Exit Stage Left

5

It’s early in the year and as they say, “Hope springs eternal.” But when formulating plans for what’s to come it’s also important to start considering what your future exit strategy might be.

While being vibrant and on top of your game now, not remotely considering slowing down or stepping away because you’re in your prime, the time eventually comes when we all need to ponder diminished returns and consider the prospects of being relegated to the trash heap of the once was. Time marches on, we get worn down, older, slower and just plain burnt out.

I lament the fact that I can no longer get after it the way I once did, or the way that I’d like to. It’s like the sport that I love is leaving me in the dust. Everything has a shelf life, a beginning and an end. When you buy a loaf of bread or quart of milk, there’s a “best by date” stamped upon it. No such designation is stamped on our foreheads or arms. We don’t know when, where or why we may go sour. But we do know or should, that a reckoning is in the offing, a diminished capacity is in the works. Sometimes the writing is on the wall and we can see it coming. Sometimes you seem to just wake up one day and realize that you’ve run smack dab into the wall, blind-sided.

In either case you can be left with some bittersweet emotions and questions about what’s to come next. What’s to be done when we discover that we can’t exercise our passions in the fashion we once did, how do we cope and what’s to fill the void?

I quietly stepped away from my endeavors at the Bear 100 after the 2016 running for a number of different reasons. A loss of my ability to perform well at the Bear and other races had me in doubts about my future on the trails and it was wearing on my mind and body. I decided to sit it out in September 2017 and immerse myself back in the basics of my training routine in an attempt to recapture some lost glory. To affirm for myself that I still had what it took to go the distance, in search of a 100-mile finish.

I chose my shot for redemption at the Heartland 100 miler in October of 2017. By the standards that I’d come to measure 100 milers, Heartland seemed a benign Midwest event. I’d dropped from it the previous year but had an acceptable explanation for that upheaval. It was an aberration of sorts…or so I thought.

Even at this stage in my running I felt that I could/should be able to complete the race with sufficient training, good planning and a tiny bit of good luck. With numerous ultras under my belt and my wealth of experience surely I could seal the deal, though I hadn’t accomplished the feat in the previous three years. This was to be my stepping stone towards a much more ambitious undertaking further down the road.

I hadn’t missed a single day of training all year, at least 3.2 miles every day. Some days were downright awful, but I didn’t miss. I ran or raced at least one 50k distance every month, modest by my old standards but a Herculean effort now in later years. I had unencumbered training for the most part, with nothing to do but decide when, where and how much I’d run and then I’d eat, sleep, recover and move on with the process.

Life was supposed to be great and in many respects it was. Not all my runs or races turned out the way I’d hoped. Some were real medieval torture but I got through them. I couldn’t ask for more than that. But when it really counted, on the appointed day in October, I came up very flat at Heartland and it sent me for a loop that I couldn’t have envisioned. I was a wreck. The physical aspect of it was one thing but the mental and emotional suffering really was the worst. I stewed in self-pity for a week or so and I decided that I’d never attempt another 100.

I wasn’t ready to leave the sport altogether but I’d concluded that anything beyond 50 miles was a no go. It’s true that time heals all wounds and with enough passage of it we either get better or we die, so one way or another time takes care of everything. My head is coming around, but this body of mine is done with 100s. It’s a cautionary tale to be sure.

So where does this all lead you ask? It’s just my rant! I say, revel in the now. But know that the time comes when it’ll all be just a memory. You’ll be a shadow of your former self. It doesn’t mean that we stop, but major adjustments and acceptance are in order. So as you train, prepare and dream about your big races later this year, I’m saying at least consider an exit strategy in case things go south.

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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.

5 Comments

  1. John Demorest on

    Yes, there is a beginning and an end to all things. But when one door is closing, look for the opening to another room. Life is a mansion. Don’t get stuck without seeing the spaces in the entire house. Onward.

  2. Jonathan Zeif on

    excellent article errol, i am struggling with this as well, but i am finding there are other challenges out there other than 100s….

  3. Marie Boyd on

    Try the timed events. I now can no longer finish 100 milers, 100k or,even 50 milers in time, but do well in 24, 48 hour events, and even 6 days! Go as you please, talk to so many legends! Love to see you at ATY.

  4. Albert Shank on

    Errol, you and I shared some miles at the 2002 Crown King 50k. We all face the inevitable. Sometimes I get a little bummed because I can’t run to the top of my favorite mountains with explosiveness like I did in my 20s and 30s, but I have readjusted my goals and am quite happy to still be ‘in the mix’ and still at it. Though you may be throwing in the towel for 100s, the party ain’t over yet!

  5. I am not an ultra just a recreational runner but thank you Errol for this and your other thoughtful blogs. I will be turning 60 soon but my body did not wait for the big six zero to start wearing out. The past few years have been tough. Most of my training is on treadmill/stationary bike these days. It’s much lower impact but not for everybody, I know lots of outdoor runners hate it with a passion, for valid reasons. I’m willing if it allows me the occasional good outdoor run. You and your ultra friends are so awesome and so helpful and inspiring to a recreational runner like me. Whenever I want to tell myself it’s too hard or I”m getting too old I think of you and the other ultra’s out there (especially the older ones) that are going five or ten or twenty times farther. If they can run up mountains, thinks myself, then I can shuffle these couple miles on flat pavement. So thanks a million for the good words and inspiration!