Are Ultrarunners Narcissistic and Self-Centered?

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My friend Jason recently posted a heartfelt and honest article about his journey with ultrarunning. Jason has just started working for UPS, a physically demanding job that has left him embarrassed about the self-centered aspects of his running.

His post brought to light several points that I have tried to make on my own blog over the past few months, so I thought it was worth a reply.

Read Jason’s post about The Narcissism of Running.

Here are my five thoughts on the subject:

1. You can tell who the narcissists are.

People come in all shapes, sizes, and intentions. Yes, there are people who run with a “Look at me!” attitude. But there are others who do it humbly, graciously, and with a giving spirit. It’s easy to pick out the narcissists:

  • A narcissist will tout his own accomplishments. A humble runner will call out the accomplishments of others.
  • A narcissist is all about bragging on social media, and will hijack the posts of others to report their own (irrelevant) mileage. A humble runner will use social media to inspire and encourage others toward their goals.
  • A narcissist will speed by his competitors whenever possible. A humble runner will encourage the people he passes, and motivate them to follow.
  • A narcissist will be eager to offer you advice you didn’t ask for, and assume you are much less accomplished than they are. A humble runner will relate to you on your level.
  • A narcissist will make excuses for their failures. They will blame the course, the volunteers, the RD, or just say they weren’t trying very hard. A humble runner learns from his mistakes.
  • A narcissist says “Look what I did!” A humble runner says, “If I can do it, so can you.”

A few examples:

a) At Ridgecrest 50K this year, my friend Shawna was having a low point when Raul passed her. Raul kept waving her along, gesturing her to follow him, and that’s how they got to the finish line together. Shawna PR’d her 50K that day.

b) Ed Ettinghausen runs countless 100s and is always on hand to wait for and cheer the last runner on the course. Those who have run 100s know how gross and tired you feel after you cross the finish line. All you want to do is change your clothes, take a shower, and pass out. You’re suddenly cold and miserable. Everything hurts. Now imagine sitting around for hours after that, in your own filth and fatigue, waiting for the very last runner to come in. Imagine cheering for them loudly and genuinely, a person you don’t even know. That’s Ed.

c) At the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 this year, the winner of the race, Jamil Coury, was trotting along when he came across an elderly couple on the side of the road with a flat tire. He stopped running to make sure they were OK, and ended up taking several minutes to change their tire in the middle of the course. The couple was later shocked to learn that he was racing, since he took his time to make sure they were cared for and never complained about the delay.

d) Jesse Haynes was in first place (and went on to win) the San Juan 50K this year when he passed Shelly and me. We were lost and obviously in the wrong place ahead of him. He stopped dead in his tracks to help us and offer directions, not hesitating to break his stride for a couple of clueless runners.

e) At last year’s Ridgecrest 50K, I was crashing in the final miles. I was walking and feeling sorry for myself when Catra Corbett powered past me and yelled, “Let’s go, girl! We got this!” I ran after her. I crossed the finish line right behind her with a new PR, a sub-6 finish. And I got an award for first in my age group.

2. Ultrarunning is a community.

As cheesy as it sounds, we are a family. That’s why for Shacky and I, it’s important to attend races even when we’re not running. This is where volunteering, trail work, and cheering/crewing/pacing play an important role. There’s always work to be done at an ultra, and there are always runners who could use some motivation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not your race. It’s somebody’s race. So you show up for them. You show up for the race directors who have too much to do. You show up for the volunteers who are tired, cold, and sleep-deprived. You show up for your friends who are running. For the runner whose pacer didn’t show. For the newbie without a crew. You just show up.

Although Shacky and I love to joke about sitting around drinking beer at ultras (and there’s a lot of that too), it’s equally important to me that we jump when there’s work to be done. I was proud at one race when Shacky had to drop out at an aid station, and ended up hanging out there to volunteer, pack up the aid station, and lift all the heavy objects because he noticed the volunteers were older than he was.

When I think about this sport, I imagine the passing of a baton. So many of these older guys have put in their time. They have forged the trails for us (sometimes literally). They have put in the hours of trail work, the volunteer time, and have set a humble example for us. Now we are the ones who are young, able, and on fresh legs. It’s time to get off our asses and make these events happen.

