Sunday, November 14, 2010
Why I Love Ultrarunners and Why I Have No Respect for Phonies (or, Why Lie About Doing Badwater?)
Humility is their greatest asset. Ultrarunners know what it is to be humbled by mother nature, by the grueling, daunting task of covering incredible distances on rugged trail. They run in the heat and in the freezing cold. They run at night, in the snow and in the rain. They have all faced defeat at some point in their running career. It is no surprise, then, that most ultrarunners are cool, down-to-earth people. They don't boast and they are not show-offs or jerks. Most aren't, anyway.
I have met some runners that could use a lesson in humility and what it means to be an athlete of genuine integrity.
One person comes to mind whose name I will not print here. To be fair, he is not really an ultrarunner; he is a triathlete. I met him last year in the sauna at Texas Tech University. When I spotted the Ironman tattoo on his leg, I struck up a conversation with him by asking him about it. He told me he is a professional athlete, having graduated a few years ago from Tech. He certainly looked like he could have been a pro: he was definitely ripped. He told me all about his training and his athletic career. He told me how he ran a 2:20 marathon, about how he went to triathlons in Kona.
I could tell he was relishing in giving me the highlights of his sports accomplishments. I was definitely impressed. Wanting to have something to say so as not to seem completely unintelligent about endurance sports, I threw in that I was an aspiring ultrarunner.
And then he said it. Three words. Three words that nearly made me fall to my knees in praise: "I did Badwater."
"Holy shit," I exclaimed.
For over a year, I had obsessed about Badwater relentlessly. I had already marked it as my ultrarunning dream, my goal race of all time. I've researched Badwater left and right. I know an awful lot about that race, if I may say so myself.
Thus, it sort of surprised me that I had never heard of this guy sitting smugly before me, half naked, in the sauna. I knew former Lubbockite, Shanna Armstrong, had done the race in 2008. But now, here was this guy, another Lubbockite, who was claiming to have run the "toughest footrace on the planet." And I didn't know of him?! Dear Lord! Here was an athletic god before my very eyes. Immediately, I pressed him for more information.
"What 100 milers did you use to qualify," I asked him. "I am good friends with the race director," he said in response. "You know Chris Kostman," I asked. I think he must have been surprised I knew his name because he changed the topic.
As he told me about his experience in Death Valley, the sauna started to fill up with other people. They too got drawn into his story. He talked about how he hallucinated. He said he saw little elves running along beside him on the blacktop. The whole sauna was enthralled with this guy. We ate it up.
As he left, I told him he was "my fucking hero."
Well, turns out it was all a lie. He never did Badwater. Rather, I found out he served as a crew member for a 2008 racer. My question is: why lie about something like that? What do you get out of it?
For me - and I would imagine for most ultrarunners - completing ultras is something you do for personal satisfaction. You run them because you enjoy it and you get a deep sense of personal satisfaction from finishing them. I would never tell anyone that I've run a race I haven't. There is no glory in that. Seriously, what did this guy get out of telling us all he did Badwater? Bragging rights? If that's the case, he would do well to learn the value of being humble. Only in humility can one discover true glory.
Unfortunately, this guy's problems go a lot deeper than just being a boastful, arrogant person. He is a liar. There is nothing dignified in what he did. It is shameful and goes against all my principles as person of honesty and integrity. I have no respect for people like him.
Nonetheless, this incident has helped me identify why I love athletes. Real athletes. Their accomplishments are not fabricated. They don't need to lie about their feats. Aside from being humble, they are honorable. I value that. We all should.