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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

Why do it at all?!

“Why do you do it?!” has got to be one of the most frequent #running questions I get. It usually starts with “How was your weekend - do anything special?” yet inevitably ends with that big old:

“Wait. What?!? Why?!”

Certainly there are the simple answers. Like, health. My family has a history of heart trouble (whose doesn’t these days?). Running is a great cardio workout and definitely helps me keep that sort of bother at bay. Still, the motivation runs dry and it becomes easy to put it off for another day because it is so very general.

Another reason might be the challenge of a race or competition. Many runners I know often stop with this one: “Me? I’m preparing for the [insert city] marathon.” That’s it. That’s enough. Their daily work outs, routines of intervals and tempos, stretching out to that magic 26-mile date on the calendar. When done, it’s done for the year. Or forever. All good, to be sure! But for me, those regimes burn motivation out quickly. Probably doubly so in the Time of the ‘Rona, when the races never seem to come. No rewarding, confirming notches in the belt!

Besides, the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (#hk4tuc) is no mere marathon. “Preparing” for it seems a misnomer. “Resigning yourself” is perhaps more appropriate. I take it as proof when the qualification letter begins with “We regret to inform you….” Funny enough, when running the qualifying Secret Beach Ultra, at the two-thirds aid station, the crew said something like, “You’re almost there, you’re making good time - you’ll finish! And next year Facebook will remind you. And you’ll wonder, why did I ever do that?!” If they only knew - that 50-mile run is only 27% of the #hk4tuc!

Other motivations might be rewards. Surely, the pros are doing it for money. We ain't pros! To be sure, we do reap rewards. Some of my most prized are those sights that come from being out there, braving the difficulties. Beauty abounds! Meanwhile, there's always the #FaceJourneyTreat simple pleasure!

Truth be told, I’m not much of a runner. I did a little running ages ago, in junior high and high school. Tellingly, my friends and I all joked “It’s the sport of masochists.” When I’m really truth telling, I add “masochists get off easy!”

“What?! But you just said you’re aiming for that crazy HK race?!” Well, yes. However, for me, it is more about the challenge than the particulars of the race. That is to say, even if I can’t qualify for the official Challenge, the drive will still be there. I’ll still be out there trying to do it. And others. The #hk4tuc is one of the difficult “somethings” that are out there that need doing. By me. Each "something" is an outside, objective measure of my abilities. They tax all aspects: mental, physical, yeah - even spiritual. You have to have faith you can make it!

What are these things?

In a word: adventures.

It’s the sense of adventure that ultimately drives me out the door. Whether a quick jaunt around the neighborhood, or a lengthy all-day outing, there is plenty of makings of a remarkable experience. Indeed, I generally prefer it when the weather is bad. Raining? I’m all the more ready! Snowing? Let’s go! Sunny and hot? OK, not so excited, but adventurous? You bet! Of course, there’s also risk in every venture, and being prepared is part of the training.

I’ve also found that discovery is a big part of my sense of adventure. I know that there’s nothing I’m going to see for the first time anymore. Everyone seems to have been everywhere. But, it’s a first for me. And, why not? In that sense, every outing is a first. It’s the first time I did The weather is different, I’m different, the trail is different. All the discovery builds that sense of adventure and increases my motivation.

Actually, it’s less an increase of motivation, and more a decrease of blockage.

I wind up thinking, “Well, why not?”

And that has led to the recent “Sudden Upon You,” runs (#SuddenUponYou). I have shamelessly taken this from a real hero: Paris Davis. You know that scene in “Forrest Gump,” where he runs back into enemy fire and pulls so many comrades back? Getting shot to pieces in the process? Yeah, Captain Davis actually did that. Maybe you heard of Billy Waugh? Who went on to help capture Carlos the Jackal? Mr. Waugh was there, working alongside and then rescued by Captain Davis.

Why am I telling you this? Why shamelessly borrow the phrase? Captain Davis’s quote says it all, for me.

(Capt. Davis) said he gave little thought to why he had repeatedly run into danger in 1965 to save his men… “I use this term a lot: Life suddens upon you, it just suddens upon you,” he said. “Every day, something comes up that you don’t expect.”” (New York Times, Feb. 2021)

Taken together with other important-to-me views, for example...

“We don’t rise to the occasion, the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.”

...whether said by the Navy Seals or ancient Archilochus or even by we here at #BreakingImpossible, the two combine to inspire an adventurous take on training. Training then becomes a never ending exploration of our abilities and limits, pushing them further and farther. This becomes not only lasting motivation, but preparation to take on anything that might #SuddenUponYou. Which can redouble the motivation!

Some of you may also enjoy #CoffeeFu kung-fu movie virtual matinees on Twitter with us. You’ll be familiar with the montage training scene. Weeks, months or even years of training in 15-20 minutes. You might also be interested to know, I sometimes listen to audiobooks while running, and have found my favorites to be things like the Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and 20 years Later. It’s interesting because in these, we also see the results of the training, but never the practice. Even after 20 years, d'Artagnan’s skill is sharp. One can only assume he regularly trained with his fellows. But, we never see it! How did he stay motivated? Perhaps it was the knowledge that adventures could always sudden upon him?

These things work in a movie or novel or even a game, but can never work in life. Real training takes endless repetition. In martial arts, not only of the basic vocabulary of moves, but ultimately fluency in its grammar and ability to innovate practically in any situation. Running requires constantly hitting the road. Lengthy challenges require mental readiness and careful preparation for keeping yourself going. Food and water, anyone? All of this work takes motivation.

Tapping into the adventurous spirit helps me ensure I maintain that motivation. That I get out there.

You can too! Right now it’s spring, the days are lengthy. There are many hours after work where you can get out. What kind of adventure might you enjoy? Maybe I’ll see you on the trail? Investigating some local history or ruin? Some quirk or side path? Just to see where it goes? Or maybe just to see how far you can go!

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