Running And The Trail Of Stories

Thoughts about storytelling and running.

By on April 7, 2017 | Comments

AJW's Taproom

If you haven’t read Salman Rushdie’s 1990 children’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories, you are missing out. This delightful fable, set on the Indian subcontinent, is at once a fantasy and an allegory, and in its own delightful way makes a strong case for the power of stories to change our lives. To bring humanity closer to the surface through the universal sharing of what it means to live.

I returned to Haroun this week after coming home from the Georgia Death Race this past weekend. I spent much of my 17 hours out there on the trail thinking about stories in general, and running stories in particular. Ever since middle school, I have been captivated by a good story. All of the elements intrigue me–plot, character, setting, mood, symbolism–and, for me, the ways in which good stories provide a foundation for real life are compelling. In long-distance running, it seems to me, there are more than a fair share of fascinating stories and often these capture our imagination and motivate us to dive more deeply into life. In Haroun, the storyteller is essentially silenced and much of the plot centers around bringing him out of his reticence and back to his stories. In running, the storyteller is never silenced.

Over the years, I have come to realize that stories from the world of long-distance running can be particularly poignant and this past weekend out here in Georgia and Tennessee we saw that firsthand. From those chasing the Western States 100 Golden Tickets at the Georgia Death Race to the intensity of emotion during hour 60 of the Barkley Marathons, what we saw over this weekend was storybook drama. But behind those headlines were literally dozens of other stories. Stories of success and failure, joy and despair, devastation and hope. For each runner who scrambled up Rat Jaw and Chimney Top or traversed the Duncan Ridge Trail and climbed the stairs up Amicalola Falls, the story of the weekend is there for the taking. And along with each story comes a lesson. A lesson in life, living, and the simple power of putting one foot in front of the other.

My story this past weekend, while not as dramatic or as interesting as some of the others, was, nonetheless, part of the narrative. A year ago I attended the Georgia Death Race as a spectator. This year I was there as a runner, an aging, slightly-swifter-than-mid-pack runner. Eighteen months removed from surgery and still licking my wounds from an excruciatingly difficult Hardrock 100, I came into the race with little in the way of expectations. And I came away with a bag full of memories. Memories that will propel me ever forward.

You see, there is something about dragging yourself through an ultra. Something about coming face to face with your own weakness and vulnerability. That is the stuff of stories, the stuff of optimism, the stuff of purpose, and the stuff of meaning. It happens to us all at different times and in different places, but it happens nonetheless. Sometimes, in fact many times, the most important thing to do is to just let it happen. The best storytellers know this. And I dare say the best runners do too.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Jackalope Brewing Company LovebirdThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Jackalope Brewing Company in Nashville, Tennessee. Their annual spring release, Lovebird, recently came out and is really quite nice. A simple Hefeweizen brewed with copious amounts of raspberries and strawberries, this slightly pink take on the classic spring variety is really tasty and even worth a try for people who typically eschew fruity beers.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Does your running have deeper stories behind the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other? As in, does running or racing allow you to look deeper into yourself, your personal motivations, your problems, and more? Can you share one of those stories?
  • Does running allow you to see bigger stories in others, or about the human species in general? What stories do you see?
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.