By Jobie Williams
When Jim Walmsley, twice, had sure immortality snatched from his grip, he did what so many of us do. Something that is core to the trail/ultra community. He went back to work and continued to prepare to taste success.
If you disliked telling your running friends and co-workers you dropped at the local 50K over the weekend, think of having the extended running community chime in on why you missed the turn or failed to perform to expectations. I’m no Walmsley fan boy, but I respect the process he took to Western States success. His writing of his own story is what we all hope is inside of us.
Walmsley is one of the supercars of running. The ladies and guys, like him, fly on the downhills, move efficiently on the technical terrain and power up the mountain sides. I’m not that person. I’m more of the Honda Del Sol of the running community - aging, with a dated design and the tape deck still listed as my top quality but we have similarities in that we can both understand that half of success is suck.
By nearly all accounts 2017 was the worst for me. Just the absolute worst. I ran less, adventured less, traveled less. If less is more, I had everything. The reality is life was churning me up and preparing me for more. I had become mildly successful as a human and looking back on the year, I needed exactly what I got, a forced internal review for what I wanted to become in the back half of this thing called life. Going through a rough year makes you think about a lot of things. Being a runner, let’s face it, I (and you) bring everything around to running.
These are the some of the things I learned about success and its other half.
1. It doesn’t always feel good
More times than not, you finish a run without experiencing the highs of olympic success. It probably seems you are the only person who feels this way, but surprise, surprise, people lie on Instagram. Training is monotonous. Training is a bit of failing over and over until you learn to get it right, or build up the callouses to perform to your expectations. My buddy, Billy Simpson once gave me the great trail running advice of “trust the process”. The fact that we were sitting at a slot machine and I had just told him to slow down since his balance was quickly deteriorating doesn’t matter. Its still good trail running advice.
2. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that we are the problem
I’ve had those days where I felt good, went out hard and burned up bright. It sucks to feel you have it, only to find yourself jogging it in because of, well, because of you. We like to blame our failures on all the other things. People go to Badwater and complain because it was a hot year - its a desert. People go to Hardrock and talk about the storms - spend a few days in Silverton, it rains every afternoon and you are at 13,000 feet above Cincinnati. People go to Western States and go out too fast because they think they are on a fast track - that race isn’t fast, its just that the supercars go there with their ‘A’ games and run ridiculous times while us Del Sols go there with a three-quarter tank of gas and visions that we look like a Lamborghini. So as long as they let us race, we will keep flopping into the Michigan Bluffs of the world wondering why the world is against us. But maybe, some introspection is due. Those hot days, or the cold, dark, rainy days you want to skip in training - the one’s that really suck, are all part of the process. Stay diligent.
3. You are not unique
Ever had a job where all the issues were considered unique and then you went to another job and all the issues were considered unique but they were really the same as the last place and then you went to another job and all the issues were considered unique but were all the same problems as the last two places you worked… The running community has so many individuals who have figured out our issues already. All we have to do is engage and listen. The Territory community has group runs, social media sites for communications, Strava groups, with all of these outlets come a ton of free help for what we might consider our unique issues.
4. There are good lessons in the muckThere is a saying that I have found to be very true, “failure is the mother of all success”. Its not always the easy way to learn through failure, but for the majority of us runners that tend to lean toward success in our lives, the failures can highlight so much more than the successes do. Whether that be a lack of specificity in training, over training, under training, or poor in-run decisions, its very hard to hide from the lessons in failure. I’ve had several major failures due to my own head games. One year at the Arkansas Traveler 100, I took a DNF around the 65 mile mark not because my body had broken down, but because my mind had. I simply lost the interest to continue. Around half way I was on track to have a good result. The weather was great, I was feeling fine for having run 50ish miles, but there was one short section of the run that was literally bush whacked through the course. It wasn’t my favorite. When I exited this tiny section and ran into the aid station, I told my wife, who was crewing me, that I had just run through the ass-crack of Arkansas. From that point on, I found every excuse and weakness possible until eventually I just had had enough and quit. For no reason. In the short-term this was hard to acknowledge but as I gave it serious thought over the next few months, I learned valuable lessons about myself and my psyche in ultras - and how to handle my own thoughts. There are loads of value in failures and going into the muck and we should cherish these moments as much as the successes because they define us just as much.
5. Success is self-definedI like to run with my dog, Tennessee Williams. He is a Vizsla and is made to run all day. He is not on Strava. He could care less when we finish a run and have run the 3,046th fastest time on the Donald Trump’s Tiny, Tiny Hands segment on the Town Lake Loop. There are days to push hard and there are days to define success as getting out the door and enjoying the day. And those times when we push our bodies and minds to see what we have, don’t short-change yourself by defining success too lenient, but also don’t put expectations on yourself that aren’t meant for you. Find your own successes and then redefine afterwards. I have a running friend who is in his seventies. Every year he sets state running records at nearly every distance, a little slower than he ran last year, but still successful.
6. Connect with others through the suckSome of the best times you’ll ever have in your life will be the horrible times you spend with friends or like-minded people in the throes of a full on suffer fest run. The bonding can be as real as this life allows. Its a bit magical to suffer in silence next to a friend for hours and hours because let’s face it, those hours turn into a lifetime of conversation. Friends become brothers and sisters, relationships are cemented for life.
.. And when its all over and we’ve run our last run, we will still have the stories and we will absolutely know that half of all our success was 100%, heart breaking, muscle crushing suck.