I’ve been spending a lot of time reading the work of Henry David Thoreau. My high school English teacher Mr. Keating was quite influential in many ways. He taught me how to write, instilled a deep importance in maintaining cultural awareness, and introduced me to all sorts of excellent literature. He was also a badass runner with a masters 5K PR in the low 17s.
Thoreau is a very interesting figure who I can certainly appreciate now more than when I was in high school. He was an abolitionist, a naturalist, a tax evader, an anarchist, and environmentalist, and an individualist. Recently I’ve been re-reading Walden, Thoreau’s great experiment when he spent two years on his own in the Massachusetts wilderness. I challenge anybody to read Walden and not want to spend some time in the woods.
Much of Walden is more philosophical and intellectual, but it is also infused with countless passages extolling how much Thoreau truly loves nature. As an example:
“This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the strong shore of the pond in my shirt sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled.”
I think a big part of why I and other ultramarathoners do what we do is a deep love of nature. I fondly remember hiking and camping with my dad when I was younger. I never thought about it much as a kid, but I’ve always loved the mountains and being out in the wilderness.
The million dollar question is if I really just love nature, is running ridiculous distances really necessary? Wouldn’t a good hike or simply sitting outside suffice? That’s a fair point, but there is something about running that lets me enjoy nature even more. I seem to just be more in tune with what’s around me, and running helps me clear my mind to better enjoy my surroundings. That still doesn’t quite get to why such long distances are necessary, but I suppose that covering more ground does let me see all the more of my surroundings.