This Is a Long Run for Someone with Nothing to Think About

4

“It’s like when people ask me what I think about when I’m running. I usually say something like ‘quantum mechanics.’ Sometimes I say music.”

“Music?”

“It’s as good as any. Sometimes I do think about music. Actually when you’re training you can think about anything you want, just about. But in a race, everyone thinks about the same thing.”

“Which is?”

“The race, oddly enough.”
—Quenton Cassidy, ‘Once A Runner’ (John L. Parker, Jr.)

It’s a fascinating bit of sports psychology, this nearly universal dichotomy of thought patterns: when on a long, or easy effort, training run the topics that dance through the winding, technical trail of our minds are as varied as the human condition. Yet when we toe the line of a race or stare down a tough workout, the focus tends to hone in on that particular moment in time. It kind of has to, so intense are the demands of the effort. Even in events as long as 100-milers the mind rarely wanders – instead remaining fixed on the task at hand, constantly assessing the status of physiological and anatomical machinery carrying you toward the finish line, endlessly angling for ways to move faster, more efficiently.

Unless you do 100% of your training in the company of others, as an ultrarunner you have a rare-in-this-modern-world opportunity to spend endless hours inside your own head with zero distractions apart from internal ones. Time alone with your thoughts, time to process and reflect, is generally a positive thing, especially as the world around us continues to accelerate with complexity and demands down some path we know not where it leads. It certainly doesn’t seem to be leading to more happiness. If the world outside was tugging like a beggar at Jackson Browne’s sleeve in the 70s, that sleeve has now been ripped to shreds by the ever present, myriad and instantaneous forms of communication, within and without the social media world. A void within the void has been created that can never be filled, never be satisfactorily satiated. It constantly beckons with its pings, beeps and personalized sounds.

Alarm fatigue is a real, defined phenomenon in the medical world with potentially disastrous results and a variation of it has most certainly crept into everyday life. While writing I once got so irritated by the seemingly constant, various and individualized sounds denoting incoming work emails, personal emails, texts and social media interactions that I chucked my phone out of sonic range; a less-composed form of airplane mode as it were.

If races provide a valuable hat rack to hang complete, unadulterated and refreshing focus on, then everyday training creates space for the mind to wander freely, an equally important mental exercise. But too much of anything is never as good as it sounds; and it can get padded walls-weird in that cerebral space. Several years ago I posted the following random run thought on Facebook: marathonger: a runner who rocks the butt floss for 26.2. A friend quickly commented, “Dude, is this what you think about when you’re running?”

Not always. But I do run the majority of my miles alone so there is no lack of time to come full circle from ridiculous to serious and back again. Try thinking about nothing on a 30-mile training run. Not only is it likely impossible but it is probably a great way to make thirty miles feel like a hundred.

Sometimes I get lost in the deep and philosophical; sometimes the dark and introspective. I might think about my future, the past, or present stresses and mundane tasks I’ve been avoiding on the neverending to-do list of everyday life. Sometimes I get an unwanted song stuck in my head on a maddening loop; the earworm version of a 24-hour track event. At some point I realized that the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” adage applied here and I began mentally rewriting song lyrics as a way to pass the miles, entertain myself, and poke a little fun at the absurdities and idiosyncrasies I see within the subculture of this sport I love.

Around the time that the pendulum was swinging from the minimalist to maximalist footwear extremes and it seemed everyone had a very vocal opinion on what was best, I joked that I was waiting for the Vibram Fat Fingers to hit the market: a zero drop, individual toe sleeves shoe with 35mm of foamy cushion. It all seemed so ridiculous – the arguing at any rate. As if one type of shoe would ever be the miracle mile shoe for everyone.

Then, on a very long run, Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” latched onto my suspect gray matter and a rewrite was born. I log miles in all types of footwear and have no affiliation with Hoka, but the brand name has essentially become the max cushion shoe equivalent of Xerox, so it’s less of a plug than a simple reality. And my truths are as follows: I often question whether or not max cushion shoes aren’t the “Vitamin I” of footwear, masking the discomfort without treating the biomechanical cause. The last time I saw someone running in Five Fingers I simply figured they wrestled with getting them on in 2010 and still couldn’t summon the effort to take them back off. Your footwear truths may be different. And that’s the beauty of individuality and ever-expanding footwear options.

