If you pull out the DVD from the 1986 Western States 100, there’s a shot of winner Chuck Jones descending toward the Rucky Chucky river crossing. He looks straight into the camera and says, “I love runnin’.”
That simple declarative sentence can be interpreted on many levels. First, of course, is the simple act itself: the joy of moving fast down a dusty trail. But when I see the elation in his expression what I think Jones was saying was that he loved everything about running. The way it made him feel, the struggle to achieve a difficult goal, the intensity of competition, the clarity of focus, the intense bonding with others out on the trail, the sharing of these sensations with family and friends, the many stories to tell when the race is over. The grand adventure of it all.
We recently traveled to Monument Valley, which sits astride the Utah/Arizona border in the Navajo Tribal Park for a new ultra devised by RD Matt Gunn. Gunn had gained permission from the Navajo Nation to put on the event. They were so supportive that there were native guides on horseback, the principle aid station was inside a hogan (the traditional Navajo mud dwelling) and there was handmade Navajo jewelry for finisher medals.
Given its remote location, it came as no surprise that the event was sparsely attended; there were only 55 runners total for two races, 50-miles and 50k. But the race completely captured the spirit of the sport, and had scenery few races can approach. My wife Lisa, true to form, had recruited several of our California running pals to make the trek and join in the fun. Picking up bib numbers the evening before the race we ran into several old friends, many of whom we hadn’t seen in a long time. As is so common in our sport, strong bonds had been formed over the years – and we picked up right where we left off, without missing a beat.
I have gotten to the point where I’m not really interested in racing anymore. Despite solid evidence to the contrary, in my mind I’m somehow still the runner I used to be 20 years ago, and slugging out a back-of-the-pack finish – assuming I’m even capable of that – has little appeal. But I still get pretty excited about the prospect of exploring new trails and remote terrain. So I devised a route that would take me up to the top of Mitchell Mesa – perhaps the most scenic spot on a course filled with amazing scenery – just in time to see the leaders reach the top. I was able to cheer everyone on, get a solid 22 miles in, and still return to the course in time to crew for my wife and several of our friends. And then hang out at the finish line until well after dark.
Why would I go to all that trouble when I could be a regular tourist (Lisa is quite capable of running 50 miles without a crew) and take a tour through the valley and see all the sights from the relative comfort of a jeep? Simple. I like being part of an event that is special. I like cheering, harassing, and offering help to friend and stranger alike. I like hearing the stories, sharing the experience, the pain, the elation, and supplying the kudos for a job well done. Like Chuck Jones in that DVD, I love runnin’.