Off The Clock

Joe Grant writes about the different value systems of races and non-racing adventures in trail running.

By on February 27, 2018 | Comments

In February of 2017, I gave one of my first public talks on the Tour de 14ers at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival in Canada. The Tour de 14ers was a self-powered and self-supported link-up of all the Colorado Fourteeners by bike and on foot starting and finishing from my home in Gold Hill, Colorado that I undertook in the summer of 2016.

The second slide of my presentation showed a map of Colorado with a bolded outline of the route I took. The purpose of this slide was to give some visual context to the scale of the trip, as well as provide some statistics on the overall mileage, vertical gain, number of peaks climbed, and more. While I did give some general geographic pointers, I omitted to outline any of the data I had initially intended to list. This wasn’t a conscious exclusion, but details can easily be forgotten particularly when standing on a stage in front of over 500 people with a spotlight in your face. Reflecting upon this in retrospect, though, I wonder if this oversight had in fact a deeper, underlying significance, where I had subconsciously minimized the importance of quantifying the journey in favor of the substance found within those metrics.

Perhaps, this was a reaction to one of the aspects that I struggled with the most after finishing the fourteeners. The mainstream media had a tendency of appropriating my story by changing the narrative from a deeply personal and introspective journey of self-transformation into a record-setting heroic conquering of mountains.

While this latter style of sensationalized reporting may generate more clicks, it bothered me, for it felt so far removed from the actual reality of the experience.

One could argue that as a sponsored athlete, the purpose of taking on such an endeavour is primarily commercial with the sole objective of linking a performance with selling more stuff. This would also explain why many media outlets, who are entirely dependent on advertising, would perpetuate that kind of narrative. I find that perspective to be overly simplistic as it excludes any discussion around intrinsic motivation with regard to adventure.

I am not naïve in stating that commercial interests aren’t at play, rather I’m simply pointing out that the quantification of adventure (i.e. “How fast did you go?”) does not necessarily need to be the dominant arc of the story.       

To me, one of the most compelling aspects behind the concept of fastest known times (FKTs) is the freedom to set our own rules, to decide which route inspires us most and get away from the constraints of an organized event. We can challenge ourselves in the context that we choose, establishing our own parameters to play the game as we wish.

Racing, on the other hand, provides a more linear context with established rules and regulations to abide by and is by definition performance driven. That isn’t to say that racing cannot yield a rich experience, but it remains nevertheless constrained by the structure of the event. Moving away from that structure is an opportunity to be more creative, and to challenge ourselves in new ways.

Part of the problem with creating a culture that is solely focused on performance is that it leads to cheating in various forms. This is due to the end goal being centered on a number rather than the quality of the experience. Whether it’s doping, course cutting, or hiding in toilets, people will shortcut their way to recognition, fame, and sponsorships. It’s more difficult to cheat an experience. Why, then, have we taken the restrictions of a solely performance-based approach in racing and imposed them on this freeform outlet we refer to as FKTs?

Recently, I was chatting about this with my good friend, Roch Horton, and I mentioned to him that in France, they use the term “off” to refer to an adventure that isn’t part of an organized event. Our most literal equivalent here in the U.S. is probably a “fatass,” though an “off” would also encompass FKTs. The major difference, though, with an “off” is the lack of specific focus on time. Roch suggested that this might be an interesting way to rethink our terminology in referring to these non-event-based endeavours as “off the clock.” This isn’t to say that time is of no significance, but rather it’s a shift in the narrative from a single data point being the central focus of the storyline to taking into account the substance of what is encapsulated in those minutes, hours, and days that bookend our adventures.   

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What do you think about Joe’s question, “Why, then, have we taken the restrictions of a solely performance-based approach in racing and imposed them on this freeform outlet we refer to as FKTs?”
  • What do you think of the terms “off” or “off the clock,” which are suggested in this article, for non-racing endeavors where clock time is of lesser importance than the experience as a whole?
  • Do you think it’s important, going forward in our sport and as suggested by Joe, to intentionally treat our non-racing/adventure-focused endeavors differently from our racing endeavors? If so, how specifically?

Off the Clock 1

Off the Clock 2

Joe Grant
Joe Grant frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.