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Am I Really a Hobby Jogga?

Posted by on May 24, 2011 | 11 Comments

I am experiencing a bit of a runner identity crisis.  For those of you that read Shelly’s blog, yes, I stole was inspired by her posting on the same topic.  I was also inspired by Kate Kift, Christian Peterson, and Josh Sutcliffe.

Here’s the problem- I no longer seem to care about the results of the races I run.  Here’s a brief rundown of the races I’ve run since the Burning River 100 last July, along with the results:

  • Fallsburg Marathon- very slow finish (something like 5:30 if I remember)  that should have been a DNF as I got lost and wandered off the course,
  • North Country Trail 50 miler- DNF at mile 25,
  • HUFF 50k- abysmal finish time and a vow to never do the race again due to the cold,
  • Mind the Ducks 12 hour- about 25 miles.

In each one of these races, I either stopped to hang out with friends and drink beer OR kept going because everyone else was still running.  At first, I thought I was in a physical slump due to overtraining.  Three weeks before Burning River I ran a 68 mile training run, then hammered out a “fast-for-me” kick at the end of BR.  Fallsburg followed two weeks later, then NCT two weeks after that.

I assumed I would rebound by taking it easy over the winter.  I was lucky enough to be selected in the Western States lottery, and expected to ease into my typical 100 miler training schedule.  That never really materialized.  Try as I might, I cannot muster the motivation to train alone.  Every one of my significant training runs have been with at least one other person.

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to diagnose the issue.  Maybe it was illness-related.  Perhaps it was a bit of depression over a less-than-pleasant work environment.  I could have been the shitty cold Michigan winter that seemingly lasted forever.

Shelly and I have talked about this before, but her post about her Mind the Ducks experience really hit home.  I knew exactly how she felt during the race that led her to decide to stop before the 12 hours was up.  Continuing on just wasn’t fun.

This has led me to an important conclusion- I have no significant running outcome-based goals left.  I am not motivated by improving my times at any distance.  I have reached my original goal distance (100 miles), then did it again to assure the first wasn’t a fluke. I may try one of the really long distances some day, but I don’t presently have that interest.

This brings up the question- why keep running?  This is surprisingly simple… it’s fun.  I love running in cool new places.  I love running with my friends.  I love the atmosphere of races.  I love helping others reach their goals.  I care more about having fun with the people that matter the most to me, not trying to complete with others or myself.  I’m okay with that.

What about Western States?  I was never going to win.  If I would have trained extremely hard, I may have been able to break 24 hours.  As it stands, I will probably be lucky if I finish.  I’m okay with that, too.  I look forward to Western States not as a challenge to be conquered.  Rather I see the race as an opportunity to experience the grand-daddy of ultras, meet a bunch of cool people, and run all day and all night on some of the most scenic trails in the world.  I’m not looking forward to finishing Western States, I’m looking forward to experiencing Western States.

I don’t know what this means for my future competitiveness.  I don’t think this lack of motivation to drive myself is necessarily permanent, it’s more of a transient state.  I’m sure the life changes Shelly and I are experiencing have something to do with my competitive apathy. Once we get on the road, my competitiveness may return.

How about you?  Are you competitive with yourself or others?  Does that competitiveness ebb and flow?



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  1. Rob
    May 25, 2011

    Sounds like a bout of burnout to me. Been there, done that and am still haunted by those ghosts from time to time.

    I’ve been through phases where I just didn’t give a damn about competing, racing or even training very seriously. I’ve always liked getting out and playing though; no agenda, not goals, no watch; just get out and have fun! It’s also helped having some other hobbies and a passion for mountain unicycling.

    About the time I really start missing unicycling through the woods, I’m about ready for a break from serious running and racing; and vice versa. It’s a good balance!

    I’m all for free movement and ground feel and self-awareness in my running, but sometimes I like to compete; not against others but to see what I have, how far and how fast I can go. Maybe it’s an ego thing, I don’t know; but it’s definitely a rush and thrill to race, fast, through the woods and finish a race strong; nothing like it!

  2. Mauro
    May 25, 2011

    I’m in it too, after years of marathons and triathlons (even though middle-often-back of the pack and never die hard agonist).
    I guess it has to do with the natural evolution/expression of a person: the fact we still enjoy our body moving is the key… To say it with Sean Kernan: Creativity works best when we aren’t searching for outcomes but are simply allowing them.

    Mauro, from Italy

  3. Mo
    May 25, 2011

    Congrats! This is how I have ALWAYS felt! I never know my mileage or speed, whether running, mountain biking, hiking, etc… For decades, friends and clients have asked “How do you stay so fit?” I have always said. “I refuse to work out, but I play as much as possible.”

