Western States 2017 – a story of arrogance and humility

Did you like that super click-baity title? Damn, I’m good. But now that you’re here, I have to admit, I’m not going to Walmsley bash. I’m also not going to fall on my knees at the Walmsley alter.
I’ll preface this the same way I prefaced the Barkley piece: I know nothing about any of these humans personally; I know nothing of the WSER course; I am a back of the pack nobody.

Ok, so now that we all know that I don’t have much of a right (ethos, for you English nerds) to say any of this, let’s say some stuff.

Thanks to his pre-race interview, Jim Walmsley had ruffled a lot of feathers before the race even started. Still, the community was excited to see what he was going to do. Walmsley has come on the running scene fast and hard, crushing records and winning events faster than we can learn how to spell his name. This isn’t surprising to anyone who knows any USMA graduates. This elite group of intellectual soldiers/airmen/sailors has a unique, and almost inhuman ability, to set a goal and demolish it before us mere mortals have even had our cheerios. It’s a drive they must be born with, but is then groomed throughout their education and early careers. It’s what makes them elite members of our armed forces. But, back to the interview… I’d suggest watching it yourself before reading the comments. I’ve always found that reading comments forces your opinion before it can develop on its own. I’ll wait. Here is the Ryan Sandes post-win interview as well…

I’m not here to comment on specifics. Again, I think opinions should form organically. Rather, I’d like to pose some questions. I guess it’s the Socratic-process lover in me. I ask that you ponder these, and discuss them with your friends as they begin spitting statistics at you from this weekend. Maybe insert one of these questions into the convo when people start talking trash about Walmsley. After all, our sport is getting big enough now that we have our own versions of the armchair quarterbacks. Seriously, they’re the worst.

  1. What level of arrogance is necessary in a sport that asks its athletes to be inhumanly tough?
    1. Is arrogance a bastardized version of “fake it ’til you make it” confidence? How does this affect your view of arrogance?
  2. Is it fair to assess ultrarunners (personality, etc) based on interviews, when ultrarunners haven’t been groomed for interviews the way other professional athletes have over the course of their high school and college careers?
  3. At what point does confidence (real or fake) become a hindrance rather than a strength?
    1. How do we find the balance?
    2. How do we help our young athletes find this balance?
  4. If 100 mile races are a “life in a day“,  as the recent film suggests, how would you feel if your entire life was live-fed to the world, including all of your mistakes before they even happened?
    1. Is there now added stress put on our athletes, as the world watches their every nutritional, pace, and gear decision?
    2. How detrimental to performance is this new age need to keep the world informed?

I could go on, but I think you get my point. Yesterday, a great man won a great race. He wasn’t included on the pre-race interviews, he wasn’t being discussed heavily beforehand, despite his IMPRESSIVE achievements. Is it in that quiet that we, as humans, are most successful? Sandes was in no way the underdog, but he was afforded the privacy and freedom to perform as one. Our sport has seen so many athletes come out of nowhere to do such great things on truly brutal courses. Then, we watch their every move, calculate their every decision from the comfort of our homes, and watch as they fall at the same speed at which they rose. Are we pushing our athletes into failure with our nosy need to have every detail of other people’s lives at our fingertips? Is livefeed killing our sport?

Please share your thoughts in the comments, but, as I tell my students, BE KIND. You don’t have to be nice, but you must remember humans have feelings, just like you. Honor your fellow humans.



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