Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mean People Suck: Some Thoughts on the Running "Community"

“The easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. ” ~ Socrates
This week I'm struck by the number of mean spirited things I've either seen online or experienced in person, and all day I've been wandering around in a funk thinking: Why can't we just be nice? Why must we always place ourselves on some pedestal? Why do we like making ourselves feel superior at the expense of someone else? Why can't we all just do our own thing and accept that others are doing their thing (when it has no impact on us)?

It didn't help that I had a couple bad interactions on the trail this week with a belligerent dog owner who was just plain mean and nasty, I've also seen all kinds of really mean spirited, divisive comments and blog posts and people seemed to flock in droves to say 'hell yeah' and share over and over again, these negative, nasty posts. We enthusiastically leap onto the bandwagon of hatred and bigotry, and pat ourselves on the back for not being one of the lame whiners and wannabes. We put people down for asking questions we deem 'silly'. We mock the goals, paces, results, etc of others. When I registered for my first 50 miler a couple years ago, people didn't miss a beat at jumping all over me for choosing an "easy" 50. What the hell does it matter to anyone else what I run? Does this make us feel better about ourselves to mock and put down others?

Now, I'm not "Little Miss Nicey-Nice". I certainly can be critical at times - though 'critical' needn't be mean and nasty and foul mouthed.

What runners seem to like to do is label themselves and others:
road runner
trail runner
track runner
fun runner
mom runner
ultrarunner
marathoner
slow runner
mid-pack runner
back-of-the-pack runner
competitive runner
newbie runner
seasoned runner
masters runner
mountain runner
and on and on and on.

We put ourselves in categories. Others like to keep things tidy by assigning a little box and stuffing us into it. Labeling is limiting. Labeling makes us flat, unchanging things, not humans being and becoming. But through these labels we establish our camps - our clique - our clan. And the others are outsiders at best and infiltrators at worst.

I call myself a runner. That's as far as that goes. I don't call myself an 'ultrarunner'. I don't call myself a 'masters runner' or any of the above labels: I run roads and trails. I run 5ks and 100 milers. I run hills and flats. I run. Period.

I'm 'new' to ultrarunning as I only started dipping my toe into that pond in 2013, but I have been running longer than most ultrarunners have been alive. So I'm one of those 'old-timers'. And I've watched the rise in popularity of marathons and the resulting 'old school' verses 'newbie' divide surface again and again. I certainly have been guilty of looking at some newer trends with concern and suspicion and perhaps with a little head shaking and finger waving. BUT, most of that arises out of concern for the well being of runners, who may still be new to the sport and MAY be listening to people who do not really know what they are talking about and may not have the most noble intentions. Sure, that's 'judgmental' of me. But, I do actually have the qualifications to make those judgments. Old timers grouse about 'standards', and preparation, and crowding, and cost. As a result. 'road runners' are often seen as a more contentious group.



Now, in the ultrarunning community, both in the 'real world' and the 'virtual world' I see two very conflicting trends: 1) Inclusiveness: Ultrarunners are a welcoming and encouraging, and 2) Divisiveness: As ultrarunning has grown in popularity a divide has slowly oozed to the surface from the deepest, darkest depths of muddy trails: The 'seasoned' ultra runners vs the 'newbie'.

So, while ultrarunners and trail runners love to depict themselves as welcoming and inclusive, laid-back and humbly hard core at the same time (And I would say MOST unltrarunners ARE welcoming and encouraging), there is also a 'pissing match' element. And that's all well and good as long as long as it's meant in a good competitive spirit - that is you aren't pissing all over the other person. What do I mean by good competitive spirit? Well, it goes something like this: I'm gonna beat your ass, or I'm gonna beat my own ass, and try my best, and shake your hand no matter how it goes. Put-downs have no place in sport. Do YOUR own damn thing.

When I did not get into Western States and tried to look on the bright side by saying that this just gave me a chance to get more experience, a well known and respected runner accused me of not going into it for the right reasons because I wasn't sobbing all over social media. I was, and still am, very disappointed that I didn't get in. And I signed up for my next 100 with the intention of qualifying again. This runner attacked me because I might have possibly taken a spot from someone who 'really' wanted to get in had I been accepted. She told me that with my attitude I am doomed to fail. So, let me get this right: I tried really hard to get in. I ran and finished my first 100 miler (first attempt at the distance and I did okay) and qualified. And I applied. I was too nervous to watch the drawing, so I went for a 16 mile run in the snow. When I got home I looked over the list again and again, hoping against hope. No Bueno. "Okay", I tell myself, "Time for plan B. And next year I'll have 2 tickets and a little more experience under my belt." THIS is the attitude of a failure??? This person doesn't even know me, but as a leader and role model in the community, I was slightly devastated that she would say these things. So sure of her judgement of me. So mean and hurtful.

For the record, these things usually eat at me for a time and then I get back up, brush off the crap people like to throw at me, and go on pursuing MY passions. They can shove their shite somewhere else.

