We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground. –Jim Wallis
Inside Trail is a gateway to trail competition. –Me to someone in a bar
Tim and I have enjoyed the last week or so of blog wars. I guess. The now infamous Inside Trail Commentary, posted on Sept. 15, was too much; we pulled it to give everyone (including us) a breather. We were not hiding it. We were definitely re-posting that mess because that’s the way it is. I’m afraid it made me look like a punk. Yuckity do da day. Oh, and the subsequent gossip was pretty fresh; it would have fit right-in at my mom’s wine parties back in the 70s. I am in Lord Balls’ head. Enough said. IT, but certainly more specifically, I, have been among blogspot’s or wordpress’s most wanted. That was not my intention at all. Readers have said from the beginning that they’ve enjoyed the “edge” in some of our work. But I went over the edge with the way I worded some of my reflection upon reading Roes and AJW that week.
Our work really hasn’t tried to get everyone’s approval. That’s a fool’s errand unless your goal is to write to just a tiny niche enclave of like-minded yes-(wo)men. We love what we do. That’s it. Our commentary will continue to be ambitious, but more thoughtful; it will never be considered mean, or cheap. Trust me on that.
As for my part in this: I have an obsessed focus on the substance of trail competition. That’s our project’s tagline. We cover as much killer trail competition as we can. The fact that we came out of the box Sierre-Zinal, Pikes, Leadville, UTMB, WMRC, etc. might be some indication of that (but look for me to focus even more on international stuff or shorter American trial clashes). So, in such a competitive trance (daily), I reacted to Geoff Roes’ resignation (that’s how I read it). I’ve read other comments that have echoed this reading. From a competitive stand-point, it’s been less than ideal and the “enjoyable” seemed awkward to me. However, I should have explored my respect for him instead, and expressed my hope for his return to the front of the race. He’s free to do whatever he wants to do and I don’t think anyone, including me, wants him to change what he’s doing. Of course there’s more to enjoy than winning. Of course “results” make-up, in the end, just a few very memorable events in a year/life of running. But in one tiny little nutty neck of the woods (IT), we want to grow a place that brews discourse about the competitive aspect of the sport. That part of the sport is very interesting to us. Tim and I really want to jive on that funk and at the front of the pack. But I crossed the line on Sept. 15th.
And then there’s AJW. He represents the heart of the sport. Here’s why: he’s so positive and down to earth and accessible; and he’s competitive. The sport realizes these two worlds, which is why you have some people say things like ultra-marathoning will never be mainstream, yet you have other entities like iRunFar, or UROC or UTMB and even WS100 or LT100 that suggest otherwise. It’s a little schizophrenic. The sport is low-profile by nature, but getting more exposure, becoming more mainstream from corporate sponsorship and media getting onboard to more everyday folk buying their Glycerins or FiveFingers. Andy Jones-Wilkins represents these two worlds perfectly and what I said about him was pretty thoughtless. In the end, I was asking for his help in the UROY discussion, which despite many people’s suggestions that we all forget the confusion, still manifests in various points-of-view. That means it matters. I was tapping his proverbial shoulder and I think ended-up shooting myself in the proverbial . . . metatarsus. No way did Mr. JW deserve that.
For me, this fine-line between competition in ultra (especially the big American ultra) and that grassroots casual gathering, fun-loving nature of the sport is becoming pretty intriguing. Look at my comment about Geoff Roes and the aftermath. I was talking purely from a competitive standpoint. Yet I got absolutely bulldozed because the sport is not all about racing and winning. Who in the hell am I to question how Roes feels about his year of running? From a competitive standpoint, however, it was a bit sub-standard by Geoff Roes’ measurements. That’s objective. But people defend that non-competitive nature of the sport so well. On that point, I was way out of line. And I sounded drunk.
Cut to UROC. What is the intent of this race? This is a rhetorical question. The race is about the competitive nature of the sport. Period. Even more interesting: Geoff Roes is at the front of this campaign to create a race where elites are treated like elites and the race is centered around highlighting that competition at the front. Again, this sport is suggestive of two worlds: the down-to-earth just run and have fun and finish vibe, and the world-class Micahael Wardian v Geoff Roes vibe, or Jornet v Wolfe and Clark or Heras v Roes and Mackey, etc. It’s tough to deny this split personality in the sport.
All this to say, I (and IT) hale from the more competitive angle. That’s what IT is exploring more. It certainly does not excuse what I said back on Sept. 15. Competitive or non-competitive, it doesn’t give me the right to carelessly criticize people like Geoff or Andy. For that, again, I am sorry.
And in a word, UROC was great. I think it does represent a significant move in the American ultra race scene, for lack of a better term. That Roes won is simply genius. We feel bad that Wardian may have gone off course, but no one should think twice about the result evoking a sense of je ne sais quoi. Roes is part of the race organization and the win is a great sign that Geoff is feeling better about racing. Naturally, we’re bummed about Dave Mackey’s day. Indeed, things got interesting after that. Congrats, UROC race organizers, racers, supporters and fans, some of whom even mobbed racers at the finish for autographs – who said the sport couldn’t go mainstream?
UROC has definitely added a compelling piece to this American ultra puzzle. As this post has touched briefly on the intrigue of the two worlds of American ultra (laid-back vs. highly competitive), one might note too the intriguing relationship between American and international ultra. Is there anyway one can suggest that the sport not more international than it’s ever been? One blogger suggested that today is no more international than it was when Yannis Kouros was setting myriad ultra standards. I would just suggest carefully considering the two eras, the actual races that took place. We, like many (!), have made this very simple observation of recent ultra competition: more so than ever, the sport today is very much made-up of an international field, which begs the questions about end-of-year awards, etc. Doesn’t one have considerable evidence to make this observation? And why would one claim that Kouros represents an era that makes such an observation short-sided?