The perils of ultrarunning...I'll take my chances

Stephanie Howe Violett's recent tweet expressing her annoyance with people who say she is crazy to run 100 miles, I'm sure struck a chord with many ultrarunners. 

It amazes me that those with no experience in the sport, or in many cases with exercise, would feel the need to preach how it harms us.  

I find this comical because these comments almost always come from people who have little physical activity in their lives. I get it though. When you see someone who is physically active when you're not, you get down on yourself. At least I've done this. Through much of my late 20s and early 30s I was inactive and obese. I'd see people running and working out and think, it must be nice to have nothing better to do than run and play all day. Some of us have to work for a living. Who has time for that? Of course, my judgments were often passed while sitting in front of the television eating my nightly Marie Callender microwave meal. You know, the one with the raspberry crumble cake. Delicious!

At the time I felt my anger was at these people who were out there running, biking and going to the gym. But come to find out, I was really angry with myself that I wasn't out there with them doing the same.

Humans are animals. We need activity. Our bodies demand it. The sedentary lifestyle we have created, especially within the last couple of centuries, has brought us to a place where we can go from lying in bed, to sitting in a car going to work to sitting at our desk at work before getting back in the car seat for the ride home to a sit-down dinner on the couch in front of the television and more after-supper sitting before heading to bed for the evening. It's not what our bodies were built for, but we've been doing it for so long we don't know it's wrong.

Now you can understand why most adults can't comprehend why other adults exercise. I say adults because we are okay with children exercising. It is still socially acceptable for kids to go to the park and play and take part in sports. But when you become an adult, the expectation is you transition into inactivity. When you grow up, it's a right-of-passage to leave sweaty, playful activities behind and enter the sedentary life of adulthood. As we grow older, that chasm between active child and inactive adult grows. We forget the feeling we get after playing a sport that raised our heart rate and made us breathe hard and sweat. Now we cringe at the thought of taking the stairs at work because it may be too much. We need to be fresh, dry and breathing easy when we walk into the office, so we take the elevator. 

We as endurance athletes are the outliers, living in a world where exerting yourself means you're doing something wrong. So when you tell a friend or coworker you spent the weekend in the woods running for 30 hours, they look at you sideways with a dumbfounded expression. Then before you know it, that friend emails you an article about how studies show that excessive exercise can be bad for you. 

I get why they do it. It's a way to qualify their inactivity, and who knows there might be some validity of a tipping point where exercise begins to harm us. The fact remains that there is overwhelming evidence showing obesity contributing to a multitude of life-threatening diseases, so I will stick with the 30 hours of running in the woods over a weekend of couch surfing. 

I usually keep my mouth shut when someone decides it's their duty to tell me how I am harming my body with excessive exercise. I usually smile and say, "yeah, who knows, you might be right. It's an addiction I'm not willing to kick, so I'll take my chances." I'll leave Dr. Howe to argue the finer details with the naysayers, but I suspect she may be busy with other things.