I kept the following post from Geri K off the UltraList back in 2006, since I thought it was pretty smart.
(Note: The episode she refers to at the Western States 100 Miler--I think--is where the apparent winner was pretty much comatose coming up to the finish, and I believe got DQd when someone helped him stand up and stagger across the finish line.)
Subject: Warriors & Explorers
Yesterday's heated discussion got me thinking. There seems to be at least two different attitudes in ultrarunning: "Warriors" and "Explorers." That's why there was such a split in opinions about what happened at Western States.
Warriors are mainly at war with themselves. They're fueled by the passion to prove something to themselves and the world. They're willing to push themselves beyond the point of self-preservation and ignore any thoughts of the consequences. Warriors often win because they're willing to sacrifice more. Warriors aren't always at the front of the pack. Anyone who runs themself into a longterm injury, an IV or trip to the ER is a Warrior. The Warrior attitude does not last long in ultrarunning.
Explorers run ultras to find their limits. They pick up on cues when they've had enough. They're aware of the cost of pushing too hard and don't want to pay the price. Sometimes talented explorers win races, but an equally talented warrior will beat them because warriors are willing to self destruct.
Many times warriors evolve into explorers. Explorers rarely become warriors. Runners who have been in the sport for any length of time are explorers. That's why so many longterm ultrarunners did not find what happened on the track at Western States admirable. Many have been there, done that and never want to do it again.
Feel free to disagree with me. These are just my observations. For those who don't know me, I've been involved in ultras for 15 years. During my ultra career I've been a front-, mid- and back-of the pack runner, crew, pacer, volunteer and race director. I've gone from warrior to explorer to enabler to observer. I still don't know everything. Enlighten me.