I've tried to rephrase the question to "Why do you run?" instead of "Why do you want to run a marathon?" After finishing Born to Run, I thought I had figured it out...because we are born to run, silly! It's who we are. By denying our natural ability to run, we are, essentially, denying our very identity as people.
That all sounds really good and deep and existentially interesting, but when it comes down to it, I honestly have no idea why I run. This question was put to the test on Saturday night as I found myself flying down the hills of Red Rock Canyon. "Why am I doing this?" was quickly replaced with "Why the [bleep] am I here? This [bleeping] SUCKS!"
It was not a good race, folks.
Maybe it was the wind and plunging temperatures (my thin desert skin starts to shiver around 60 degrees. I'm completely convinced my twelve years in Vegas has made me cold-blooded). Maybe it was the dark night sky, absent of a moon, that made the canyon black, cold, and completely uninspiring. Maybe it was the deer-like runners ahead of me that scampered up the hills with such ease that I seriously began to doubt my own training regimen.
Whatever it was, I crossed the finished line a full ten minutes ahead of my time last year but nauseous from motion sickness due to the bobbling headlamp that lit my path. I could barely celebrate my new PR because my hands were so cold I could barely open my pack to get gloves. The cold sweat that had beaded on my back was quickly dropping my body temperature. All in all, it was a miserable experience. On a night I could have been 1.) out with friends 2.) drinking beer or 3.) curled up on my couch with my husband and child, why choose to torture myself this way? I felt tears popping up as I stood at the finish line, desperate to find a familiar face and feeling scared and alone.
And then, sitting, laughing, and chatting just to the left of the finish line, was Michelle and Kerry. They came armed with a giant box of beautifully-decorated cupcakes and tiny bottles of champagne. In our goodie bags, so lovingly packaged, was also Chapstick, Tiger Balm and face wipes (brilliant!!). They showered Nancy, Greg and I with hugs and pictures as we attempted to eat our snacks with frozen fingers. Their presence was like a giant warm light that made the last few hours somehow worth it. My tears of frustration were quickly replaced with tears of thankfulness and appreciation. And my new question is now, "Why does running make me so damn emotional?"
So maybe that's why we race. Recreation has its reasons, and I'm starting to understand that it's not the race itself that makes it fun. Maybe it's what is waiting for you at the finish line; the kind people in your life that go above and beyond the scope of friendship that make you feel really special, really loved. It's the post-race beer shared over pretzel bites and curly fries in the cozy neighborhood bar at 12:45am. Perhaps the true value of running - and racing - isn't about negative splits or proper hydration. For me on Saturday night, the benefit of racing had nothing to do what was out there on the Loop at Red Rock. It was found in the goodness of the people waiting at the finish line.