Problem Solving On The Run

AJW reflects on the parallels between problem solving in life and ultrarunning.

By on March 28, 2014 | Comments

AJWs TaproomOver the years I have noticed that there are many aspects of ultramarathon training and racing that carry over to our daily lives. Indeed, there are numerous ways in which the training for and racing in long-distance endurance runs prepares us for the variety of trials and tribulations that life throws our way. From my perspective, one of the most important skills running nurtures in us is the ability to solve problems on the fly.

Looking back on two decades of ultrarunning I can think of many times when, in the midst of a race, events transpired to throw me off my game. Broken water-bottle nozzles, ripped shorts, puking, blisters, stopped watch, dead headlamp batteries, and an ill-timed bee sting on my eyelid have all, over the years, served to force me into problem-solving mode on the run. And, on each occasion, I have found a way to muster through in ways that taught me about running and myself.

Of course, over time, we come to expect the unexpected and this experience makes it easier to deal with the inevitable problems when they arise. However, over the years, I have observed that different people respond quite differently to these setbacks. While there are some who, quite understandably, become distracted and occasionally overcome by these problems, others find a way to turn these adversities into opportunities. Furthermore, in my observations, there seems to be no correlation between running speed and one’s ability to problem solve on the run. I have seen elite runners wilt at the onset of a stomach ailment and I have seen back-of-the-packers literally embrace the hardship that comes along with broken equipment, bad weather, and seemingly unfair circumstances.

What matters, at least as far as I can tell, is that we learn from these hardships. In some areas of modern life, there are those people who get to the point where they feel they have nothing left to learn. Either through experience or exposure, there are folks these days who simply feel like they have it all figured out. Then, there are the rest of us. Those of us who toil for hours and days on the trail cannot easily give in to knowing it all. We must, quite simply, adapt or die. And that, I suggest, is something that will always keep us moving, inexorably forward, along the trail of life.

Bottoms up!

[Editor’s Note: While AJW has waxed philisophical on the topic of problem solving on the run, columnist Ian Torrence wrote a series for us last fall on how to literally address problems that arise while training and racing. Here are Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of Ian’s series.]

Brew’s Brew of the Month

Southern Prohibition Brewing Devil's Harvest labelLast week, Jen, Charley, and I visited Hattiesburg, Mississippi, home of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and Southern Prohibition Brewing, which just opened last year. SoPro already has a solid lineup, including an imperial red called Mississippi Fire Ant and seasonals in their Cicada Series. But my favorite of their offerings was Devil’s Harvest, a cloudy American Pale Ale that packs plenty of hops but is a bit mellower than most extra pale ales. Earn your carbs by hitting the 40-mile Black Creek Trail in Desoto National Forest about 20 miles south of town. Next month we’re in Texas, Arizona, and Hawaii. Check out Blue Ridge Hiking Company for more details and drop me a line on the can’t-miss breweries in those states. Cheers!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How have you problem solved on the run?
  • And, do you have an example of when problem solving in life and running seemed similar?
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.