Ultrarunning Skill #4: Courage

Courage as a skill and why it’s so important for ultramarathons.

By on December 13, 2013 | Comments

AJWs Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of five columns on meta-cognitive skills and their role in running, education, and life. Here is article article #1, on persistence, article #2, on resilience, and article #3, on patience. My introductory piece three weeks ago invited you to share your stories, too. You can still share your thoughts by commenting on this article or by emailing me at [email protected].]

As a school person who has spent the last 25 years working with kids, courage is something I notice. It’s funny, you can see it in kids from a very young age and there are times when it looks an awful lot like recklessness or stupidity. But, over time, as kids evolve into adolescence and then into adulthood, courage is a characteristic that truly differentiates people. For me courage is fascinating, mysterious, and capricious. And yet, the best ultrarunners I know have it in spades.

I think the best way to build courage is to practice it, relentlessly, in your daily life. But, in reality, that is not always possible. So, the next logical step is to find those places where it is a necessary skill and then find a way to exploit those opportunities to build on the foundation courageous behavior inevitably develops. I am not talking here about risk, that is different. Jumping out of airplanes and rafting raging rivers takes courage but it also goes beyond the scope of basic courage. That’s risk. What I am talking about is facing a challenge head on, addressing it objectively and deliberately, and working with rigorous discipline to rise to the occasion that the challenge presents. That is where ultramarathon running provides a petrie dish for courage.

Over the years, I have been at over 150 ultramarathon starting lines. At each and every one, I have seen runners full of hope, desire, and courage. Those starting lines are some of the most electrically charged places in the sport. Then, of course, with the passage of time and miles much of that hope, desire, and courage gets worn away. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the truth. And, by the time many of those folks get to the finish line, after the glow has been ground off and the reality of acute pain has set in, it is the courage that gets them there. Certainly, there is truth in the old adage that it takes courage just to start. But for my money, in my experience, it is in the act of getting these things done that takes extraordinary courage. And that is the lesson to us all.

Kids these days need adult models of courage. Sure, they have the Nelson Mandelas of the world but, as we’ve seen, those are few and far between. In truth, the everyday, courageous heroes can leave a lasting impact on our kids and can change the way they approach life and living. Hanging around ultrarunners for the past 20 years, I have seen more than my fair share of courageous people and they have all inspired me. Let’s spread that inspiration out to our communities. Not in ways that showcase how great we are or how much we’ve earned, but in simpler, more organic ways that bring us closer together as runners, as people, and as a whole. That is one way that the courage we all practice every day on the trail can make the world a better place.

Bottoms up!

Fresh off his courageous race in San Francisco at the TNF 50, Rob Krar reviews this week’s Beer of the Week!

Rob Krar’s Beer of the Week

“I’m fortunate for many reasons to live in the mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona, not the least of which is the long list of local breweries and friendly pubs to keep my thirst quenched. It’s been exciting to watch Wanderlust Brewing Company rise from nothing more than a dream and empty warehouse into a successful enterprise and one of the best watering holes in town. The name ‘Wanderlust’ comes from owner and brewmaster Nathan Friedman’s passion for travel and exploration and it’s a name that resonates strongly with my own philosophy of life.

Rob Krar-Wanderlust-1

“I’ve long been a big fan the wheat beer, hefeweizen, especially the unfiltered version, and Wanderlust upped the ante with its fall seasonal Dunkelweizen. ‘Dunkel’ is German for dark and this beer is consequently a darker version of the more traditional golden-yellow hefeweizen but lends a more complex caramelized and roasted malt flavor. It’s a real treat in the waning light of the fall months but alas, ‘tis a seasonal and sadly I’ll have to wait many fortnights before whetting my palette again with a pint of this one. 22 IBU, 5% ABV.

Rob Krar-Wanderlust-2

“For year-round salivary satisfaction, I turn to the Pan American Stout. This pleasingly dark ale includes vanilla beans from Mexico and Columbian-sourced, locally roasted coffee—a true world traveler indeed. Based off a classic oatmeal stout recipe, the sweetness of this taste-bud tantalizer is balanced perfectly by the subtle flavors of its crisp, roasted notes. I’ll happily savor this tasty brew after a winter ski or a summer adventure on the peaks. 25 IBU, 5% ABV.

“Wanderlust has started appearing on tap around town. If you find yourself in Flagstaff craving a pizza or hitting up a show or happy hour, you can grab a pint of the Pan American Stout in a number of places. Want to visit the warehouse where the goods are made to taste the latest seasonal delights from Nathan’s creative mind? Come down to the taproom on the east side of town Thursday or Friday nights to see where the magic happens!”

Rob Krar-Wanderlust-3

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you courageous? When was the last time you chose to face something very difficult head on, to plow right through it? This can be in running or the rest of life.
  • Can you share a story from trail and ultrarunning where you have watched courage in motion among the people around you?
  • And, what are some simple, organic examples of courage that we can share with each other?
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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.