lose weight (I had been a 73 kg discus thrower who just wanted to be skinny). I battled with an eating disorder through most of my university degree and running was a bit of a release as well as a way to control my weight. I conquered the disorder once I became pregnant with my first and gave up running for a while because it was in the too hard basket with little kids. Then I swapped exercise for gym junkie until I decided in my 30s to run a half marathon with my sister – just because. I didn’t join a group until my mid-40s and it’s been the best thing I ever did. They’re my social group, my support group and a wonderful group of people who’ve taught me to become a better person.

Marcia April 20, 2012 at 7:39 am

This post is cooler than cool! Sometimes we find our ‘calling’ in the weirdest ways.
I piddled around on the treadmill, for YEARS just pressing buttons and running a few miles here and there without any goal. It wasn’t until 2007 that I finally ponied up and went big with the marathon goal. The whole running thing has been a huge confidence boost for me.

Carilyn April 20, 2012 at 7:50 am

That is fantastic, Char! And so cool that you were a discus thrower! I love how so many of us really committed to it after we had kids. I agree that my running friends have been the best of my life – I feel very lucky to have them.

Carilyn April 20, 2012 at 7:51 am

And you are a huge inspiration to so many, Marcia! I see how many people follow you and really appreciate your positive, informative take on running and life. Women rock!

SteveQ April 20, 2012 at 8:19 am

I run because I cannot fly – yet.

Carilyn April 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

And when you learn how, Steve, let me know 🙂

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