At this time of year many of us reflect back on the past year and look at what has happened in our sport. In particular, some of us consider which runners ran the best and why. Then, a few of us vote to decide who should be Ultrarunner of The Year and it gets published in The Bible of Ultrarunning, “Ultrarunning Magazine.” It is a fun and engaging time and one that often fills me with hope and angst.
This year, more than any other, I have been troubled by dnf’s.
Look, I know they happen. I know they are simply part of the sport. But this past year, in my opinion, too many high profile runners deserving of spots in the top-3 chose to step off the trail before the race was over. I, for one, am troubled by this and need to get it off my chest. Thus, this post is my attempt at closure.
I know that there are many runners far more talented and skilled than I who enter a race knowing they are going to give it their all from the starting gun and they will see how the chips fall. I can think of no more impressive example of this than Hal Koerner’s Western States’ win in 2007. Legend has it that he intentionally left his flashlights in Ashland knowing that if he was going to win he was not going to need a light and if he needed a light he wasn’t going to win. I have no idea if this is true or not but it’s a hell of a good story. Especially coming from a guy who Tom Nielsen and I passed in 2006 when it was 115 degrees in the shade on the way up to Michigan Bluff. He dropped a few minutes after we passed him!
I guess, this is all to say, I think there is a big difference between “dropping” and “quitting” and it’s quitting that has stuck in my craw. Let’s take a look at what are, to me, the five most significant dnf’s of 2009:
1. Scott Jurek at Western States: I respect and admire Scott Jurek as I am sure most of the readers of this blog do. However, when he simply stepped off the trail at Devil’s Thumb this year a little of that respect drifted away. I would have thought the 7-time winner of WS would have gone a little further, dug a little deeper, tried a little harder, and given a little more before cutting off his wristband. Not to be. He dropped. Hal won. Game over.
2. Anton Krupicka at Leadville: This guy is an icon in the sport and really has not done a whole lot to deserve that status. But, he has won Leadville twice, torched both Rocky Raccoon and American River and this past year broke the Course Record at White River. Nonetheless, he dropped this year at the Fish Hatchery after leading Leadville for 70 miles. My son Logan, a huge Anton fan, was devastated. I know his quads were thrashed and he couldn’t walk another step. But, I recall another immensely talented, iconic Coloradan facing the same predicament back in 2004 and he struggled to the Finish only to ultimately finish the job the next year with a Course Record.
3. Geoff Roes at Miwok: I can’t really hold this dnf against him too much as his 100 mile Course Records during the balance of the year speak for themselves but in the most competitive sub-100 miler in the country I was quite surprised that Geoff cashed it in while still in the lead. I assume he was suffering mightily but a struggle to the finish and an 8th or 9th place finish would have spoken volumes. Maybe next year.
4. Dave Mackey at Western States: Nobody expected this. Nobody. Returning to Western States for the first time since 2004 and seemingly in the best shape of his life most prognosticators saw Dave as the man to beat or certainly a force to be reckoned with. Reduced to a walk on Cal Street he chose to end his day 78 miles from Squaw. I am sure he had his reasons but with Scott dropping at Michigan and Dave at The River, Hal had a cakewalk to the finish. More power to him. And, perhaps, to the rest of us as well.
5. Dave James at Western States: This guy has been incredible this year! On fire, actually. 13:05 100-mile split in Cleveland, a huge Course Record at Javelina, hell, he even did a 14:30 100 miler on New Year’s Eve just for kicks. But, he bailed at the Big Dance, hard. Dropped like a bag of potatoes before he even entered the Canyons. Why? I don’t know. But, to get it right in this sport you need to finish what you start. Hopefully, that’s coming in the year’s ahead.
I am sure that these comments may ruffle some feathers and for that I apologize. But I do believe that we need to recognize all of the efforts of all of the runners in our sport not only the finishes. Note that the list above does not include Karl Meltzer or Mike Wardian or Leigh Schmitt or Scott Jaime. Those guys may not have run the races of these other guys but every time, and I mean every time, they finished what they started. And, to me, that matters.
Now, I’ll get off the Soap Box and go for a run under the full moon.