Running For Different Goals

AJW shares his thoughts on different approaches to racing, after his recent experience at the 2024 Black Canyon 60k.

By on February 23, 2024 | Comments

AJW's TaproomEarlier this month I had the opportunity to run my first ultramarathon since October 2021. Due to a combination of injuries and life transitions, I had simply not been able to toe the line in an ultra for over two and half years.

That all changed when I signed up for the Black Canyon 60k here in Arizona on February 11. Going into the event I knew I would be slow, but I really didn’t care. I was getting back out on the trail and doing what I loved and that is all that mattered.

The day went very well. My injured parts behaved, and my spirit remained high throughout the day. Impeccable Arizona weather combined with the wonderfully positive vibes of the local running community filled my heart with joy and made me long for the next time I could get out there.

Andy Jones-Wilkins - 2024 Black Canyon 60k

Andy Jones-Wilkins racing the 2024 Black Canyon 60k. Photo: Adam Ferdinandson

Reflections on Changes

In the days following the event, as I often do, I reflected on the day. In particular, I thought about how things had changed in the world of ultra trail running over the years. Most notably, since my position in the pack has changed so dramatically — the past 15 years has seen me go from a front of the packer to a back of the packer.

I thought about not only my experience but the experience of those around me. In that context, after the race I posted the following observation to social media:

“An observation today after completing my first ultra in three years: this current generation spends way too much time at aid stations. It’s almost like they prefer the aid stations to the actual race. Am I wrong?”

The response to this post was both informative and thought-provoking. A few veteran ultrarunners pointed out to me that perhaps extended aid station breaks have always been a part of the sport, it is just that I have never seen them until recently since I was always rushing forward in the front of the pack.

A few others pointed out that as more and more newcomers have come to the sport, they have done so for different reasons and with different goals. In particular, one thoughtful commenter reminded me that more people are coming to these events for the simple goal of having a special experience.

They are less concerned with finishing time and more concerned with sharing the trail with a bunch of likeminded people in a beautiful place, so spending extra time eating food and chatting with the volunteers has, for some, become essential to the experience.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

As a veteran of the sport who has often, and justifiably so, been accused of being a bit of a curmudgeon, I feel as though I learned a valuable lesson in this episode. Even though I have experienced the sport a certain way over the past 30 years, that doesn’t mean everyone else has experienced it that way.

In fact, it may be the breadth and depth of the experiences of long-distance trail running that make the sport so great and keeps the people coming back.

Abby Hall and Lucy Bartholomew - 2024 Black Canyon 100k

Lucy Bartholomew (right) racing the 2024 Black Canyon 100k, with Abby Hall (left) pacing her. Photo: Bryce Brooks

As I look ahead to my next ultra, I am still not sure I will be able to abandon my “get in, get out” approach to aid stations, but I certainly will not sit in judgment of those who do choose to make the most of the experience, and I may just learn a thing or two along the way. Maybe you really can teach an old dog new tricks!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Great Basin Brewing Company logoThis week’s beer of the week comes from Great Basin Brewing Company in Reno, Nevada. Sun Smack’d Blood Orange Blonde Ale is a delicious, fruit enhanced blonde ale perfect for a post run thirst quencher. Brewed with real blood oranges and a tiny hint of vanilla Sun Smack’d really is, like the brewer says, “endless summer in a can.”

Call for Comments

  • What’s your approach to aid stations?
  • Do you like to get in and out in as little time as possible, or hang out and soak up the atmosphere?
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.