Health and the 2013 Moab Red Hot 55k

I got my ass kicked last Saturday. I ran the Red Hot 55k in Moab, and Rob Krar crushed the entire field, running fourteen minutes under Dave Mackey’s old course record. Had Krar not run I would have had a great race, but his performance completely overshadowed my own. Being a “professional” athlete, I might expect to be somewhat disappointed in not winning, but second place didn’t really affect me like I thought it would.

Running well brings expectations. I used to love being the nobody, because that way I could either do well and blow everyone away, or do poorly and nobody would know or care except myself. In short, I used to love low expectations. But then I did pretty well, and raised the standards for my own running, and now I’m the “superstar” who beat Kilian… once… out of five tries. I did well a few times and now other people expect a similar result with each race. At the Red Hot 55k I didn’t fail by any means – I am quite happy with second place – but the race got me thinking about failure nonetheless.

At the Red Hot 55k I didn’t have the race I wanted, which seems silly in retrospect because I actually totally had the race that I wanted. What I was hoping for was a win and a course record, and I broke the previous course record, which means I would have won any of the previous incarnations of that race. But I came nowhere near to winning this year – Rob Krar made sure of that. So I underperformed by a relative standard – that of the other runners – rather than a more realistic standard like my own progress on that course over time. Post-race reflection has allowed me to be comfortable with my race and my fitness, especially for February.

But beyond all that, I am just happy to have the luxury to look at a 3:55 55k with mixed feelings. In other words, I’m just happy to be able to run well at all. So many people are unable to do so, whether because of illness or disability or age or any of the thousands of other reasons that someone would be prevented from doing what they loved. I have seen people wasted by cancer and cancer treatment, struggling far harder than I can understand on a daily basis just to survive. I have seen people torn from the natural world through immobility and disease. These people must scoff at my writing. That I can be critical of my performance at all suggests that I sometimes take my running for granted. Any look at a larger perspective shows that, among the mass of human ailments, not being fast enough one day is a pretty fine luxury.

I want to revel in the experience of mountain running; I want to relish the individual moments of outdoor sports. I want to do things that are real and authentic and worth doing – things that I can be proud of. I don’t want to be famous if it means I have to do things I don’t support. As an example, photo shoots and videography are inherently inauthentic. I did a photo shoot at the Grand Canyon last year that has produced some amazing pictures of running in the canyon. But almost none of those photos came from the day I ran the double crossing, the day I did something real. Instead they all were taken over the next two days, which I spent running back and forth on the rim from dawn to dusk, recreating an idea of something real. On one hand, the photos represent something really great. On the other hand, the truth behind those photos is a few dudes sprinting back and forth for nothing better than showmanship, to sell products and to titillate the masses. I am not proud of that.

For now, however, that is simply a necessary evil in the pursuit of something good. By conceding to things like photo shoots I then gain the ability to travel the world just to run in the mountains, to make a living doing what I love. By doing a few things I dislike I have the opportunity to do a lot of things that I really like, such as running across the desert as fast as I can.

Moab’s Red Hot 55k is the perfect example of why I love the sport of ultrarunning. The course is beautiful, the weather (this year) was perfect, and the people were wonderful. After the race several people gathered at my house for a bonfire and late in the evening I looked at all the people around me and smiled. The people that were in my house, talking, laughing, playing games, drinking beer and so on – they were genuinely good people. To have them in my life means more than any win or course record. They were proof that even if I stopped winning I would still have great friends. That’s all that really matters. And the fact that I get to run hard in a beautiful place and associate with this group – that is something authentic, something I am proud of. That is why I like to race.

As I continue to build a career as a runner, the most important aspect of that is maintaining the life perspective necessary to recognize that I am simply fortunate to have the strength and ability to do what I love to do. I get to physically challenge myself to the extreme in the most striking areas of the world. The greatest tribute I can give to the people who don’t have that opportunity is to appreciate it fully for what it is – a beautiful gift to be cherished. I am more than satisfied with second place at the Red Hot 55k because I ran a good race for me. I expect most people that day ran the same good race, by their own standards. Those are really the only standards that matter.

What will stay with you is the experience, and the experience of ultrarunning is more than just the running. It’s the places, the challenge and most of all the people. A good race is the most positive experience I know – it’s the reason I want to hold a race of my own, in order to promote something truly authentic that I can be proud of. At these events, no matter what else is going on, no matter how small they are, even though they are in no way perfect, they are small examples of something genuinely good, something positive that contributes to the health of the world. And that, at the very least, is a pretty good start.

There are 28 comments

  1. joshua finger

    Dakota….nicely put. You are extremely blessed to be able to do what you truly want to do. It is refreshing to see how down to earth you really are.

  2. Shelby

    Yes, running is a gift Prez, as well as the enjoyment of it. Last Saturday, I had the best day of running…ever. I expected my first ultra to be a sufferfest and it was the exact opposite. My goals of beating the cutoff and feeling good about the experience were more than met.

    As I've been reflecting on it (I'm still on a slick rock high!), I realized that I could never run a course like that as fast as I can. I'm too busy gawking and drinking in the scenery in order to experience it more fully. If that puts me in 248th place, who cares. My happy heart and good memories are reward enough.

