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Sunday, June 7, 2020

To Those Who Ask The Rhetorical "Why?"

"If you're gonna be an ultra-runner, you're gonna have to embrace suffering..."   Errol "the rocket" Jones

A couple of things: First, my mountain bike pedal-mash from Ouray to Yankee Boy Basin got pushed back this year due to a shipping delay on sorely needed "parts" (a rear cassette and two front drive sprockets). Second, and sadly, it appears the Geezer Olympics with Pal Leon will be postponed this year due to the "F" ing virus. No one-on-one footraces, bike races, or bike (me) versus foot-racer (Leon). No bragging rights. All training with no race (sniff). 

Times have changed. These days, I guess it's considered risky for a couple of geezers to compete side by side...gasping and breathing each other's aerosolized exhales.  

So, Leon and Your's Truly will be racing against a clock this summer instead of each other. It's a real motivational gut-check...no one to keep you honest, no one to push or pull you through the pain, no camaraderie, and, perhaps worst of all, no post-race revisions of "history" over beer and pizza at the brew pub. Thus, in the wake of Leon's absence, I've been on a desperate search for motivation...lest I slip forever into a pair of geezer "jammies," eating pie and scrap cookies. 
A few days ago I stumbled across a short video about ultra marathoner Errol "the rocket" Jones, entitled "The Pleasure and the Pain. It was exactly what I needed. You can't be a thirty-some year veteran of Ultras without coming away with a few philosophical nuggets regarding "life" and "choices" and "pain." 

In addition to being an ultra runner, Errol is also a sage...a philosopher, of sorts, when it comes to the sacrifices it takes to pursue his (or anyone's) passion. Errol pulls no punches. His Jesus-like parables on pain and suffering are of Biblical proportion, with allegorical axioms that are universal in their  applications to life, whether a runner, or artist or just an average "Joe" with a passion for a dream.

Errol's dreams and goals revolve around a passion for ultra marathon endurance racing. It defines him, as well as get's him out of bed every morning to put in the long, lonely miles it takes to compete, let alone finish, a 50 to 100 mile ultra. It's a challenging "time-suck," ultras. Training can take an enormous chunk out of your life. But the return on that investment pays meaningful dividends in direction and purpose. Like the Dalai Lama says, no matter our "chosen road," we all are seeking happiness and fulfillment. 

Awards and write-ups adorn the walls of Errol's modest home. At 65 years of age he could easily call it "good enough" and rest on his laurels without a single soul lifting an accusatory finger. But no, Errol's fire still burns bright, and lately it's been getting hotter. In spite of all his training, preparation, and motivational quips, it turns out that Errol hasn't finished an ultra in 3 years. In a "fast-food" world where people are most remembered by their last accomplishment, a DNF could well erase a lifetime of achievements. But not if Errol can help it. 

Errol would be the first to admit that all his glory days accolades are behind him. Fully aware that the "sun is setting" on his athletic life, Errol now has a singular focus, a new goal that drives him out of bed every morning to hit the trails and byways that surround his Bay area home. And that, my friends, is to finish an ultra marathon. 

It must be a hard swallow, to go from winning and placing to just finishing to DNF. But just when most would give up, Errol flips the "age card" he's dealt and uses it for motivation to reinvent his goal: To Finish an Ultra. The irony of that decision is that Errol's new purpose insures that he will continue doing the things that has always brought him the most joy, identity, self-worth...and, once upon a time, Glory. Funny how that works.

At 69 years old, I realize my "sunset years" are at hand...if not here. My body is not as tolerate of the suffering and abuse I continue to inflict like it once was. "Things" hurt now, things that I didn't even know I had a couple years ago. And all those injuries and soreness are slower to heal than ever before. In leu of Leon, I've taken to searching for new sources of motivation to keep me moving. Errol's video gave me an emotional, as well as, motivational boost. It's the story of how he had to learn to "embrace the suffering" in order to endure his chosen passion. There is a price to pay for everything in this world. How bad do you want it? Are you willing to suffer for it? More importantly, are you willing to suffer to keep it from being taken away from you?

