Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Switch

It's the Sunday after TNF; a warm, sunny, quiet morning in Berkeley.  The streets so quiet and relaxed that the loudest sound is the chirping of the crosswalk signals.  Many hours removed from the pain of Saturday's effort in Marin, as well as the post-race euphoria.  While lingering over crepes and Americanos, the real post-mortem begins: breaking down the race, assessing the performance of others in a race rich with young and up-and-coming talent. 

While strolling around campus, the conversation turned to the inevitable question:

Are we "any good"?

On a day billed as the most competitive in Ultra Running history, Jake and I both I've been calling it, "Better than people thought we would, but not as good as we could have done".  We discussed our position relative to the competition out there - a ton of talent, indeed.  Besting some immense talent and placing top twenty is solid; "losing" by nearly an hour, not.  On a day where we both hoped would reveal some answers, only more questions.

Am I "good"?
  • Do you win races?  Some; but no big ones.
  • Are you an awesome mountain or technical runner?  No.
  • Are you an awesome road guy with a speed background?  No.
  • Are you consistently mechanically proficient across all challenges in an ultra?  Working on it...

Why is being "good" important?  Being good is fun.  Competing with others at the highest level is fun.  Being good ensures more fun: it earns you spots into the Big Juans, and for many, it provides some financial assistance that allows you do have more fun, in more, far-off places

Admittedly, I don't have much reason for "getting up in the morning": In high school I never went to state...except for marching band (State Champs 1992, 1994! Go Cats!).  In college, I never competed or scored in a DIII conference meet.  I'm a 2:3x.xx marathoner.  I have run 4:04 1500m more than once...but it's been a while.

So what do I have?  What do I possibly have to be able to compete, here and now, in "The New Competitive Era" of Ultra Running, where we might only be at the very tip of the competitive iceberg?  Where the sport is now drawing Division-I level post-collegiates and other high-level road-running converts?  Where soon, everyone will know how to trail run, how to fuel, and how to compete?

Here's the one thing I have:  "The Switch".

There's something that happens, deep into a long event - it could an ultra, or a long bike tour, or even a long game of ultimate frisbee - where "a switch" goes, and I can push and push and push.  It's difficult to explain. This is close:

"...When The Switch goes on, I feel like another person.  I a truck. A machine"

And when it comes on, it's powerful: in our Beartooth cycle trip, it was grinding non-stop up a 5000' climb to the 11,000' summit with a steel-frame bike and 50 lbs of gear; it's pushing sub-7 miles with Jake, 40+ miles into an unsupported WS tour - only an hour removed from being pronounced "DOA" at Robinson Flat.  And it's running 20:01:52 on no training at the Big Juan.

That's all I have.  That, and a love for what I do: getting to run around in the woods, putting in an honest day's work.  That's something...  And in a sport that rewards both intelligence and guts, where those two things can routinely best talent, I'll take it.  :)


  1. Joe, I very much enjoyed this. I know nothing about running except that I loved to do it on the playground because it was the only athletic event I was good at. Of course, those days are long over.

    It seems to me that what Stallone was talking about was a psychological switch whereas you seem, to me, to be describing something that at least starts out as a physiological change, although his description of what he's feeling fits your own experience.

  2. You never ran a conference race while at EC? How is that possible?

  3. @Chad- In three seasons of cc, zero WIAC races. In two seasons of track, one "JV heat" race (in each indoor and out).