Just Because I CanThis weekend I ran an ultra marathon. When I write those words, it makes even me think of something that’s unattainable, like a unicorn. Like it’s some wild, mysterious creature that’s too awesome, too weird, or too scary for most people to see or even comprehend.

After 5 successful years of running marathons, this creeping feeling started in me. Something in me kept pondering that awesome mystery of what was next. Where can I go from here? What can I do now? What’s beyond the marathon?

This year, I signed up for my first 50K trail race. Even though I was filled with fear at signing up, I did so for the very same reason as my first race: Just to see if I could do it.

I signed up, just to see if I could do it.

I didn’t have any experience running on trails. I barely run outside to tell you the truth. I wasn’t really sure of what to do or how to prepare. None of that mattered because I was going to learn and train anyway, trusting that I was going to make it.

For those of you that have run a road race before, this is not like a road race. Speed is a factor, but not the driving force. There is not much of a worry about negative splits or trying to pass others. I carried no music and ended up talking almost the whole way.

It was unlike any experience I’d ever had on a run before. I met so many nice and amazing people out there, right from the very start. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, in the race was so kind, caring and uplifting. I guess that’s what you get when you begin running distances like this.

Ethan's 1st UltraThere were people of all ages and walks of life that had ran 50 milers, 100 milers, or 14 hour endurance runs. Within the first 10 minutes, I talked to someone that ran across the Great Wall of China. All of these amazing people around me, and I was a part of this group!

I became a leader and I became a follower on that run. Typically on runs, I like being a follower. There is always someone faster than me, so I would make excuses like “this is my first time on this course” or “I’m really bad with directions” so I allowed myself to be a follower all the time. In my first 50K, I got the chance to actually lead. I held strengths out on the run that others did not, and so I used them and let others know what I can contribute.

There was also a great feeling of quietness and solitude in certain sections of the race.  Sometimes there were these pockets where no other runners were in front of or behind me for a long time. Long enough to where I could walk for quite a while by myself and just ponder the feeling I was experiencing in a lush, green forest.

Somewhere or something like that had definitely been missing in my life. It could have been the expanse of the park bringing this feeling of solitude.

It just hit me in little moments that made me feel so thankful to be out there. It was like a dream in some ways. This was my favorite part for personal reasons. It was amazing to be with such awesome people, but the real treat for yesterday, I think, was being alone with myself.

My emotions got more mixed up as I went further along the run. The hours soon started feeling like days, and wasn’t sure if I was in pain or pleasure. At times I wasn’t sure where I was going or how I got here.

I had two opposing forces while running, one was against my body and one was against my mind. I’m happy to say that my mind drove my body at those tough points.

On the final hour, I was fortunate enough to catch up to someone who turned out to be a great running partner. We both brought each other through to the finish without even remembering we were in pain and just wanted to quit. We were just two guys talking.

At this point even our minds had trouble battling us. And then we saw the finish through the trees.

If you tackle something that you’re not sure you can accomplish, your reward is paid in self-confidence.

When you succeed at something you never even thought possible, you begin to think why you created this fear in your mind, this fear of success. There’s a wall that breaks down within you. All of a sudden, you are free to dream.

I overheard something that really stuck with me during this race. Someone said “I’m going to try to run up that big hill on the last loop instead of walk, just to see if I can”.

For me, it solidified that fact that that is a perfectly acceptable answer to running.

Why do I run? You may have thought I’d have figured this out in my years and years of running, but lately I’ve actually been searching for a definitive reason of why I run. A lot of things come to mind like health, mental grit, or planning, but in all honestly, I think I’ve found my answer this weekend.

Just because I can.