On my runs over the past two weeks I have been reflecting frequently on the post I wrote about dnf’s a couple weeks ago. In those reflections I have realized that I have learned much by the reaction to the post and thought it would be helpful to put my thoughts in writing.
First of all, I learned that far more people than I thought actually read my blog. Judging by the number of comments on the blog and the overwhelming number of offline emails I received on the topic many people read this blog and are interested in its content. I am not entirely sure why, but the blog seems to have a substantial following in the ultra world and I think I misunderstood the significance of that. As somewhat of a techno-neophyte I don’t really understand a lot about this “new media” world and the reaction to the post gave me a wake-up call about the significance of this “new media”. What started three years ago as a place for me to write about my thoughts and feelings as they pertain to ultrarunning has turned into something entirely different. Not sure why, but it has and I need to adapt to that new reality, I suppose.
As a result, I now know that there is a responsibility that comes with hosting these things that I did not previously realize. Honestly and naively, I basically thought, maybe, 100 people followed this blog and that from time to time they would comment and state an opinion or ask a question. Someone commented on another blog that there should be a distinction between bloggers and journalists. Let me be clear, I am a blogger and I don’t intend to quit my day job to attempt to become a journalist. I leave that to people far more talented than me. That said, I am a highly interested observer and fan of the sport and some of my posts are certainly written from that perspective. Others, of course, are written from my perspective as a participant in the sport and occasionally posts are written simultaneously from both perspectives. This brings me to the next thing I learned in all of this:
Back in my last job when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I spent significant time studying diversity education and the ways in which race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics affect the way we view the world and our position in the world. Working with one consultant, I learned a lesson on the difference between intent and impact. To keep it brief, in diversity education there is an effort made to distinguish between these two and to create an environment in which all parties are aware that what their intentions are may not always match up with the impact of those intentions and that out of those mismatches conflict can emerge. In the dnf post I am afraid I did not heed this lesson. My intent was to discuss dnf’s as a means of evaluating a runners’ body of work for a season. However, the impact of my comments was suggestive of being judgmental and disrespectful. While I stand by the notion of dnf’s being worthy of consideration for interpretation in the voting for UROY I also understand that to raise the issue and specifically and publicly (to a far wider audience that I realized) name specific runners was a mis-judgement on my part.
Additionally, I was surprised that some readers commented that this post was about me. That somehow by citing specific examples of dnf’s by others I was attempting to highlight something about myself. While I understand where this interpretation might have come from I must say the days of me being compared to any of the five runners I listed are long over. Yes, it’s true, in the past I did finish in 2nd place to two of the runners on the list. But, in one case it was when the winner essentially coasted to the finish to preserve himself for Badwater two weeks later and the other beat me to the finish by over 90 minutes at Wasatch and then the following year broke the Course Record. Needless to say, the post was not an attempt to highlight me against these runners and the only reason my dnf record came into the discussion was when an early commenter asked about it and I answered him.
Finally, I must address the one regret I have about the post. One commenter to the original post asked if I thought I could have surfaced the issue and provoked a discussion on the topic of dnf’s in a different, less volatile way. Having thought about it I think I could have done so by not naming specific people and their specific performances. That way I could have still raised the question (should dnf’s be considered as criteria by the voters of UROY?) and not been perceived as disrespectful and judgmental. Clearly, the five runners I named represent some of the best male ultrarunners in the country and they have my full and complete respect and admiration. I know that in every 100-mile race, whether it is run to the finish line or not, there is a story; a story that is intensely personal and unique; a story that cannot and should not be told by others; a story that, at the end of the day, is quite possibly why we all do these things in the first place.