“Baby Got Back” certainly objectifies women. Not cool. “Baby Got Stack” definitely objectifies footwear. But I’m totally fine with that…


Baby Got Stack
by Jeff Kozak

Oh, my, god, look at her shoe
It is so big, omg, she looks like one of those ultrarunner’s friends
But, ugh, ya know, who understands those ultrarunners? ugh…

They only talk to her because she looks like a total ambassador, okay
I mean, her shoe, is just so big, ugh, I can’t believe it’s just so round
It’s like, out there, I mean, ugh, crazy!
Look! It’s just so, cushy…

I like big shoes and I cannot lie
You other runners can’t deny
That when the comp zips by with a hydration pack waist
And a clown shoe in your face you get lungs

Wanna pick the pace up tough
‘Cause you noticed that foot was stuffed
Deep in the shoes they’re wearin’
You’re perplexed and you can’t stop starin’

Oh baby, I wanna lace up wit’cha
And take yo picture
My teammates tried to warn me
But that shoe you got makes m-m-me so form-free

Ooh, five-fingered foot skins
You say you never fell for that trend?
Well, use me, use me
‘Cause this ain’t your average selfie

I’ve seen them prancin’
To hell with forefoot romancin’
You’s sweat, wet
Heel-strikin’ in ya Hoka jets

I’m tired of magazines
Sayin’ thin shoes are the thing
Take the average ultra fan and ask them that
Shoe gotta pack much stack

So, runnas! (Yeah!)
Runnas! (Yeah!)
Has your trail shoe got the stack? (Hell yeah!)
Tell ’em to rock it! (Rock it!)
Rock it! (Rock it!)
Rock that cushy strut!
Baby got stack!

Vibram face with a Hoka booty
Baby got stack!
Vibram face with a Hoka booty

I like ’em soft and big
And when I’m droppin’ the hammer
I just can’t help myself, I’m runnin’ like an animal
Now where’s my post-race sandal?

I wanna get my feet home
And ugh, pedicure, ugh, ugh!
I ain’t talkin’ bout UROY
‘Cause voting panels just bring the noise

I want ’em real thick and juicy
So find them on the double
My feet’s in trouble
Beggin’ for a piece of that Hubble

So I’m lookin’ at you tube videos
Five-finger mimbos hobblin’ on toes
You ain’t got no midsole
I’ll keep my shoes like Hoka yo

A word to the thin sole runnas, I wanna get with ya
I won’t mock or clown ya
But I gotta be straight when I say I wanna (Run!)
Til the break of dawn!

Stack height got it goin’ on
A lot of barefooters won’t like this song
‘Cause them short distance runners like to hit it and quit it
And I’d rather stay and play
‘Cause I run long and I’m strong
And I’m down to get the cushion on

So, runnas! (Yeah!)
Runnas! (Yeah!)
If you wanna roll my Mafates (Yeah!)
Then turn around! Stack it out!
Even minimalist bros got to shout
Baby got stack!
Baby got stack!

Yeah baby, when it comes to stone bruises
Five Fingers ain’t got nothin’ to do with my selection
0 drop, 10mil stack height? Ha ha, only if I’m walking down the street…

So your training partner rolls in Vibrams
Playin’ form-help tapes by everyone…
My quadriceps don’t want none
Unless it got cushion, son

You can do long runs and speedwork
But please don’t lose that stack height
Some ultrarunners wanna play that monkey role
And tell you that the foam aint gold
So they diss it and leave it
And pull a DNF, believe it

So Trail Runner says your kicks are fat
Well, I ain’t down with that!
‘Cause your drop is small and your cushion is kickin’
And you’re thinkin’ bout winnin’

To the thin soled models in the magazines
You ain’t it, flat thing!
Give me a thicksta, I can’t resist ya
Light foam and rocker didn’t miss ya

Some monkeyboy tried to diss
‘Cause his shoes aren’t on my list
He had game but he went with Vibrams
And I blew right by ’em

So runnas, if soreness abounds
And you wanna run 200s now
Dial 1-900-FAT-SHOE, bought
And kick them plush ride thoughts
Baby got stack!
Baby got stack!

Livin’ in the midpack but she got much stack
Livin’ in the midpack but she got much stack…

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About Author

Jeff Kozak discovered the mountains and trails through childhood summers spent at the family cabin in California’s Eastern Sierra. A passion for distance running ignited on the cross country courses and tracks of high school in Ohio. After the college years, also known as a directionless tour of the sciences culminating with a Psychology degree, the twin loves of the alpine and running quickly merged at the 1997 Baldy Peaks 50K, the first of nearly 100 ultras over the past two decades. The competitive fire still burns, but is increasingly tempered by adventure running, fastpacking and giving back to the sport that has given so much. He lives in the rainshadow of the Sierra Nevada in Bishop, CA with his girlfriend, Margo, and can be reached at jeff.kozak.1974@gmail.com.

4 Comments

    • Jeff Kozak on

      It’s good to know I entertained at least one other person besides myself. Thanks Jennifer! And, I dig that you got the MM reference! Was hoping someone would.
      Cheers – Jeff

  1. Doug Wickert on

    Superb, Jeff! This is simply as lighthearted and fun as your previous offerings have been insightful and thought-provoking. There is more than one way to measure the man and you are a man of many dimensions.
    Please keep this going!

    • Jeff Kozak on

      Thanks, Doug. See you in a few weeks. Enjoy your “sharpening phase” before SD100. I’ve felt alternately sharp and dull so many times this go-around, not sure what kind of knife I’m gonna show up at Lake Cuyamaca with!

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