The Unaswerable QuestionIf you're into endurance sports like long distance running, triathlons, biking or swimming, sooner or later you're faced with someone asking you the question; "why do you do it?".
The question will vary in its wording or in the context in which its asked but the message is the same, 'why'.
Let's begin by acknowledging the legitimacy of that question. Hell, if I wasn't into this stuff, I'd be asking the same thing. Why would someone put themselves through a grueling training schedule followed by an event that can literally bring you to your knees not to mention that the cost of these events has grown to sky high levels. Add the fact that when completed, there is no great reward or acknowledgment other than a medal, a T shirt and maybe a finishers certificate.
I've come to believe that people equate the legitimacy of any extreme endeavor with the reward. Let's say I was at a party having recently completed a marathon and I'm speaking with someone who has asked 'why'. I have two options. I can say "well, I find marathons to be a test of my commitment to push myself to the limits of my physical and mental capacities". Just try and imagine the looks I'd get after THAT spiel. My other option might be "well, I was at the reading of my uncle's will and when it came to my inheritance, my uncle's statement was 'and to my no-account nephew Jay, I establish a trust whereby a payment of $100,000 will be made to him upon the completion of any marathon he does. Maybe this will motivate him to get off his duff and actually accomplish something'. Now THAT would be an explanation someone would understand!
In actuality, it's not really an 'unanswerable' question as much as a question who's answers can't be easily understood. NOBODY is going to set a goal that requires months of training in often difficult circumstances followed by the actual event that you know will push you to your limits without reasons for doing so. Those reasons will often be the only thing that gets you out the door for a 20 mile training run in 15 degree weather knowing that if you blow it off, no body will be mad at you or find fault. It is only for those reasons that you DON'T blow it off. Being able to articulate those reasons to those that don't see things as we do is the challenge and quite possibly, no matter how well you state your reasons, they still won't understand.
Truth of the matter is that there are as many reasons for pushing ourselves in these sports as there are people doing them. We all have our own story that is unique to us and intertwined in that story are the reasons we do what we do.
I've gotten to the point where when faced with the "why would you subject yourself to that kind of commitment and pain" question, I respectfully say to that person "you wouldn't understand even if I told you".
As a footnote to this question of commitment and those that pursue it, congratulations to our own Lisa Caucino who turned in a great Boston Marathon performance. The race conditions were terrible and she had to train through one of the worst winters on record. Maybe she had a rich uncle that remembered her in his will but somehow, I doubt it.