Innocence and Wisdom: Two Runners, 51 Years Apart

AJW's TaproomRunning long ultramarathons requires a unique blend of skills and talent. In addition, I’ve found that in my experience, running these things successfully takes a certain type of temperament. Last week at the Western States 100, I was privileged to watch hundreds of people make that historic trek from Olympic Valley to Auburn, California. Along the way, two runners stood out to me in very different ways, and offered me a new glimpse into the experience.

First, there was Australia’s Lucy Bartholomew. At 22 years of age, Lucy was one of the youngest race participants and, in the early going, that youthful exuberance was evident as she took the women’s lead from the opening gun. By the time she reached mile 30, she was 12 minutes ahead of second place and only two minutes over course-record pace.

From my vantage point, Lucy ran the race with pure unabashed joy and, when I spoke with her father and biggest fan at the track afterward, he assured me that this is the way she always runs. What also struck me was that in addition to her useful enthusiasm, she also ran with a certain innocence. Not to be confused with naiveté, Lucy’s innocence allowed her to embrace the experience and stay fully present in the moment even when her lead evaporated. This innocence gave her the mindset to forge on and finish third place in under 19 hours, a time that in other years would have won the race.

This is not to say that Lucy’s innocence was, in any way, a sign of weakness. On the contrary, I saw it as a strength on that day. Her willingness to embrace the unknown and to dig deep into that place of mystery is what brought her out the other side most successfully and is indicative of a character and tenacity that defies her years.

Not all of us can run with the same kind of youthful innocence that Lucy exemplified but for those of us who can, there is richness in the experience that is almost a secret weapon.

Second, there is Wyoming’s Nick Bassett who, in finishing the race for the 14th time in just over 29 hours at the age of 73, became the event’s all-time oldest finisher. In contrast to Lucy’s youthful enthusiasm, Nick ran the race with the precision and fortitude of a Jedi Master. What struck me in speaking with Nick after the race is the wisdom he exudes. In his mind and body, there was never a doubt that he would finish. He simply knew what to do and he did it.

The wisdom Nick has garnered over four decades in the sport, he carries with him in all that he does. As he made his way from Olympic Valley to Auburn, those accumulated experiences of both tremendous highs and devastating lows couldn’t help but provide him with the grit and drive to forge inevitably on to an historic finish.

What Lucy and Nick taught me this past weekend is that we need both innocence and wisdom. And we need those things not only in running but in all of life. The perspective and optimism that comes from living in the moment like Lucy did and the power and confidence that comes from the laser-focused discipline of Nick can make us all better runners and better people. Western States once again has a lesson for us all and this year it came in the form of two special runners, 51 years apart in age.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, New York. I had a chance to try this growing brewery’s beer recently and really enjoyed their unique Nu School IPA. Pitched as a beer featuring new American hops with a tropical twist, this is one of the better ‘juicy’ IPAs I’ve had. And, it’s quite sessionable for summer!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • From whom did you learn a lesson about running or life at the Western States 100 last weekend?
  • To cast the net a bit wider, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from another runner during your time with our sport?

There are 6 comments

  1. Stephen

    I agree that having wisdom and staying in the moment can play a large role in success at Western States. I found something interesting in that the non-finisher rate for all starters was 18.9%, while repeat runners of this race failed to finish at a rate of 25.6% (23 of 90). These are runners with experience and should know how to get it done.

    Maybe there’s an X Factor like “Desire”. If you already have a buckle, what’s the incentive when you’re feeling like sh^t at Foresthill. It would be interesting to find out how many of the repeat runners actually ran a PR this year.

    There’s no need to keep running this race at the expense of others who want in unless you have a legit shot at Top Ten or some age group record.

    1. MJS

      Well written and great advice… I can understand if you have a bronze the desire to go for the silver (sub 24) but if you have the silver share the trail … same with the other limited entry races like HR100

    2. AJW

      Thanks for the comment Stephen. I would also add that if one is fortunate enough to be close to 10 finishes, admittedly a selfish milestone, that pushing for that one more finish seems to me to be appropriate. Of course, I may also be saying that to absolve my guilt about having done just that. Needless to say, while I plan to attend WS for years to come I do not plan to run it again as I have taken up ten spaces over the years.

      With respect Hardrock I would like to run it one more time in the clockwise direction since I had such a bad go there in 2016. That said, if it never happens I’ll be totally OK with that too.

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