Yesterday, I embarked on my first attempt to ride from Lovely Ouray to, at minimum, Camp Bird Mine...a little over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. What I really wanted (needed), though, was to pick up right where I left off last year, to ride/push/carry my bike all the way up to Yankee Boy's glorious basin...a psychologically and physically daunting 9 miles with 3,554 feet of elevation gain. Doubting Demons were legion. 

I must have replayed Errol's video in my head a dozen times. It helped me embrace the suffering like he and all aging athletes must cope with every day.  Watch the video. See if it motivates you to stay with your dream or passion, whatever your "it" is. 

In the end, I rode a little farther than last or previous years. What a mix of Rapture and delirium...a meaningful-to-me need fulfilled. Like Errol, there is a need to know, "I still have it." At least for another year, anyway. Sunset? Maybe not yet...  

"There's a saying that, 'Pleasure is the child of pain.' So that's what you get...you take the kick in the teeth. The pleasure comes in having overcome that....I've now not finished a hundred miler in three years and I'm very unhappy about that. I got a hundred miler coming up which I hope to be my redemption run, because I need it. I've got to finish it to know that I still have it."   Errol Jones.

Indeed. I've found my "rudder." 

Peace out,
mark...embracing the post-race pain.


  1. Love this. I met Rocket at the Bear 100 (near Logan, Utah) in 2012. We finished the race around the same time, and I was able to absorb some of his sage wisdom while we were both fuzzy-headed with that post-100-miler delirium. He is a legend in the sport, and I'm confident that he will be remembered for his many, many, many accomplishments rather than a few late-stage DNFs.

    It's inspiring that he's still striving, however. I mentioned that we finished the Bear 100 around the same time. Our time was 33 hours and change, in a race with a 36-hour cutoff. I was then 33 years old and in what I still consider the best running shape of my life. Even for me it's been downhill from there; health issues and shifting focus were a factor, but I'm still doubtful that at the ripe old age of 40 I could get all of that back. I already figure it won't be too long before I am unable to make most of those 100-miler cutoffs. Certainly I wouldn't count on staying ahead of an already slim buffer into my 60s and 70s. But I do hope to still be active into those quote-unquote sunset years. I think that would be enough for me. Well, of course staying alive is the goal, first and foremost.

    1. Thanks for your comment...that you ran with "Rocket." Wow. I could never pull off an Ultra...It baffles my mind that people can survive such a race...you and Beat included. I would say you are doing pretty good at the ripe old age of 40...to spontaneously go our for an all night dusk to dawn mountain run...including multiple peak summits and over 26 miles...using headlamps makes my little adventures seem pretty meek. Your Jill Outside Blog both humbles, and inspires me as much as "Rocket's" video. Thanks for that! It helps me stay off the couch :).
      Cheers, and Keep Moving.

  2. Good Luck; dreams are what make life worth living. Just remember you weren't born in Kenya and Im sure Caleb would like to have you around for as long as possible.
    I think you are worried too much about the Golden Years, it's just another phase of living and you will experience it happily, if you remember it's all in you mind whether you are having a good time or not.
    I just don't want to be visiting you in some recovery facility before long.....there not pretty.
    Mark google the San Francisco Bay trail, pretty amazing project.
    Stay Thirsty My Friends
    D & A

    1. If I am in a "facility," pull the plug.
      The rewards are too important to give up just yet. I do think about slowing down more lately. Point taken.

  3. Hmm, yesterday I did a 7.5 mile grueling hike on a loop that includes Apple Orchard Falls near the Appalachian Trail and I was the oldest in our small group of a dozen (will be 69 in October). It was a rocky trail, hot, humid, no breeze in the valleys along the creeks, and my steps were getting smaller and smaller and I was leaning more and more on my poles . . . the only thing that kept me going was thinking about y'all - if Mark, Bobbie, Leon and the Hiker Babes can do this, I can too.

    1. The humidity adds several degrees of difficulty. Way to persevere! :)

  4. Beautiful! Bill&AnnC


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