What a firestorm! First, full disclosure! I am not running Rocky Raccoon (RR) 100 Miler. I think the race director of Rocky Raccoon, Joe Prusaitis, is one of the absolutely best in Ultrarunning and putting on a race!...And I like to listen to headphones from time to time when I run… Now on to the matter at hand.
RR has become a very popular race. It is a relative flat, single track and guarantees great finishing times for the fast guys. This year the four horseman of the apocalypse entered….Karl Meltzer, Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Hal Koerner. WOW!!!! The odds are, the course record is going down…and I will be there to watch it. So…this week I start catching wind that the RD has sent out an email that there will be no headphones allowed…NONE….or risk disqualification. The reason was obvious…lots of runners…some very fast…on a multiple loop, single track course...and safety or runner impedance becomes a valid concern. The problem: It was stated only a week and a half before race time and it was not announced that there was a No Headphone policy in any of the pre registration information.
I started seeing comments pop up on Facebook from runners registered…I got some emails from friends lamenting the fact…and I even got a few text messages. For the most part…everyone understood…nearly all were disappointed…Some were looking at the opportunity to have to dig deep in sheer darkness of the night instead of medicating with music…but there were some that were livid…upset…angry.
I got a text from a running friend…not only very angry…but extremely upset. I understood their argument…”Why state it now…and not before I registered?” Point Valid. But I also completely understood Joe’s position…safety and no trail impedance. there is a reason elites want to run his races…because they know it will be an exceptional race. But that is not why I am posting this.
After going back and forth with my running buddy, they had refused to take this as an opportunity. They expended so much negative energy on the subject they had no control over. I would mention to them it as an opportunity for self introspection during those tough times…an opportunity to hone mental toughness in lieu of “zoning out.” They would listen to none of it…and I was disappointed…this was an exceptional runner.
I reflected back to words of my buddy Matt Crownover…I paraphrase...”Too many times we rely on our gear…what we have with us instead of our abilities. We carry too much baggage in a race.” If you know Matt, he is speaking on about 3 levels there…but he is also being literal. My bud Ballard told me that once, during a mountain 100 miler, he was struggling…and Matt started going through his pack at an aid station…getting rid of all the “baggage.”
I like Matt’s philosophy…although I don’t always adhere to it. But isn’t that Ultra running…at least it is to me…testing my abilities…both physically and mentally. Adjusting to what is to come…adapting….overcoming. You try to be prepared for everything…and you never are able to…and it is at that time where you have to overcome the unseen…maybe it’s weather…maybe a bad stomach….maybe broken gear…or even someone saying…”No Headphones.” What did they do in the 1970's...carry a boombox a 100 miles. ;-)
Have we grown so soft as a culture that such an edict completely rocks our world? Ultra guys are some of the toughest people…period…but after my conversation, I wondered a bit…were these people tough on their terms…and if you rocked the boat, they folded like a bad poker hand?
Maybe I still have too much Marine in me. I recall that one July summer we were on a 3 day Mountain patrol exercise nestled in the Sierra Nevadas . It was summer…so I wore my light weight jungle boots and adhered to the mantra, “Pack light, freeze at night.” No jacket..only a light weight sleeping bag…first night, it snowed six inches. So much for the plan…we had to adapt…over come…and we walked 18 miles at about 7,000 ft elevation, in full freaking combat gear… in 6 freaking inches of snow…in jungle freaking boots!
My friend is a good enough runner to finish, and finish well, regardless if they wore headphones…it was just something they enjoyed doing while running. I am not questioning their running ability…only their ability to adapt…to overcome…to roll with the punches. And if they struggle with this…what happens if it really hits the fan…when things really go south.
I closed the conversation by asking the runner to renew their gratitude for being able to run Rocky Raccoon 100 miler. Earlier in the day I had received a message from a friend fighting cancer. Really…you’re whining about headphones…while you get to go do something you absolutely love?
Joe has reversed his decision with a caveat...disqualification if it causes problems during the race because you couldn't hear.. He agrees that there should have been an announcement stating the Headphone policy before registrations. Once again a testament to the integrity of Joe.
So what your thoughts...have we gone soft?