    I was nice to meet you afterwards; thanks for writing about this race years ago and planting the seed that led me to the start line on Saturday. I hope you have a great year of happy running, regardless of your results.

  3. Brad Williams

    Great article and race Dakota. Thanks for taking the time to take a picture with me after I finished. Speaking of health, how's your PF? If all healed already can you briefly share how you got over it so quickly? Thanks and best of luck with the upcoming season.

  4. Sniffer

    You remember that scene in Fantastic mister Fox. When the fox sees the wolf, all wild and free. Then he throws his fist in the air, giving the wolf the "I feel ya bro." I feel ya. Great price.

  5. Charlie M.

    The thing you may find as you get older is that there is no need to "wrestle" with performing well versus being sick with cancer, etc. Life just is, it meanders along.

  6. Michael Lebowitz

    Really great piece. And.

    What Charlie M said…plus this: I saw Eric Clifton running at Javelina last year. He was talking/running with Mike Morton. MM had a tough day, EC ran the whole deal and when I asked him how it was, he gestured at the extraordinary desert and said it was fine. I took it to mean he was still here, still running, still in the arena.

  7. Anonymous

    A little depth and reflection to go with all the humor and wit, nice to see, nice to see — the man has range! (Came in 90-somethingish over the weekend at Bandit, saw a dozen go by in the final mile or so, couldn't have cared less, was moving along with the one I wanted to be next to, thought to myself: Eff fast, focus on the fun!)

    JV in SD

  8. Alex May

    Well said Dakota. Great race and wonderful summory of why we run. I'm hoping to make it down to Telluride for your shindig in the fall.

  9. Lori Enlow

    Expectations. How about possibilities without expectation….that's what I had when I never ran a race, when I never knew I could be faster, when I never knew I had a shot at the top on race day. I am by no means anywhere near elite, but I have experienced a taste of competing…of winning. This year for me is about exploring possibilities without expectation. Painting pictures without knowing how it's gonna turn out and enjoying the canvas and the paint and the creation of something beutiful and fun….and what if?? Creating my own masterpiece.

  10. Rob Krar

    Dakota, you're a master of words and I always enjoy reading your thoughts. Great piece…thanks for reminding me to always keep things in perspective. See you on the trails soon, cheers!

  11. Brent

    I'm braced for the tongue lashing, but here goes…Mike Morton, who runs without sponsors, is authentic. The ego wrapped in a veil of humor parading as humility is exhausting.

    1. Alex

      No tongue lashing here, though I do disagree with your general point.

      The ego here isn't veiled in anything; it's fully on display, and openly discussed. I think it's very honest and refreshing to see an elite athlete discuss the pressures and insecurities that come with the territory.

      And let's not kid ourselves; most people race for results – at least to a certain extent. If it were only about the pure act of moving over beautiful land, there would be no need to race; we can go on runs – by ourselves and with others – whenever we want. When we race it's because we want to push ourselves, and to see how our best measures up against others'. There is no shame in that. Competition is at the root of running. Competition is authentic.

    2. Dom

      I think of it more as "chasing El Presidente' wrapped in a veil of nylon parading as a 'kid' is exhausting".

      Dakota's posts are pretty damn sincere and authentic and posted out of good will for reinforcing the values of the sport. I've run with both Mike and Dakota personally and they're great role models in the sport. Dakota's a little more sarcastic, but he's really is a lot more humble than you're perceiving. Mike's humility when people mention his US record is just like Dakota's response to beating Kilian: "yeah, I won the world 24 hour this year, but I still am a ways off the world 24 hour record."

    3. Simon

      And once again – this is exactly what is wrong with the internet… People!

      Why do people feel the need to spend time commenting negatively – you didn't like it? Fine – jog on by and read something you did.

      If you didn't like it, why waste your time further on it? If I don't like a food I don't eat it, if I don't like a radio station I change it, if I don't like an article online – I stop reading and go find one I do, it's not a difficult concept! You obviously have taken a dislike to Dakota's essays (why I have no idea, they're fun, irreverent, light-hearted, serious, sensible, meaningful and lots of other wonderful things) so why read another one, then complain? You could have used the time to put your shoes on and go for a run…

  12. Jason

    Being grounded doesn't mean someone lacks an ego. And someone with an ego may be very humble and grounded. I have an ego and I'm no where near as fast as Dakota! Nothing wrong with it. It's part of being human. I wish people would quit with the politically correct nonsense that really competing and running to win is somehow less pure than those who just go to run.

    When I run well I'm happy, but when a race doesn't pan out the way I want it doesn't mean I didn't have fun, and it takes nothing away from those that out performed me that day.

    I can say right now that I'm going into my focus races this summer with the intent to perform well and win. Will that happen? Who knows, but I'm going to have fun finding out, and probably eat humble pie along the way. Part of what keeps it interesting!

    Dakota.. Love your writing! Keep it up. Keep sharing the ups and downs too!

  13. MtUnpaved

    Dakota I wouldn't beat yourself up to bad, Rob Krar is a beast! Last year he ran our Don't Fence Me In 30K and wasted everyone. A friend of mine was hiking the race course that morning and said when Krar went by he looked like a sprinter!

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