(Apologies to anyone who is a pro or semi-pro philosopher or psychologist, this is sure to be cringe-worthy.)
I suppose every endurance runner/biker/skier/whateverer approaches the question of why they do it at some point. Keeping in mind that the act preceded my reasons for it and that those reasons are sometimes contradictory and always elusive here are mine:
When I get down to it the primary reason for my participation in endurance events (I shy away from calling it sports and absolutely refuse to call myself an athlete even if those might apply here) is that old adage that you can only feel one pain at a time. Have a headache? Hit your thumb with a hammer, that'll cure it. Same concept here. If I'm miserable, feeling sorry for myself, or whatever I can run until the physical exhaustion becomes greater than the mental anguish.
Once I've cut through the cynicism and self-hate that I'm prone to I find that I can see (more) clearly what is going on. Sometimes a solution presents itself. Sometimes I just see that what I'm worried about is not that big a deal after all. It works a heck of a lot better than banging my head against a wall and I should know.
I've been accused of being an "endorphine junkie" and maybe that's the case. Maybe it is just escapism the same as drinking or something like that, maybe I have a problem, but it's a healthier problem than a lot of others that I could have. Somehow people are more inclined to be forgiving when you tell them you ran 30 miles than if you tell them you're hungover.
If it were just about getting a "runner's high" (which I don't feel I get anyway) then why race? Why go any further than I have to? Because I need that bigger goal to reach for. I need an arbitrary outside motivation to gear my thoughts and training toward.
One of the great things about endurance events is that it doesn't matter. It is the thing without value that I give value to. Nobody cares if I finish except me. Nobody cares if I don't finish except me. I do this for myself and no one else. How many things are there that you can say that about? How many things are there where you don't have to feel like someone else is depending on you? My success in an event doesn't depend on anyone else and no one else is depending on me. Maybe that's selfish. I don't know, but I'm certainly of no use to anyone, least of all myself, if I'm miserable.
The simplicity of being on my own is appealing. During a race there is nothing that matters outside the race. There are simple, discrete steps that have to be accomplished: eat, drink, keep moving. Maybe there is a flat tire to deal with, a broken ski pole, but even that is straightforward. Fix it, or not, and move on. No avoiding the problem or passing it off on someone else. And in the end you know whether you have succeeded or not.
I am of the opinion that happiness is up to me. No one else can make me happy, no outside event can either. Maybe a stronger person wouldn't need to run or race or whatever, but I'm not that strong. Maybe I will be someday. Until then I'll be a selfish junkie.
Why do you do this stupid stuff?
In other news: someone reminded me the other week that I have a folding boat so I decided to get out there and use it.