Ultrarunning And Change

AJWs TaproomAs an independent school administrator, I spend my days in one of the most change-resistant cultures I know. In my experience, schools thrive on tradition and stability. As such, in many cases, anything that disrupts the status quo or threatens the established order is often met with skepticism and opposition. Over a 25-year career in such an environment, I have come to accept this reality while attempting to subtly and deliberately make the changes I think are necessary. In many ways, knowing when and how and why to push the envelope on change is one of the leader’s most essential skills.

I have reflected on this in the context of the last five years in ultrarunning and I think I have gained a bit of insight as a result.

Undoubtedly, the much-discussed changes in the sport of ultrarunning over the past five years have been transformational. It seems that not a week goes by when we don’t hear another set of statistics about this latest boom. Whether it is changes in the industry, events, or attitudes, the past five years have seen change happen in our sport at a dizzying pace.

At the same time, as with many institutions, some in the established order, some of the grizzled veterans of the trail, have bristled at these changes and worried about what they mean for the future. Questions abound from this camp about what explosive growth, economic impact, and constant change mean to the sport they have grown up on. At times, these debates about the old and the new have gotten heated and have even threatened the cherished we’re-all-in-this-together ethos that has been the foundation of ultrarunning for decades.

As I see it, with the perspective of an educator working for change and an ultrarunner who has been in the sport for 20 years, I see this as a classic conundrum. On the one hand, in order to be measured, we are required to consider the dizzying array of changes on a case-by-case basis. To truly have integrity about our ideals, we must weigh the pros and cons each time a new change comes down the pike and then react accordingly. On the other hand, we must keep our eyes on the big picture and take a proactive stance where possible. Certainly, there are many out there who do not spend hours and days worrying about the future of this sport that is more or less a fun hobby. But others, like me, do. In that context, we must take the long view. In so doing, we can maintain a focus on what matters and calibrate the impact of what doesn’t. In addition, as change washes over us, we must practice the cherished ultrarunner’s art of patience, for remaining calm in the midst of chaos is one of the things we do best.

Reflecting back on 20 years in this sport, I have to say that the greatest gift running has given me is the ability to hone in on what matters and push away what does not. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is nothing like a good run to clear my head, focus my mind, and still my heart. In the midst of change and uncertainty, whether good or bad, lacing them up and getting out the door helps. It doesn’t always solve all the problems, but at least it sorts them out and helps us zoom out to take the long view. That, alone, makes it all worth it.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Queen City Brewing LTD in Staunton, Virginia. I made a trip out there earlier this week for a meeting and stopped by the brewpub. The owner recommended the Falstaff’s Revenge and it did not disappoint. Strong and full bodied, it had a unique flavor and distinctive finish that you really have to taste to believe.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What do you think about AJW’s tactic of honing in on what matters and ignoring what doesn’t as the trail and ultrarunning world evolves around us? Do you think this is an effective way of sifting through change and finding the path we want the trail and ultrarunning community to take?
  • What are some of the aspects of our sport that you think we really need to hang onto, that we need to support and allow to flourish? And how do you see our community doing this?