Some Thoughts on Obsession

AJW's TaproomLast week during the lead-up to the Pikes Peak Marathon, there was quite a bit of online chatter about Matt Carpenter’s 26-year-old course record in that iconic race. In some of the conversations with which I was a part, a few of the old-timers recalled some of the details of Carpenter’s preparation for the race back in those days which included literally running repeatedly, up and down the mountain, for days on end. In fact, right here in the comment thread in last week’s column, CLF commented about Carpenter and his training buddies at the time, “Man, those guys were obsessed!”

These conversations got me thinking about obsession and its role in running success. Certainly, there are more than a few runners who have become so obsessed with certain races that the races have literally taken over their lives. I am not here to say this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that regardless of what we think of it, some of these obsessive tendencies have led to extraordinary successes.

While there is no doubt that Carpenter’s single-minded commitment to winning and breaking records at Pikes Peak played a huge role in his ability to run so well there, he is far from the only runner to do such things. For example, I recall the stories of Scott Jurek, the seven-time Western States 100 champion, who, during just about every June leading up to the race, would camp out for three weeks alone at Robinson Flat at mile 30 on the Western States course to train literally 100s of miles back and forth and up and down in the days before the big event.

Then, there is the mythical story of Kyle Skaggs, the lanky New Mexican runner who took the ultra world by storm in 2008 when he set a new course record at the Hardrock 100 and became the first person ever to break 24 hours in that notoriously challenging event. In the five months leading up to the race that year, Skaggs camped out in Silverton and ran sections of the course daily, sometimes traipsing through mountains of snow, to dial in his preparation and learn the intricate details of every steep ascent and descent on that course.

Finally, there is the story of perhaps the sport’s greatest champion, Ann Trason, the 14 time-winner of Western States. In the mid-1990s, Ann not only camped out on the Western States course, she went ahead and bought a whole darn house at Michigan Bluff at mile 55, so she could live and train on the course year round. If that’s not obsession, I don’t know what is.

From a personal standpoint, I too have been accused of a little obsession myself. While perhaps not in the same category as the champions described above, for a decade I pretty much designed my entire life from January through June around my preparation for Western States which included, in most years, a week-long vacation with some of my fellow Western States obsessives, Craig Thornley, Scott Wolfe, Joe Uhan, and Meghan Laws, during which we logged hundreds of miles on the course and lived, ate, and breathed Western States. At least for us and I suspect a few others, there was great joy in the obsession.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from von Trapp Brewing in Stowe, Vermont. This Austrian-inspired brewery specializes in Pilsners and Lagers and at the top of their list, in my book, is their Double India Pale Lager. A blend of West Coast Hops and Amarillo hops gives this tasty treat a toast flavor and deep complexion. Not at all bitter and yet still packing a punch at 8%, this Double IPL is one of the best I’ve had.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Is there a race you keep going back to year after year? What race is it and what is its draw for you?
  • How about in the rest of your life or hobbies? Do you have anything that you do over and over both because you really enjoy it and because bettering yourself at it is important to you?

There are 3 comments

  1. AT

    Damnit AJW..nothing like walking into work on a Friday, skipping the email check and coming straight to the Tap Room..my man!

    In the last few years, my city’s Marathon weekend in early May has become a focus from the holiday season up until race weekend. Every run whether an easy shake out during the dark cold mornings, or a Saturday long run with a fast finish, my mind is fixated on running the city streets come the first weekend in May. This past year, my training was on point and I have never felt as strong. 2 tune up races at shorter distances had me quite confident.

    Race day came, and after getting stuck farther back in my corral, and loosing a steady pace the first few miles, my mental game went flat, and the race was a 98% bust. I was quite jaded heading into the final mile, fought off some late cramps, and something in me just said, finish as strong as you can, and carry that into next year.

    I’ll be racing again, the same race, for the 5th straight time next May. I crossed the finish line, and just thought, wow that sucked, but that last half mile, that was special, I am not finished here yet.

    1. Brandon

      Way to be AT! This is why I read the comments. Thank you for the inspiration to get out on the mountain.
      And thank you Miss Trason for the idea to move to Pine so I can conquer The Zane Grey.

  2. John Vanderpot

    Nothing like a little obsession to distract us from the stupid that surrounds us virtually every moment of every day!

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