Some Thoughts on Obsession

AJW writes about runners who become ‘obsessed’ with and excel at certain races.

By on August 30, 2019 | Comments

AJW's TaproomLast week during the lead-up to the Pikes Peak Marathon, there was quite a bit of online chatter about Matt Carpenter’s 26-year-old course record in that iconic race. In some of the conversations with which I was a part, a few of the old-timers recalled some of the details of Carpenter’s preparation for the race back in those days which included literally running repeatedly, up and down the mountain, for days on end. In fact, right here in the comment thread in last week’s column, CLF commented about Carpenter and his training buddies at the time, “Man, those guys were obsessed!”

These conversations got me thinking about obsession and its role in running success. Certainly, there are more than a few runners who have become so obsessed with certain races that the races have literally taken over their lives. I am not here to say this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that regardless of what we think of it, some of these obsessive tendencies have led to extraordinary successes.

While there is no doubt that Carpenter’s single-minded commitment to winning and breaking records at Pikes Peak played a huge role in his ability to run so well there, he is far from the only runner to do such things. For example, I recall the stories of Scott Jurek, the seven-time Western States 100 champion, who, during just about every June leading up to the race, would camp out for three weeks alone at Robinson Flat at mile 30 on the Western States course to train literally 100s of miles back and forth and up and down in the days before the big event.

Then, there is the mythical story of Kyle Skaggs, the lanky New Mexican runner who took the ultra world by storm in 2008 when he set a new course record at the Hardrock 100 and became the first person ever to break 24 hours in that notoriously challenging event. In the five months leading up to the race that year, Skaggs camped out in Silverton and ran sections of the course daily, sometimes traipsing through mountains of snow, to dial in his preparation and learn the intricate details of every steep ascent and descent on that course.

Finally, there is the story of perhaps the sport’s greatest champion, Ann Trason, the 14 time-winner of Western States. In the mid-1990s, Ann not only camped out on the Western States course, she went ahead and bought a whole darn house at Michigan Bluff at mile 55, so she could live and train on the course year round. If that’s not obsession, I don’t know what is.

From a personal standpoint, I too have been accused of a little obsession myself. While perhaps not in the same category as the champions described above, for a decade I pretty much designed my entire life from January through June around my preparation for Western States which included, in most years, a week-long vacation with some of my fellow Western States obsessives, Craig Thornley, Scott Wolfe, Joe Uhan, and Meghan Laws, during which we logged hundreds of miles on the course and lived, ate, and breathed Western States. At least for us and I suspect a few others, there was great joy in the obsession.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from von Trapp Brewing in Stowe, Vermont. This Austrian-inspired brewery specializes in Pilsners and Lagers and at the top of their list, in my book, is their Double India Pale Lager. A blend of West Coast Hops and Amarillo hops gives this tasty treat a toast flavor and deep complexion. Not at all bitter and yet still packing a punch at 8%, this Double IPL is one of the best I’ve had.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Is there a race you keep going back to year after year? What race is it and what is its draw for you?
  • How about in the rest of your life or hobbies? Do you have anything that you do over and over both because you really enjoy it and because bettering yourself at it is important to you?
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.