Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

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I’m not an avid reader of poetry, but the words in this Dylan Thomas poem have always resonated with me, and I think they express what I’ve done and what I continue to attempt to do in my ultrarunning. At various times over the years, my best friend has admonished me about my approach to my running and racing, and has pointed out an old adage: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If that bears fruit, then I guess most, if not all, ultrarunners are insane, or damn close to it.

We runners may not do exactly the same thing over and over again, but there is a level of consistency to most of our approaches to training and racing that suggest that we aren’t getting it and must be crazy. Sure, we may make some tweaks in our training regimen, but we’re still doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results when we sign up for 100-mile races thinking that somehow this one won’t be as painful as the last.

One might reasonably think that once we had some measure of success at the endeavor, we would stop, but hundreds, thousands of us barely finish one race before we’re signing up for another. We keep pushing the envelope. We like pushing it!

It may not be normal, but it seems that way to a lot of us. Yeah, we’re crazy. There, I’ve admitted it for all. Still, would you rather be a part of this group or part of a pack of politicians, corporate geeks or some other dysfunctional bunch that thinks they are normal? I know I’m not right in the head (haven’t been for years), and I’ve been using ultrarunning as a means of making myself believe that I’m somewhat balanced and acceptable for the general masses. I’ve held down some form of employment and engaged in all those activities that a well-balanced individual might be expected to participate in, but over the years I’ve taken note of the fact that most of my friends, the places that I’ve vacationed to, the parties that I’ve attended, etc., have all been dominated by ultrarunners. That doesn’t help my condition, but it does make it easier to continue on in this vein. I know many of you reading this are thinking, “I’m okay, I have a profession, a spouse or significant other, kids, community involvements that I engage in and non-running friends. I’m not nuts.”

You’re deluding yourself. You’re just as quirky as I am, maybe worse. Many outside the sport ask us why we do it. Some understand the initial challenge, but once it’s accomplished, they can’t understand why we keep doing it, over and over again. I often ask myself the same question. Initially it may have been the challenge, the environs, the buckles and tee-shirts and of course the people involved in the sport that had us signing up for events. But after a while, when the challenge has been met and you have two or more buckles from a particular event, hundreds of tee-shirts, caps, plaques, whatever, what’s the drive?

It’s insanity, I tell you, but I’m not looking for help. I used to do many other things. In my youth, I did the club scene from Friday through Sunday, I bowled, played chess and other board and card games avidly, took extended hiking and camping trips and cycled long distances. Now I do few of these things, or I do them with much less frequency, and often with ultrarunners so that I am still tapping in.

In Dylan Thomas’s words, I “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” That’s what I’m doing, what are you doing?

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About Author

Errol "Rocket" Jones is a veteran ultrarunner of 34 years, having participated in over 200 ultras dating back to 1981. Jones completed ultrarunning’s Grand Slam in 1998 and is a 3-time finisher of Badwater. He is also Co-Race Director of the Bear 100 and the Quad Dipsea, and serves as indentured servant at the Miwok and Lake Sonoma ultras.

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