  4. Brandon M
    May 24, 2011

    Now you can understand how I feel about photography. You have been consumed with running for so long, that its time to find the passion in it. I have witnessed your passion for Barefoot running and Good Form education and that spark is contagious, but when it comes to running with you, well you said it for yourself with your post. You will enjoy Western States because you seem to enjoy adventure. The elevation, the vallys, and the snow and heat. It has something to offer everyone. Darkness falls about the time you get a pacer, and by the sounds of it, that is when you will enjoy the journey the most. Have fun and finish!
    Being around all those great runners will put a spark in you…

    Thanks for being transparent…

  5. StephenB
    May 24, 2011

    Enjoyable reply as always Josh.

    For me, running strong feels so good. Passing people at the end of a race feels good too. That kinda points to running negative splits.

    And it’s not that I’m fast, it’s just that almost everyone is faster than someone.

    But most of the time people aren’t racing, and during that time I find running to be more enjoyable when I don’t have to work as hard. The best solution for that I’ve found is the famous Hadd article:

  6. BarefootNick
    May 24, 2011

    Any chance you’re just going through resource sprawl? Since I started running two years ago and bumping into you at the time at RW, you have pursued a significant quantity of new adventures. There has been a number of ultras, a barefoot world record, seminars and panel discussions, blogging and family on the road directions.
    If most of this is sparked by natural interest rather than from a sense of duty, then your cumulative pool of energy has been significantly divided.
    While you have gone through a year? of material simplification, you have gone through a countering enrichment of “spiritual” wealth. If the day had more than 24 hours, perhaps there would be time/energy for everything?

  7. Paul Mastin
    May 24, 2011

    This comment nailed it: “I see the race as an opportunity to experience the grand-daddy of ultras, meet a bunch of cool people, and run all day and all night on some of the most scenic trails in the world.” I haven’t run anything on the scale or with the beauty of WS, but that remains a goal for the reasons you give. I’m too fat and slow to be competitive, but I think I can finish WS or Leadville or Hardrock if I work my butt off. Whether a club run, a run with a buddy, or an organized race, the only motivation I need is because it’s fun to be with cool people out on the trail. Well said, Jason!

  8. Brad
    May 24, 2011

    I think I’m in exactly the same boat. I really don’t see much fun in beating the hell out of myself to get a better time though I occasionally get the bug to run faster when it feels good. I haven’t yet reached the distance milestones so those are still there. The timed ultra, like MTD, looks awesome for the party, not the race.

    I’m in a 5K this weekend only because my friend is running it and I want to catch up with her doing something that we both enjoy. I ran one last week because I wanted to share my wife’s first 5K with her. Incidentally, we grabbed our 5year and 1year old kids for the last “dash” to the finish and that made it even more fun.

    For me, if I’m not smiling, it just doesn’t seems like it is worth it. “If it feels like work, I’m doing it wrong.” or something like that from Born to Run.

    Maybe I’m just lowering my personal expectations as I rocket toward 40 but I think I’ve just come to terms with running for the shear joy of it.

  9. Nyal
    May 24, 2011

    Hey Jason,
    I came to this same position recently. I was obsessed with tracking all my mileage and all my speed and found that running was starting to run ME.

    I solved this by ceasing all mileage tracking and pace tracking. Now I run only for fun. Oddly, I am running more now than before and it is easier to do.

    Since you are a trail runner and like goals in a way, I have an idea. How about you join me in investigating orienteering?

    Think about it: all the fun of thinking on your feet, trail running, adventure, and maps. I am excited to try it. Tell me what you think.

  10. wiglaf
    May 24, 2011

    Perhaps you’ve forgotten the enjoyment found in running fast (I mean actually fast, not “fast for me” fast)? Start training for 5k’s and do a lot of speed work.

  11. Barefoot Josh
    May 24, 2011

    I don’t see a need for a crisis; I do think, however, that if most barefooters are to be cut from the non-competitive cloth, much of the running audience is lost.

    When I gave a (rambling, poorly organized, naval gazing) barefoot seminar last year, my captive audience assumed racing performance must be compromised if they shed the shoes. That certainly can be the case – we can fall in love with the physical sensation of truly free movement, tied together with our individual pre-conceived notions of competition. But it doesn’t have to be the case.

    I love words. If I enter a Scrabble tournament, though, I’m in it to do the best I can. That’s the game. For me, racing is the game.

    I have never entered a Scrabble tournament, for what that’s worth.

    There’s plenty of room on the starting line for everybody. Running for the love of movement and friendship is wonderful and maybe even a beacon of hope for our miserable species. But there’s something to the exorcising of demons that is the full and focused effort of running one’s pathetic little guts out.

    The joy of running and the joy of feeding the fire within don’t need to be opposed to each other. Which I think is my point. I think.