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The Other Compromise

I recently read the article The Compromise on Trail and Ultra This stirred up such a mixture of emotions in me, because I am witnessing so many close friends making a compromise.

It's just the compromise I see is an entirely different one.

This compromise starts out years before the problem, when my friends first started trail running. They (like most of us) started out full of wild dreams and adventures, and within the first years of ultrarunning, began to accomplish things they never thought were possible. Their limits, expectations, and goals began to expand. The lines between possible and impossible blurred; their potential was within reach. After a few years of steady, surreal growth a plateau was reached. These plateaus are fairly standard amongst participants in every sport.

In ultrarunning, this is where the compromises start.

Instead of continually PR'ing distances, getting a PB every time the course is run, or continually expanding types/places/distances of ultra events.... abruptly races are harder. Slower. Unsuccessful.

They compromise rest and race/goal specific training in order to fit in more events, trying to make up for the last one. Which isn't a bad compromise to make, if they weren't so upset with themselves over the results.

What could've been a good or great day turns into a day of self-degradation, bitterness, remorse. "Regrets collect like old friends, here to relive your darkest moments." -Florence + The Machines
The dreaded DNF. The missed PR. The podium they didn't get.

Our bodies aren't perfectly little machines nor are the ultra events predictable or "graphable" in nature. Dealing with the unexpected is part of the race.

Funny thing about pushing your limits... sometimes you reach them.

The unfortunate thing for me is that when my friends are no longer continually breaking new barriers, they're lost. Talk of a "bad year" or "bad season" resonates with each consecutive race. Instead of celebrating the possible, the focus is on mourning the impossible-- consecutive years of perfect running performance.

$h!t happens. And you know what? I've paced some of the people while they've completed 6+ 100s in less than a year (most they've ever done), not counting numerous other ultras. Really, can you expect a PR in that kind of conditions? Oh wait, they got a PR too. Still they aren't happy with their performance. Instead of finding joy in what they CAN and HAVE done, they linger on the goals they've lost and the marks they've missed.

Part of me wants to slap them and tell them to hoist up their big girl panties, and the other (larger) portion of me mourns their pain. I can't bear witnessing those I care about suffer. I also don't understand. How can they not be proud of their accomplishments? Where is the joy in play? When did this beautiful, soul-redeeming sport become part of a checklist? As a newbie to the sport, will this happen to me?

I haven't had a year I'm proud of. I didn't finish a lot of what I started. But the failures don't haunt me (ok, the Timp repeats still does) but really...

The compromise isn't a failure to have pushed harder. I've been out there with these friends too many times to know they gave it all they had. The compromise is in shifting values, opinions, and memories. The compromise goes from joy based on the experience/struggle to joy based on accomplishment.

The intent on this isn't to say "don't push yourself" or "be satisfied to just finish" or "just give it a halfway effort." I don't agree with those statements. The intent is for my friends to realize that they CAN give themselves credit when credit is due. Sometime it's due even when there isn't a PR. Sometimes the PR goal is changed- inclement weather, injuries, or other extenuating circumstances can cause a PR goal to change to a "finish or die trying" goal. THAT'S OK. No one thinks less of you.

Sometimes credit is due for some of the tangents accomplished. Things like inspiring, teaching, and coaching newbie runners like me. Befriending the un-befriendable. Sharing the happiness and quest of ultrarunning with others, and getting them to believe in themselves... much like these friends once believed in themselves.

This blog post isn't targeted at the author of the initially mentioned article, although that article helped me formulate the words for something that's been burning in me and that I've been trying to communicate in conversations and emails. As the year wraps up and people reflect on their year, it hurts to see such bitter disappointment my friends have in themselves.

Their battle isn't lost. They didn't fail themselves. They didn't fail me.
The battle has only begun.

Get up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes and take lessons from your failures.
We're finished at this aid station. Time to get running. :)


  1. Really, really, really like this. Beautifully written. It is good to remember why it is we do what we do.

  2. This and Craig's original article on compromise really complement each other well. Part of the joy of running for me is in the racing and in doing as well as I can, with the emphasis being on "as I can," which as any runner knows can change from day to day. When I look back on my main goals for running, it is always to stay healthy, learn, enjoy people, enjoy my surroundings, and grow as a person. Even if you take out racing altogether, I would have accomplished my goals. The bottom line for me, for racing, has always been about avoiding regret, which can mean different things on different days. I am no less proud of you for your attempts (even Timp repeats!) than I am of your finishes. What's that saying, the only way to fail is to never try, right?

  3. That's why I always try to remember that first and foremost I am an adventure runner. That's how I started out, that's how I shall remain. I have many reasons to consider my first 50 miler a huge failure ( However, it was an adventure and I enjoyed every moment, despite my injuries and pain. I don't look on it as a failure. I learned from it and now I'm better off. Overall, I just want to run in the mountains. Albeit by myself, with friends, an official race, 3 miles, 50 miles, peak bagging, BST flatting, snow, rain, or shine, etc.


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