Essential Paradox

AJW looks into whether simplicity is attainable in trail running and whether it takes complexity to get there.

By on February 10, 2012 | Comments

AJWs TaproomOne of the great things about running is the simplicity of it. You’ve heard it all before,

“All you need are a pair of shoes, a water bottle, and a trail and you’re good to go.”

Truly, it’s that simple concept that brings so many to the sport in the first place. Furthermore, as we increasingly see in the marketing of the sport, it’s the simplicity of what we do that drives the economic engine of this game, as well.

But, is it really such a simple sport, after all?

Certainly, at its essence, it is. We are driven, in fact, by the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and often the lure of the trail, the mountains, the forest, and the desert brings us to a fullness that can be at once exhilarating and humbling, disciplined and loose, enduring and fleeting, focused and ephemeral. But, I must admit, as much as I like to think I am drawn to the simplicity of the whole endeavor, I actually think it’s also quite complex.

First, let’s look at shoes. As much as the minimalist movement, in general, and some of its practitioners, in particular, suggest simplicity, is there a sport that you know of where there are so many options for footwear? It’s actually mind numbing when you think of it. And yet, thousands of people think and opine about it all the time and, in the process, we painstakingly study soles, midsoles, insoles, uppers, medial posts, lasts, laces, colors, wear patterns, materials, weights, etc… all in the attempt to find the perfect shoe to support us in this wonderfully simple sport.

Then, we need the clothes. Since we’re out in all types of weather, at all hours of the day and night, in many different parts of the world, up high and down low, we need jackets, base layers, tights, wicking fabrics, shells, compression-y things, running hats, gloves, waterproof socks, and an entire selection of multi-colored stretch-y things to put on our arms and legs to give us climatic flexibility.

We need headlamps, packs, hydration systems, and fanny packs as well as gels, blocks, powders, and pills. To recover and become more balanced we go to doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and herbalists. We obsess over food and in the process we eat vegan, paleo, omnivore, and fruititarian. All along, we adhere to what brought us to the sport in the first place, its simplicity. Am I missing something here?

All this being said, I do believe we can, ultimately, “keep it simple,” but it takes work, discipline, and focus. And then, even then, competing in an actual event, particularly a 100-mile race, requires an engineer’s attention to detail and a NASCAR Pit Crew’s approach to efficiency. The simplest, most minimal approach in the world is no substitute for clear and meticulous planning and execution come race day. But, once all that is done, once the stuff is all put away and the game is on, well, then, it is about as simple as it gets. And that, friends, brings it all back together, to the essential paradox!

Bottoms up!

Ps. You can now request a free AJW’s Taproom bumper sticker (4″ x 4″).

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Bell's Hopslam AleThis week’s Beer of the Week is another offering from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Bell’s Hopslam Double IPA is a Winter Seasonal that is sure to take the edge off. At 10% ABV and loaded with hops it is one of the finer DIPA’s I’ve tasted. And yet, it has a drinkability that might make even a porter drinker happy. It’s available through the east and midwest and, for some reason, in Arizona. Perhaps that’s because it packs a bite like a cactus!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • In what aspects of your trail running do you strive for simplicity?
  • In what aspects of your trail running are you willing to embrace complexity and other non-simplistic traits?
  • Numerous trail runners preach the gospel of simplicity. If you’re one who craves simplicity/minimalism (concept, not shoes) in your running, what are the battles you fight with yourself to retain that simplicity in your own running?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.