3. It’s not really about the running.

I totally agree with Jason that the running itself is pretty unimpressive and pointless. But it was never really about the running. It’s about the way a runner feels when they finish their first ultra. It’s about that realization when you cross the finish line at a 100-miler, that you actually are capable of anything you set your mind to.

It’s that sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and empowerment that spills over into every other aspect of your life. It makes you hold your head up higher, gives you courage to shed those toxic relationships, inspires you in your career, helps you raise your family better, and motivates you to live healthfully and happily. That’s why I run ultras, and why I encourage others to do so.

The physical act of covering random mileage is indeed senseless. But knowing for a fact that your body and mind are capable of far more than you thought—that is life changing.

4. You’re not as awesome as you think you are.

The runners with the most experience tend to be the most humble. That’s because they know that no matter what, there’s always someone who is faster. Someone who has run further, or who is injured less.

With ultrarunning, you never know who you’re talking to, so never brag about yourself. For all you know, the person you’re talking to runs your weekly mileage in one day. Or they’re a world record-holder. You can never tell by looking at them. So avoid looking like an idiot, and shut your mouth.

5. “I chose this.”

At Javelina Jundred, I came up with the mantra “I chose this,” to express a lot of what Jason is talking about. So many people in this world suffer to support their families. To put food on the table. Just to survive.

Some people suffer aches and pains to give their children a good life. If I suffer aches and pains, it’s because I’m running in the mountains. If I’m sore, it’s because I spent all day doing something I love. I am fortunate beyond belief, and appreciating that is so important. I chose this.

3 RDs to Give Back To

If you want to give back but don’t know where to start, here are three Race Directors who have embraced the humble spirit of ultrarunning, and could use a few extra hands.

1. Steve Harvey: California

Steve is a well-loved and important part of the ultra community in Southern California. He directs Chimera 100, Old Goat 50, and Nanny Goat 100/24Hr/12Hr. If you want to hang out with the best runners and the best volunteers, these are the races to hit up. Don’t worry if you’re a new volunteer. You will learn far more than what you can possibly contribute, and the experience will be rewarding.

Here is my race report from this year’s Chimera 100.

Race website:

2. Matt Gunn: Utah

Matt is the Race Director for Zion 100 and Bryce 100. He is a talented runner, down to earth, and eager to share his love for Utah’s spectacular trails. For jaw-dropping beauty, it’s hard to beat the trails that Matt plays on.

Last year was the inaugural Zion 100 run for Matt, and this year (April 2013) the course is even better. Shacky and I are both registered.

Newer races are always in need of help, so there are countless ways to volunteer for these. One thing Zion 100 was short on last year was pacers. Because so many people were coming from out of town, there was a huge need.

Pacing is single-handedly the most rewarding way to “volunteer”. Truthfully, you get far more out of the experience than you can give back. Zion 100 allows pacers as early as 30 miles, and I’d strongly recommend the pacing experience.

Here is a great article on how to be a good pacer: Part I, Part II

Race websites:

3. Jeremy Dougherty: Arizona

This year, Jeremy launched the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100. We had the privilege of helping out at the race and saw first-hand Jeremy’s passion and work ethic. Jeremy is a younger race director, eager to give of himself to put on an unforgettable event.

Like many new RDs, Jeremy took a financial loss to put on this event. It was a true labor of love. He describes the logistics of Mogollon here—a recommended read.

The Mogollon is a beautiful but brutal course in need of some helping hands. It’s worth getting involved with this one.

Race website:

So What’s the Verdict?

Are we really all just a bunch of attention whores?

Perhaps some of us are.

But in this sport, there is just as much opportunity to be giving, humble, and truly make a difference in someone else’s life.

RELATED ARTICLES:

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra (When You Can)

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100

Why You Should Stop Rationalizing Running

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14 responses

  1. So well stated! I really enjoyed reading this! It put into words what I know as truth. I have just started running ultras, but I have been taken in and encouraged by those experiences runners I have met. Thank you!

  2. I loved your post and ultimately as a community, I have to say no… I was unwittingly thrust into the world of ultras and learned from the inside out.

    The ultra community has rallied around our little nonprofit and lifted it to new heights. Our kids love their ultra friends and more and more I see our little runners not aspiring to a run a marathon, but to someday be an ultrarunner like _______ <–insert name of awesome runner here.

