Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Titanic, Bravery...and Ultrarunning

Photo credit here.

Once more, another gem from the Writer's Almanac, 8 Oct 2010:

It's the birthday of historian Walter Lord, born in Baltimore (1917). His most famous book was A Night to Remember (1955), about the sinking of the Titanic, a disaster that had fascinated him since he was a boy. He said: 'I think small boys get interested in things the way they catch colds or get chicken pox. Nobody knows why or how they do it. ... I suppose if there is anything more exciting to a young boy than an ocean liner, it is an ocean liner sinking.'

But actually, there was a pretty good reason that young Walter knew about the Titanic. His mother told him bedtime stories every night about the big ocean liners she had sailed on, including the Olympic, a sister ship of the Titanic. When Walter's father proposed to his mother, she told him she needed to think about it, and so she got a ticket on the Olympic from New York to London. She decided that she would say yes, so as soon as she got to London she got another ticket, turned right around and went back to New York to accept. When Walter was nine years old, his mother took him on the Olympic for a transatlantic cruise, and he quizzed all the crew members about the exact details of the Titanic's disaster.

So he was well-prepared to write a book by the time he was in his 30s, working a respectable day job for an advertising agency. At night he did research, pored over documents about the Titanic, and interviewed more than 60 survivors. And then he tried to reconstruct a history of the disaster, a narrative that would be factual would also give readers a sense of the lives of the passengers, and tell the events of the disaster like a story. A Night to Remember became the ultimate resource for Titanic buffs. It was a best-seller when it came out in 1955, and again in 1999 after the success of the film Titanic.

Walter Lord said that one of his goals for A Night to Remember was "to get across the point that wealth, position, rank and the like have very little to do with whether a person is good or bad, quick or slow, brave or perhaps not so brave. We get all that somewhere else.''

Making an analogy to Ultrarunning--forget about "...good or bad, quick or slow," let's focus on the "brave or perhaps not so brave" and talk about bravery in Ultrarunning.

Bravery is going out, not for that last loop, but for the next-to-last loop. For me, that's the ultimate test, more so than the last loop.

Bravery is running through pain, the kind of pain that hurts but will not result in a chronic injury (i.e., blisters will heal, but to try to run, say, through severe knee pain in the joint, is stupid).

Bravery is running alone at 4:00 am on a cold, windy winter morning.  I'm not alluding to confronting any physical danger of getting assaulted, or of freezing to death on a trail.  No, this bravery concerns leaving a warm bed to pursue a long-term goal.

Bravery is setting an A-list goal for yourself and doing what it takes to achieve it.

Bravery is not running when your family needs you.

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