Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why do we (ultra) run: for some hardware, really?

Last weekend was our annual Pacific Association USA Track&Field Long Distance Running (LDR) 2013 award banquet. A great opportunity to gather the fastest or most assiduous and persistent participants of our North California running Grand Prix. I was even surprised that LDR included cross-country this year, I don't recall that was the case the previous years. With that, LDR covered any distance above 2 miles, up to Jon Olsen's 168 miles of his win of the World 24-hour championships, quite a broad spectrum!

The ceremony was held at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco last Sunday night (I don't particularly like events on Sunday night because I'm too busy with work during the week to blog right after, so here is the belated report). If you are acquainted with our club or one of my club mates, you might have already seen our Quicksilver President's live coverage of the event on Facebook starting with this post: "Picking up some hardware with Quicksilver Running Club..."
Which leads me to ask this question: "are we really (ultra) running all these miles for the hardware" I mean the plaques and trophies? When my wife tells her French class students about what I do as a hobby, they can't believe or comprehend that a mug or a coaster is all we get for finishing an ultra marathon or even winning it! Certainly there must be other motivations than that or we would just go to the nearby department store to get a new mug... ;-) More on this further down in this post.

So, as a team, for 2013, we took home the Women, Mixed and Overall titles, leaving the Men title to the youngsters and speedsters of Excelsior, Tamalpa taking second in that category (see all the results on the PAUSATF website). Here is Greg with the Mixed Team plaque, isn't he handsome?
And special thanks to our 2013 co-captains Toshi (Hosaka) and Marc (Laveson) for leading us to such a successful year!

In the women division, Amy Burton placed first in W30-39, Bree Lambert first in W40-49 and Kat Powell won her W60-69 age group.
In the men division, only two top wins this year, Jim Magill in the M60-69 and myself for my last year in the most competitive M40-49 age group (a record 66 participants in that group alone), in the largest USAT&F association in the nation.
This is my 7 consecutive Grand Prix win and I feel obliged to "play again" and, although it means aging, I'm looking forward to moving up to a new AG this year.
Running after the goals offered by such a Grand Prix is indeed one of the reasons I keep racing as much as I do. But it's only one of the many. Another reason is the camaraderie that we experience in competing and training as a team, or even across our teams within our league. Here is our joyful table at the banquet, of course only a small subset of our 80-member strong club.
Another reason I enjoy ultra running so much is that it is still a low key sport in which the elite is so approachable and genuine. For one thing, there isn't much money thrown into our sport, nothing to brag about in Hollywood or Beverly Hills and even make a leaving of in the first place. Take for instance the guest speaker of this year's banquet, Jon Olsen, from our very own Pacific Association. In 2013, Jon won the world 24-hour championship then set a new 100-mile US record by breaking the symbolic 12-hour barrier. Jon is a teacher in Modesto and, with a lot of modesty and referring to his strong faith, shared how his hobby, and hard work, got him to the top of our sport. See Jon's blog "Just a Hobby:)" for more details on this inspiring story.
Here I am with Jon just before the Tamalpa 50K race, last August.
One more reason ultra running is so special is that all ultra runners have a very unique story. Either the way they started, how long they have been doing it, how they are fighting adversity and pain, how they keep this extreme commitment with other life priorities, what type of ultra running they prefer, there is so much variety in these experiences we often refer to ultra running as a life-long experiment. No matter the heroic feat that you've done, there will be someone else who has done twice you just did or will soon do. Exciting on one side, frightening on the other, ultra marathon running is defined by only one thing, any distance beyond 26.2 miles, and that doesn't have any upper limit...

Among these exceptional ultra runners, you will find many who spent hours and days volunteering to serve other ultra runners, the essence of our community spirit. Then you find a few who devoted years of their lives to our sport. After Hollis Lenderking and Gary Wang who received life-time achievement awards these past years for serving on our Mountain Ultra Trail committee for more than 20 years, it was the turn of Stan Jensen to be recognized for his countless hours he gave back to our community at aid stations and maintaining his website.

Omnipresent on the road racing circuit, Mark Winitz was also recognized for a quarter of century serving our Pacific Association with such dedication and passion for promoting our amazing local athletes and races. Here is Mark (right) presenting a special bib to Carl Guardino, the CEO of the Silicon Vally Leadership Group and organizer of the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, last November.
Here are our two Mountain Ultra Trail committee co-chairs at the officials table, Bill Dodson (left) and Hollis (middle), with Jon and wife Denise (left):
Speaking of exceptional people, the day before the banquet on Saturday afternoon, we did celebrate an exceptional couple which I met through my other club, the Stevens Creek Striders, Andrew Johnson and Penny Beeston, originally from Australia. Unfortunately, it was a celebration of the end of Andrew's 14-year battle against Leukemia during which he kept an unbelievable and inspiring optimism, smile and continued interest in others. (Picture courtesy of Michael Dhuey, Stevens Creek Striders Turjey Trot, November 2004.)
During this time, Penny raised tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research, running many marathons and ultras herself and even 3 IronMan, coaching several Team In Training running and triathlon teams, working, raising 3 kids, volunteering in various clubs and at many races, pacing friends when not racing herself.
So, while hardware (medals, plaques, belt buckles, trophies) is appreciated as a visible recognition of our physical accomplishments, it is certainly not worth as much as our own self-realization and pleasure of running and the enrichment we get from social connections and genuine relationships in our community.

"Why we run" is such a broad topic, let me finish this attempt at an answer with an excerpt of a questionnaire from Dr Martin Hoffman of UC Davis as part of one of his recent studies to help us understand ultra running better. You see from the length of the list, this isn't a straight answer, we are all different... But here is a good resource in case you are still waiting for a good reason to get started and join our healthy (and slightly crazy! ;-) community! Oh, and for you ultra runners, what is the primary reason do you run?

1.             To help control my weight

2.             To compete with others

3.             To earn respect of peers

4.             To reduce my weight.

5.             To improve my running speed.

6.             To earn the respect of people in general.

7.             To socialize with other runners.

8.             To improve my health.

9.             To compete with myself.

10.          To become less anxious.

11.          To improve my self-esteem.

12.          To have something in common with other people.

13.          To add a sense of meaning to life.

14.          To prolong my life.

15.          To become less depressed.

16.          To meet people.

17.          To become more physically fit.

18.          To distract myself from daily worries.

19.          To make my family or friends proud of me.

20.          To make my life more purposeful.

21.          To look leaner.

22.          To try to run faster.

23.          To feel more confident about myself.

24.          To participate with my family or friends.

25.          To make myself feel whole.

26.          To reduce my chance of having a heart attack.

27.          To make my life more complete

28.          To improve my mood.

29.          To improve my sense of self-worth.

30.          To share a group identity with other runners.

31.          It is a positive emotional experience.

32.          To feel proud of myself.

33.          To visit with friends.

34.          To feel a sense of achievement.

35.          To push myself beyond my current limits.

36.          To have time alone to sort things out.

37.          To stay in physical condition.

38.          To concentrate on my thoughts.

39.          To solve problems.

40.          To see how high I can place in races.

41.          To feel a sense of belonging in nature.

42.          To stay physically attractive.

43.          To get a faster time than my friends.

44.          To prevent illness.

45.          People look up to me.

46.          To see if I can beat a certain time.

47.          To blow off steam.

48.          Brings me recognition.

49.          To have time alone with the world.

50.          To get away from it all.

51.          To make my body perform better than before.

52.          To beat someone I've never beaten before.

53.          To feel mentally in control of my body.

54.          To get compliments from others.

55.          To feel at peace with the world.

56.          To feel like a winner.

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