Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Craft Mentality…and Ultrarunning

In the early years of the UltraList, I saved some goodies. This one comes from 1999, and was authored by Raymond Zirblis, who may still be on the List.
I don’t know Ray, and am stealing this, with grateful credit to him.

My post is likely going to sound like the grousing of an old man who is grumpy about the faced-paced speed of society, who may fear being left behind. I hope it doesn’t, because what I want to emphasize is the value of taking it slow, of paying your dues, as a means to truly understand whatever your passion is.

Basically in Ultrarunning I’ve been seeing that some? many? folks rush things. A typical trajectory has someone come flying into the sport from the marathon (or not), do a 50K and love it, do a 50M and love it, and within a year are tackling a 100 miler. Then the year after that are feeling dissed when they are not granted entry into Badwater or Barkley.  They may burn out and leave the sport within a couple years, an are heard from no more.

Another analogy I like to use is the value of a long dating period or courtship before two folks move in together or get married. Seems to me that you need to see your prospective partner at their best and at their worst. This can only come thru the sheer passage of time, which uncovers various situations, whatever life throws at you, which you both handle (or not).

How about yet another example: the Amazing Race seems to throw a very harsh light on relationships in stressful situations. Getting to see what your partner is really made of may not be a pleasnat experience.

Now let’s see what Ray had to say about "craft mentality". His thoughts were largely directed to the sport of climbing, but equally apply to Ultrarunning.

I suppose that with climbing I am most annoyed by the short cuts which the last twenty years of technological advances allow people to take. There are plenty of people out there who climb grade six ice but couldn't self arrest on a medium snow slope with a heavy pack on. I was climbing in the 'Daks a few winter's back, and a guy came up to me at my car and asked, "How much does it cost to get into this sport?"

I have tended to approach climbing and running, and many other things in my life, with a craft mentality. I am aware of the traditions, the history, the people I've served 'apprenticeships' with, and the inherited and constantly re-developing ethics and code of conduct of the craft.

The poet Galway Kinell was once asked about when he became a poet, and his reply was interesting. He said that the title 'poet,' is one of the last in our culture still conferred by others on a person. He said that, for good or bad, society is full of people who 'title' themselves, often bypassing the work and tradition of an endeavor in doing so. I am all for an individual constructing his or her own identity, but I see his point. In being 'titled,' one is also entitled: as a mountaineer, I felt the pride in and responsibility of that craft, and was entitled to- earned and enjoyed- respect, (that is, the respect which counts, that of a few friends and comrades.) I find a similar trajectory for myself with running.

I don't have a firm answer for myself, but value the craft approach and the discipline and solid honesty of putting the time in. I know that I am giving my life to the things I love. And that is, to me, what the craft approach is about, giving one's life. In return,...maybe...sometimes, one achieves moments of insight into and far beyond the activity itself.

Bottom line: go slow. Savor the moment. Pay your dues. Bring a craft mentality to Ultrarunning.

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