Longevity and Ultrarunning Careers

AJWs TaproomThe recent announcement of the Ultra-Trail World Tour generated active discussion here and elsewhere. As a true sign of the global reach of the sport, this tour promises to bring a new jolt of excitement to the events in the series. Additionally, the tour will provide a great opportunity for runners to travel the world, run in beautiful places, and race with some of the best ultrarunners in the world.

On the other hand, some criticized the series for the fact that it would require tour participants to run at least three races over the 100k distance in a calendar year. These critics suggested that this could result in competitors over-racing and possibly jeopardizing their ultrarunning careers in the process. On that point, I have no opinion and leave that to others to debate.

However, I will say that the ultrarunners I admire the most are the ones who’ve been around for years and decades. Those runners who, through smart training, periodic racing, or simply strong muscles and bones, keep at it for 10, 20, 30 years. We have seen since the early ’80s that some runners do incredible things for a couple of years and then flame out while others just keep going, and going, and going. As an ultraunner, I must say, that latter group inspires me.

And, I can think of no greater example of that fortitude, that longevity, than Bill Finkbeiner. Just last month, Finkbeiner finished his 30th consecutive Leadville 100. That means he has been running Leadville longer than Sage Canaday has been alive! That, my friends, is longevity. Furthermore, on top of the 30-year streak at Leadville, Bill has not missed a day of running since New Year’s Eve 1981!

I have had the opportunity to share the trail with Bill on several occasions. Most notably, in the Western States high country. Bill loves the high country and, when he runs Western States, he always starts out too fast because he simply loves it up there. Eventually, he drops back to the place where he typically finishes and always enjoys the day on the trail but his enthusiasm for running is infectious and his attitude is eminently positive. Which is, in my opinion, the main reason he has been able to this for so long. He simply has a positive, hard-working, never-gonna-quit attitude.

So, I am not all that worried about runners burning out in the UTWT or any other series for that matter. If they run for the right reasons and share in the spirit of this wonderful sport, they can run all the races they want. As long as the Bill Finkbeiners are there, and whoever can follow in his footsteps, all will be right with the world.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week is a great little IPA from the small town of Fuquay-Varina, NC. In that little town sits Aviator Brewing Company and their Hogwild IPA is a classic, North Carolina style IPA that is strong on hops on the front end and rich in flavor on the back end. The ABV is moderate as are the IBUs, so it’s actually sessionable (at least for me) at 6.7%.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Bill Finkbeiner and some of the other old-school gals and guys have set some serious longevity standards. Who else do you know of in our community who has been running ultras for longer than some of us have been alive? That is, who is your old-school ultrarunning idol?
  • And, what say you on the concept of longevity? What have you learned about your body to help extend your ultrarunning shelf life?

There are 8 comments

  1. T.S.

    Thanks for this AJW. As a younger guy I often hear people say "You won't be running that far in 10 or 20 years!" to which I love to respond: "John DeWalt finished Hardrock at age 74…who says we can't do the same?" Longevity is no doubt hard to achieve–we all love big training blocks and long races–but it's certainly a great thing to aspire after.

  2. jenn

    Thanks for the profile! I, too, find folks like Bill inspiring. I do think there is a difference, though, between running hundreds and truly racing them.

  3. olga

    Bill is indeed a long-running man. I ran with him in Volcano canyon in WS 2004, he was absolutely encouraging. Just listened interviews with RRR hares, and Nikki and Dave and Bronco – I started my ultras with them, and man, there is Karl, then Tim T., Roch Horton and Dave Horton, legends. Heck, Gordy still bangs some ultras from time to time! Connie Gardner, Luanne Park, Scotty Mills. AJW too:) These are the people that for sure fascinate me so much more than raw talent. Staying long, staying leveled, smart, excited, involved in various ways.

    12 years is nothing comparing to some folks, but it still something to learn a lot. This year's SD100 for me was the best race because I ran the same time as 8 years ago, on a harder course, much hotter day, without crew or pacer. That says about smart and plan more than training – and smart training too. Long gone days of 100 miles a week. But experience pays dividends.

  4. CLF

    @TS – I ran my first marathon at age 15 ('78), and my first UTMB two weeks ago. Countless races, training miles, good times and bad in between. If in the end it is what you do, what you did, that defines you, then it's been a great ride so far, at least for this old dog. And many more races, training miles, and friends I have yet to meet, await. See you out there

  5. konrad

    Never forget that the old guy you just blew by on the trail was probably tearing it up years ago. We should all aspire to do what we love as long as these guys and girls have. How do you do it? A good start to answering that question is to ASK THEM. I'm 13 years doing ultras and still have tons left to learn and prove.

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