The extended pause from organized competitive ultramarathon racing due to the global COVID-19 pandemic have impelled many in the sport to seek goals in ways other than racing. Fastest known times, kings and queens of the mountains, and a whole host of virtual races have provided challenges for a community built on such things at a time when having an escape of any kind is what many of us are longing for. For me, these new circumstances have allowed me to reflect back on years of competitive running and the lessons I have learned along the way.
In my early years as an ultrarunner, I depended on the advice of the seasoned veterans who are so much a part of the fabric of our community. One in particular, Tom Nielsen of San Diego, California, served as a mentor to me as I came of age as a runner. Of Tommy’s many wise pieces of advice dispensed over the years, the one that stands out the most was the time he told me what mindset I needed in the last 20 miles of a 100-mile race.
“AJ, for me it’s pretty simple, I just run as if there’s one person two minutes ahead of me and another two minutes behind me.”
Tommy’s wisdom has stood the test of time as I find myself coming back again and again to his sage advice. There was a time in my competitive past that I willed myself into a place like this. A place where the pressure of chasing and being chased was synchronous and the thrill of being in the midst of the competitive arena was palpable.
With age, I have learned to channel Tommy’s wisdom into other parts of my life as a way to find both focus and balance. And, while it is certainly the case that I tend to prefer chasing to being chased, there is a time and a place for both. As I contemplate this dichotomy in the midst of our current circumstances, I gain strength in the experience I have had doing both. Chasing provides inspiration and drive while being chased engenders anxiety and desperation.
It seems to me that, these days, not so much with running but certainly with life as we know it, inspiration and drive provide the antithesis of anxiety and desperation. Yet, in spite of or perhaps because of this tension, we are made better versions of ourselves in the experience of hunting and being hunted. Indeed, it seems as though to understand one you need to have experienced the other and vice versa. And that, to me, is the greatest gift of Tommy’s age-old wisdom.
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Tom Nielsen’s hometown of San Diego, California. Long a hotbed of craft breweries, one of San Diego’s finest is Green Flash Brewing Company. Green Flash recently released a fantastic hazy beer called Tropical DNA that is a true delight to the senses. With a sweet and savory aroma and a fruity finish, this new twist on a popular variety is well worth sampling the next time you’re in San Diego.
Call for Comments
- What do you think of that idea of the tension and balance between hunting and being hunted in competition?
- And is there a place in your life outside of running where that metaphor also aligns?