Is Fast Always Best?

AJW reflects on whether one’s fastest running is necessarily his or her best running.

By on September 21, 2012 | Comments

AJWs TaproomIn a few follow-up comments to my column last week some thoughtful readers called me out for asserting, in that column, that my best running days are behind me. These folks certainly understood that the spirit of what I was saying was that my fastest days are behind me, but they implored me to re-consider my position that fastest necessarily equates with best. So, of course, I’ve been thinking about this relentlessly on my runs this past week.

In an ultrarunning career that has spanned 15 years, I have been honored and humbled to share the trail with some great runners. Additionally, I’ve been fortunate to be at or near the front a few times. I’ll admit it, in my experience, there is nothing quite like the thrill of crossing the finish line first (or close to first J ) in a 100-mile race. That said, just because I don’t see myself doing that again in my running career does that necessarily mean my best running is behind me? Maybe. Maybe not.

In that context, I feel we need to get back to basics; in general, what is it that makes running good? And, specifically, what is a person’s best running? How do you define it? What does it look like? Is it one of those ephemeral things that cannot be defined but you know it when you see it, or feel it?

When people ask me to name my best runs I typically talk about the runs in which I was at or close to the front. I guess that’s just me. However, when I think about it a bit more deeply, what I remember most about those races is not where I was but, rather, how I felt. It just so happened that I was toward the front but in reality that didn’t really matter nor was it something that I really even noticed. In fact, in the case of the absolute single best run I have ever had, I remember the last three hours like some folks remember where they were when they heard Kennedy had been killed or exactly what they were doing on the horrific morning of September 11, 2001. It was one of those life-defining moments where everything else simply slips away.

AJW River Crossing

The author racing Western States in 2009. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

When I look back on Western States 2005, it still feels like a dream in which I was floating outside my body and the running was simply happening to me. It was amazing, euphoric even. And it is perhaps experiences like that which makes a run feel “best” and, if that is indeed the case, then the commenters in last week’s column were spot on. Because regardless of my experience or anyone else’s, I have to believe that there is a still a “best” run waiting around the next bend in the trail. After all, we are all, inevitably going to get slower, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep getting better.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

21st Amendment Back in Black IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, California. Their new black IPA, Back in Black, provides a nice twist on the typical American IPA with rich, dark malts added to the standard hop character designed to provide a surprisingly smooth finish from a beer with a tough guy name. :-)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What have been your best runs?
  • When have you done your best 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.