The Optimistic Runner

AJW writes about choosing optimism on the run and in life.

By on November 3, 2017 | 17 comments

AJW's TaproomEarlier this week, I was fortunate to get my hands on an advanced copy of Dan Rather’s new collection of essays, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, which will be released on November 7th. In this thoughtful retrospective, the 86-year-old veteran newsman reflects back on more than a half century of American history and makes a persuasive case for what he believes to be Americans’ most enduring and unifying characteristic, optimism.

After putting the book down and thinking about Rather’s suggestions on my morning run the other day, I thought to myself, If I could write an essay about ‘what unites us,’ what would I say?

Of all the long-distance runner’s traits that I admire and aspire to possess–grit, discipline, focus, patience–perhaps the most impressive one to me is optimism. There seems to be something deep-seated in the runner’s DNA which engenders positivity and hope. In his book, Rather speaks about what he believes to be the distinctly American tendency toward finding a way through, even in the most difficult and trying times, to something better and more hopeful on the other side.

This past June, I had the opportunity to spend about eight hours at the Rucky Chucky river crossing aid station at the Western States 100. If ever there was a Rubicon in ultrarunning, literally and figuratively, this place is it! What I saw there that afternoon and evening was nothing short of an optimism clinic. Even among the runners who chose to end their races there at mile 78 seemed to do so with a sense of hope about the future.

The river crossing at Western States arrives at a time in the race when despair and pessimism could easily rule the day. Coming at the end of a winding 16-mile trail section with quad-busting descents and soul-sucking climbs, Rucky Chucky is a place that has brought down countless runners. After braving the oppressive heat of the canyons and the sustained pounding of Cal Street, mile 78 has all the makings of a perfect DNF storm. Yet, what I witnessed at the race this past year was a feast of hope. Runners slumped in chairs came back to life. Folks with shredded quads, trashed feet, and funky stomachs put their despair behind them and moved on. I even saw former winners, not having their best days, light the spark of positivity and move on. At the river crossing, the optimistic runner ruled the day.

For me, optimism engendered through my life on the run is a perpetual beacon of possibility. In the midst of times that can be dominated by angst and uncertainty, running provides clarity of purpose and along the way, a sense of peaceful hope. And it is armed with that wisdom that I lace ’em every day and get after it.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Ballast Point Brewing Company Coconut Victory at SeaThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Ballast Point Brewing Company in San Diego, California. They make a delicious coconut-infused Imperial Porter, Coconut Victory at Sea, that is the most balanced coconut beer I’ve had. With just the right blend of sweetness and maltiness, this is one of those beers that, quite literally, melts in the mouth.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you choose optimism on the run?
  • Do you see benefits from consciously opting for a glass-half-full mentality even in potentially negative situations? And can you share a story of when optimism worked for you?
  • Does perpetual optimism ever get in the way of reality? As in, do some parts of life actually require neutrality or even a negative approach?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
Andy Jones-Wilkins finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.