Whiners and Winners

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As the years fly by, I’m increasingly appreciative of what I was once capable of, especially compared to what I’m able to do now. For years, I took what I did in my running as something of a given, and felt that I could always have done more, or better. Now, sometimes, when three miles around the lake seems like a monumental chore, I relish just being able to get out and go any distance on trails in a reasonable and comfortable time and fashion.

Too often, the culture of the sport has us taking on more than we can handle and we find ourselves coming up short. We start thinking of ourselves as failures, or incapable of doing what we once did or would like to do. Then we become even more obsessed. Sometimes we become emotional and psychological wrecks for a while, trying anything and everything to get back to where we once were. We act as if running for 50 or hundreds of miles at a time is the most natural thing in the world. Ours is an endurance sport, and we’re often considered winners or losers by whether or not we cross the finish line in the requisite number of hours. There can only be one first place woman and man in every event, but the expectation is that everyone worth their weight in salt should be able to finish if they’ve done the requisite work.

I say: if we dare, we’re winners. So many people never get off the couch, let alone actually endeavor to run mega miles on rugged trails. We complain about not being able to run fast when we’re reduced to jogging and we wish we could jog when we’re saddled with having to power-walk or hike.

But you’ll take anything when you’ve been confined to the chair or physical therapy for weeks or months on end. Stop your whining and appreciate what you’ve got now, and what you are capable of doing. Get the most that you can from your running, because a setback is coming. Injuries or overuse will happen if you stay with it long enough. It’s part of the equation in long-distance trail running and racing. You’ve got to take your lumps, so get on with the business of getting busy.

Ultrarunning is supposed to be a sport for big girls and boys, and no hand-holding should be expected. Nowadays we have runners who want a course so well-marked that Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles could make their way through it, solo. Runners expect Ensure, GU gels or whatever else their fancy may be at aid stations, and complain when it’s not there simply because they paid an entry fee or it was offered at the last race that they attended. Runners are unhappy because it rained hard and the course is muddy, it was too hot for them or maybe they ran out of soup at the aid station… I say, stop the whining and take what’s coming to you. If Gordy had taken that entitled approach, we might not have the sport as we know it now. He didn’t request a mule or moped when his mount came up lame, he strapped on his shoes and ran with the horses. Let’s giddy up.

In 1999, when I ran the inaugural Bear 100, there were only 17 starters and ultimately 14 finished. At times it felt as though I were part of the Lewis and Clark expedition, or worse, the Donner party. The course markings left a lot to be desired and I was lost for two hours or more before I found my way back. The food at the aid stations was limited and questionable, if it was there at all, as the volunteers were having a feast of their own.

Most of us stayed the course, and had a good time all things considered, and now we have an event at the Bear that people love coming to. The point is sometimes you’ve got to suck it up until things get better. There’s a sense of entitlement these days that didn’t exist in the past, and less of a sense of adventure and being self-reliant. I have my pet peeves and wants like everyone else, but I’m reminded of what was once said to me at an event that I ran many years ago, when I ran into the aid station and asked if the soup was vegetarian. The person working that station was none other than my friend Norm Klein, the fabled Race Director of Western States. Norm’s reply was “it’s vegetarian on the bottom, Rocket, eat it and move on.” His point being, this is what we got, eat it or shut up and get on down the trail. I got the message. And it’s still a good one for today too.

Hopefully you got into whatever races you targeted for 2015. Let’s appreciate where we are and what’s to come. Give it what you got, whatever that is, and appreciate all the wonders of our sport and community.

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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.

1 Comment

  1. Andy Benkert on

    Well said. If you don’t think you’ll like what the aid station offers, bring your own. If you don’t think you’ll like the weather, go to a movie. If you don’t like the course markings, then you should study the course map more closely.