Recently a blog post was shared all over the interwebs and on ultrarunning sites: The point of the piece is to tell ultrarunners to stop their whining - and if they don't like it they can f*ck off. The author clearly notes that with the rise in the popularity of ultras there has also be an increase in the amount of whiny runners. Again, the message is clear - All these 'newbies' are a bunch of whiny pansies (yeah, you know what word everyone was really using!) and they should all just shut up or piss off. This post was shared by so many runners who I know and used to respect. The reaction to the post is disheartening: "I love you". "Well said". "If this offends you, you don't belong here anyway." "Spot on." "You are my new hero!!" etc etc etc. I saw hundreds of thumbs up comments in response to this.
"People don't mind being mean; but they never want to be ridiculous." ~ Moliere
Now, I don't like whiners and complainers, and those who act as though they are 'entitled' to things that no one is entitled to (like a smooth ride and automatic success), and I'm not 'offended' by the post or the comments, but I am SAD about it. I'm sad about it because it feels like much ado about not much! Yeah, I haven't run that many ultras, but I can say that I've never seen these whiny creatures out on the trails when I'm there. I've volunteered at races, and have not had runners grouse about aid stations, the course, the support, etc. Of course the whiners are out there (and I could add "who the f*ck cares"), but they are so in the minority I'm just not getting the big deal here, except as an us/them thing: Us being the cool kids. Them being the lame whiners who we are not!.The us/them dichotomy is divisive.

But here's the thing, everyone rushes to say, "awesome job" and in so doing they become one of the good guys. They are one of the real runners. And since they get it, nudge nudge, wink wink, and aren't offended that just proves how much better they are. They aren't offended therefore they aren't one of the whiners (It should be noted, however, that this was whining about whiners) They are tough and stoic and made of better stuff then those other losers. But, it's like all the fools in the story of the Emperors New Clothes - No one is brave enough to say, this is nothing but meanness. This is about nothing more than making yourself feel superior. Puff up that chest, man. You f*cking rock.

So, here's MY message: Make YOURSELF as good as possible. Be nice to others. How they behave has no baring on your character, be that good or bad. Your character and the character of the community rests in how we behave and how we treat others.

“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” ~ Socrates



Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Asterisk Factor

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” ~ Paulo Coelho
2015 was a year of setting specific goals and applying what I've learned over the years, especially since returning to racing again in 2009, in an attempt to avoid some pits I've fallen into previously.

Overall, it was a success. In 2014 I ran my first 50 miler, the Des Plaines River Trail 50 in Illinois. I had not really trained for it and my fueling plan was pretty half-assed - as in non existent. The result? A decent first experience at the distance that almost came undone during the last mile due to low blood sugar. I learned that lesson, but good! An insufficient amount of HEED plus one Luna bar plus 3 gels does not a good fueling regimen make when running 50 miles.

So, as the Kettle Moraine 100 approached this past June, I was determined not to make that mistake again. And I didn't. My fueling went great with only a few hours of pretty mild nausea that still allowed me to suck on my HEED and nibble pretzels. No cramps. No vomiting. Only mild hallucinations and some annoying, but mild, finger swelling. 

Then, a few months ago, I had a rematch with the Des Plaines River Trail 50. Last year I ran it in 9:15. This year I had two goals: Go under 9 hours and fuel well so as not to repeat history. I did both. I ran the whole 50 miles, kept the fuel coming in, light but steady, and I felt pretty damn good. Yes, the last 18 miles were incredibly hard, but I maintained a decent pace throughout and finished in 8:36:07.


So success on all counts. Except...

I got through Kettle and qualified for the Western States lottery. That was the goal. I ran Des Plaines faster than I thought I could and didn't bonk or cramp or almost pass out 2 yards from the finish.

And yet there is this 'Asterisk Factor' as I call it.

The Asterisk Factor concerns those little blunders or miscalculations or conditions that were just not conducive, or body tweaks that don't prevent you from running but might prevent  you from doing what you've trained to do - these all give rise to the little nigglers: things that eat at you a bit and worm their way into your thoughts, wishes, dreams.

You know: when someone asks: 
"How was your race?"
And you say, "It was a great race, except...".

These are the instances that give rise to the asterisk factor.

Of course no race is perfect. Chances are there's always something we think we 'should' have done and didn't do that would have made even a good race great. But the Asterisk Factor concerns more serious things. You know, like the race you felt so freaking strong in and then wonder, after the fact, if you could have run faster. Or, the goals you didn't really recognize you had floating in your mind and heart until you didn't reach them, only then realizing they were there.

In my case both my goal races for the 2015, Kettle and Des Plaines (Yeah, Boston too and the weather hosed that, rather) suffer from the Asterisk factor: 

*Kettle*: Too much time at aid stations and getting lost on the course and running it without really training well for it and running a time I am not satisfied with (even though I never set a time goal!)
*Des Plaines*: Still too much time at aid stations and a tweaked knee and making the same damn fueling mistake from mile 26-38 that I did last year

When we embark on new things we never really know what new paths might be revealed that we don't even know exist beforehand. My first horrible, 90 degree Boston that was meant to be a 'one and done' run has turned into much more than I would have ever guessed. Why? Again, because of the asterisk factor. Now whenever I bemoan my bad luck or my weakness or my not always keen judgement, I remember that this factor has kept running very interesting and challenging for me.

Some ask: "Why are you running Kettle again? You've done that already".
Some immediately get it and don't ask. They only comment: "You have unfinished business there, don't you?"

Some judge my choices as boring, unadventurous, safe. They can keep their judgements because this is about me and what I find valuable. I relish this process of falling on my face and coming back to use what I've learned to do better. This is a process I find mentally and physically compelling.

Where the asterisk factor directs me depends entirely on how I want to use it and I never know what that will mean until the inspiration hits me and that inspiration will ONLY come from THAT thing that stands out in my mind as something to think about. When it hits I know what I need to do. And that's the great thing about the asterisk factor : It may seem like a 'failure' at first, but if we see this whole thing as a process of becoming, then nothing is a failure, except not trying - and even that we can use in the future.

And what new, unknown, paths await discovery next?...
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” ~ Eckhart Tolle 

The Things That Change Us

“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” ~ Goethe Sometimes we never "go back" to what we were before....