Western States – Walmsley – Ultra Marathon – Running – Racing and Failing

Jim Walmsley failed in his attempt at writing history at Western States 100, that is all on him.  No one else is to blame…yet he succeed in my eyes.

“Sometimes when you’re not careful trying to set off fireworks you light yourself on fire.” @walmsley172

Compare Jim’s failure to that of other sports.

[Tweet “In endurance sports vs. team sports you own the failure…and you own the victory by @cledawgs”]

It’s 4th and goal, the clock runs out as the running back dives into the line with a collision of power, speed, sweat and blood.  Once the dust settles everyone learns he has come up short of the goal line. The result is his team loses the game and a spot in the playoffs.  The bases are loaded, it’s a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning.  With deadly focus, the batter can see the spin of the ball as it comes off the fingertip of the opposing team’s ace pitcher. Recoiling with the force of a twisted steel spring the batter gives it everything he has to make contact and send the ball rocketing toward the fence.  At the last second, the ball dives with a sharp hook as his bat misses its mark.  The perfectly rolled putt on the 1st play-off hole at the US Open comes up inches short as it takes an unexpected turn.  In these examples of sports failures, the athletes can walk away from the situation and blame teammates for not blocking better, reason that the pitcher had some wicked stuff or that the lie of the green miss-read the line of the putt.

In endurance sports, there are no convenient scapegoats. Falling short in a race, missing a cutoff time or blowing up at mile 78 of a 100-mile race only means one thing. Your body gave out on you.

As a veteran long-distance runner, I have a ton of confidence in my legs, my lungs and my ability to endure. When something goes wrong, when I can’t finish a race, when I can’t run at my ability and when my tank is empty  and have nothing left to give it can be earth shattering. Unlike other main stream sports, failure in can be blamed on many contributing factors. For the runner, you must only look in the mirror.

Losing confidence in yourself or your body can be a very frightening and disheartening experience. It’s happened to me twice.

I was coming off a Personal Record in my favorite ultra-event, the Virginia 24 Hour Run Against Cancer. I had put up 75 miles, I was beginning to gain some local recognition as a decent ultra-runner and I was looking forward to a big summer. A few days removed from the race, at the end of a ten-mile run my right knee had a bit of a tingle. A few more runs and the tingle turned into pain. A trip to the doctor confirmed my worst fears, I was injured. My body had failed me. I lost more than miles over those six weeks I lost confidence in the very thing I had the most trust in, my ability to run. It wasn’t a missed blocking assignment or a pitcher with great control on his fast ball that had done me in, it was a very own body.  Although it would take a few years it happened again. This time it was mental.

(2016, My first DNF at Boogie 50, I just did not want to be there…)

All of my friends were running the race. I was in decent shape. 50 miles was well within my ability.  I had just come off an epic bucket list run crossing the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim. I knew I could finish this race, that was a given I had run it the year before. The outcome was never a question, until it was.  I just did not want to be there.  Just over one lap into the race, 12 miles down, I no longer wanted to run. It wasn’t that I was tied, and it wasn’t that I was out of gas. It wasn’t that the slope of the green that mislead my eyes. I broke, I did not want to suffer. My mental toughness let me down. Mentally I simply did not want to be there. I wanted to be back home hanging out with my wife, and my doggies.

In the days and weeks after both events I had to face the fact that I failed. I lost confidence in my legs and in my mental toughness. My body gave out on me in both occasion there was no other excuse. The humbling truth to the ultra-endurance world is that at some point your body will fail you, we have to condition ourselves to accept it, learn from the experience and harness it to come back even stronger. It’s you against the miles, no blockers to help, no pitchers release to read and no lie of the grass to get in the way.

Jim Walmsley should have confidence in that he was attempting to rewrite history, sure his body failed but he gave it his all.

(2017, Scored my second Umstead 100 buckle and set a PR by 1hr 15min)

Be strong, if you come up short, learn, and train harder BUT always have confidence in you.

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