My immediate response is that we do it because we want to see if we can. It's that simple, and that complex at the same time. I believe when my ancestors were farming the plains of Canada they did not need to invent endurance events to test themselves. Every day and every year their resolve to survive and thrive was tested physically and mentally. Thus, the easy, cushy life that most of us have now leads us to find ways to test ourselves. It can't be that simple though because there are more people who don't feel the need to explore their physical limits than there are who do.
I can't answer the question for others but I can for myself. Here are my whys.
1) My first venture into the endurance world was in 1993 when I decided to run my first marathon. At the time I was a new nurse working in an oncology and bone marrow transplant unit. I was surrounded by people who were fighting for their lives and not always winning. Running was a great stress relief for me but it also made me feel alive. REALLY ALIVE, and at that time I needed to feel like I was living.
2) There is a point during any long event when you get to meet someone who isn't around very often. All the frivolities are stripped aside and you get to meet the essence of who you are. I like that girl.
3) I once had a boyfriend who laughed when I told him I was going for a run. He said 'you aren't a runner'. I like to prove people wrong!
4) I love to be outside and explore new places. There is no better way in my mind than to do that by self propelled motion. Going for a run in a new city is a great way to explore and really feel part of it. Likewise, there is no better way to see an area than by bike. Even at home I have seen so many great places by bicycle that I would have no reason to see by car.
5) When I am in nature and I have the rhythm of my breathing and heart beat, I experience meditation in motion and all seems right in the world. I wish more people got out and experienced this, there would be less anger.
6) I have met the greatest community of people through endurance events. I love that we all 'get' each other and they don't ask me why!
7) I really like to wear lycra and prance around with barely any clothes on;)
8) I always wanted a canopy bed and how else would I have gotten one?
9) I gave up on the idea of rodeo and bull riding but still wanted a really big cool belt buckle, and I didn't want to run 100 miles to get one- yet! ( maybe one day- those are the really crazy ones and still I don't feel compelled to ask them why).
and you thought I was done talking about the Buckle!
10) It is really fun. As the island girls say 'no fun fun!'. Which is really the best kind of fun!
11) I must have been a medieval monk in a previous life and I have an innate sense for self-flagellation.
When my friends daughter was three she was very inquisitive, make that extremely inquisitive. Almost everything she said was started with 'I wonder why', followed by whatever she was wondering about. During this phase I was lucky enough to be staying with them while I prepared to do an ironman. I had a constant shadow while I gathered my equipment and with this shadow came the never ending 'wonder why this and wonder why that'. She had many questions as to why I was packing the food I was (the gummy bears were of particular fascination) and how I was going to do each part of the event but not once did she say 'I wonder why you are doing this?'. You see, she had just ran her first Ironkids 1km race and she did not need to wonder why I would do an ironman, she was a racer too and she got it!
If a three year old doesn't need an explanation then I think that an adult that does won't ever understand and no answer will be satisfactory. Instead of wondering why I prefer to say WHY NOT!