I have always struggled with the concept of moderation. Having what some refer to as an obsessive personality, I find something I’m passionate about and pursue it with laser focus and unbreakable devotion. I attack targets with 100% of my fury and aggression, until thoroughly decimated. What happens after I accomplish the goal? On to the next one of course, bigger and better, as long as I’m improving and progressing forward. This approach has served me well thus far. But, the next step isn’t always obvious… and there is no end to the madness.
As I made my way from enlisted aircraft mechanic to Marine attack pilot, I relied on the guidance and advice of wise men and women who have “been there.” I credit much of my success to a handful of people who believed in me. One such mentor once told me: “Never rest on your laurels”, he went on to explain that making it to fly the Harrier operationally is like making it to the NFL, each time you get to the next level, you have to step up your game, try harder, because your new peers were also good enough to make it to this level.
Moderation is probably not a strength of many ultrarunners, but there is a place for it. When we look forward to which races we want to sign up for next year, it can be tempting to overbook ourselves. Particularly when we see some people who are at a place in their life that allows them to run lots of races each year. But it is important to resist the temptation of comparison, ultrarunning is a sport that demands proper training, experience, and can quickly put you on the sidelines with an injury if you don’t progress smartly with long-term health in mind.
I love running and have for a long time. But for the last four years I have done way too much of it without due regard for other aspects of my fitness. I recently found a passion for Brazilian jiu jitsu. In some ways it is on the polar opposite extreme from running. Ultrarunning gives us the ability to endure physical and mental suffering at a high-level to test ourselves and see how strong we are. In an apocalyptic scenario, it would give you the ability to travel a long distance, an important talent to have when vehicles are no longer practical. Without a self-defense skill set, the chances of protecting yourself against attack on your journey are low. Jiu jitsu completes the puzzle for me, it is what I need to balance out my fitness, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Running occurs in one plane of motion. The repeated stress to the same ole muscles can lead to imbalances and weakness in other areas, which then lead to injury. Jiu jitsu occurs in all three planes of motion and will work muscles that you had no idea were even there. There is something special about forcing another human being into submission. As a runner, the sport and practicality of jiu jitsu is highly beneficial, fun, and balances the type of stresses that running imposes on the physiology. It is also a great way to build your stamina for higher intensity running in the tempo and VO2max range.
Earlier this year, I was fortunate to have spent a few days with Andy Jones Wilkins (AJW) and others at a Lake Tahoe ultrarunning camp. AJW has a way of expressing his passion for ultrarunning that gets straight to your core. If you haven’t heard him speak, watch this short video. He embodies the best our sport has to offer, and not in terms of accomplishments, although he has an impressive resume. His perspective on ultrarunning shows that it’s not just about the running. Running is the vehicle we use to realize the life-changing benefits of ultrarunning that strengthen our soul. It allows us to enjoy lasting human relationships and social circles. It allows us to share in the experience of helping someone push through extreme adversity and the physical, mental, emotional challenge unique to our sport. It allows us to visit a dark place within ourselves, when we are beaten, tired, and drained, to experience the pure essence of what it means to be alive. The ultrarunning community is unique and special, and we should all take time to step back and assess what it means to us individually.
My perspective on ultrarunning changed after I finished my first 100 miler. It didn’t happen right away, but as a few weeks went by and I had plenty of time to reflect on the experience, my perspective matured. The race doesn’t end at the finish line, in fact it never ends. Each time you cross the finish line or complete a big run, you arrive at a new beginning. The medals and buckles serve as reminders of what we accomplish as a result of hard work, dedication, and strength, but we must never rest on our laurels. We have to keep moving forward, in training, in races, and in life. We only get one chance and a short period of time to live on this Earth (most likely), so make decisions NOW to ensure that you don’t find yourself in your last moments dealing with regret. So go run far, fight hard, and die living!
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