    Thank you for this fabulous article, and thank you to this amazing family of runners. I am a fan. :)

  3. Vanessa, I love this post! I’ve asked myself this question many a time. Your line, “t was never really about the running. It’s about the way a runner feels…” resonates with me because it’s something that I’ve said! The feeling I get from racing is like no other. The accomplishments are meaningful because I am testing myself, yes against others, but also against my own fears and doubts that I can do what I’ve set out to achieve. And I do sometimes feel guilty that I GET to do this because my husband has a good job and we can afford it. But I think even if we had no money, I’d still find a way. Keep on rocking, girl!

  4. Beautiful summary, thank you Vanessa. This is the full circle moment for every ultra runner I hope….when you no longer need to rack them up, talk about them incessantly, and live in the stench of your own perceived deity. When you can accept yourself and others, and your success or failure, and run them or not, and it’s all good as long as you are honoring yourself and the earth and others…no matter where they are on their journey. The spirit of UR for me is summed up completely in one word: acceptance. You and Shacky have been inspiring me and others…keep living simply and leaving blessings wherever you roam. And if you ever make it to this coast again, I’d love to have an adventure with ya.

  5. Reblogged this on Running The Cape 2012 and commented:
    “.. running itself is pretty unimpressive and pointless. But it was never really about the running. It’s about the way a runner feels when they finish their first ultra. It’s about that realization when you cross the finish line at a 100-miler, that you actually are capable of anything you set your mind to.

    It’s that sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and empowerment that spills over into every other aspect of your life. It makes you hold your head up higher, gives you courage to shed those toxic relationships, inspires you in your career, helps you raise your family better, and motivates you to live healthfully and happily. That’s why I run ultras, and why I encourage others to do so.”
    ~ Vanessa Runs

  6. So true. To me there’s little as offensive as an ultra runner who’s forgotten to be humble. They’re the ones who argue with volunteers at aid stations or who grumble when they miss a well-signed turn.

    But for every offensive look at me ultra runner there are ten amazing athletes who put the joy of being out in the wilderness above themselves. They are the ones you talk about in your post. The ones who thank volunteers at aid stations or who remember the struggling runners later when they meet months after the event.

    There’s a couple of ultra runners here in Brisbane, Australia who are amazingn like that. They cheer people on. They wait at the finish line. They pass on their experience to newbies during events. They come to aid station volunteers after the event and thank them for standing out in the weather. One bloke who just ran 50 marathons in 50 days came to me after his achievement and told me he remembered me from an ultra we both ran in July this year. I finished 6th from last taking 7 hours to run 50km. He finished near the front, completing the course in less than 5 hours. For him to remember me after all these months meant the world to me. Because I’m a back of the packer and I remember him cheering me on in the race and he’s an amazing runner (50 marathons in 50 days while also going to work every day is phenomenal). Athletes like that are what make the sport hey :)

  7. I’ll be the Ancient Voice Of The Dead here and say that “no, ultrarunners are not family”. Any more than pistol-enthusiasts, RV’ers, quilters, or MTB’ers.

    These are ALL associations. An association is a group of similarly-minded and focused interest group. You are born into, or marry into, a family—that’s it. Families are composed of people you didn’t choose.

    Finally—the humble runner, is invisible. Does not go out of their way to honk on about being inspirational or set an example. They simply do. Its insanely hard. Sure, if they help somebody, its a natural action. They aren’t posing for their Instagram, tweeting their virtue, updating their Faceblurt, and so on.

    So when you meet some duck in shorts and they’re going on about their good works, they’re an egotistical horse’s ass. Because its all about them.

    Be honest. Nobody here got into ultras to save the world, the seals, raise awareness of sideburns, combat global flatulence, or anything else. We got into it because *I*, *we*, *you* thought it would be pretty damned skippy to see what it was like to run all day in the mountains.

    –Bone Regards, Mr Trail Safety

    http://mrtrailsafety.blogspot.com/

    “Froggy Legs / Gumby Arms / Monkey Mind”
    Notes on The Natural World, Politics, & Ultra-Running TrailPorn®™

    and all-wrong animations at:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/mrtrailesafety

  8. What a great post. I’m here because I’m trying to grapple with the conceit I see in a running friend. I’m happy for her, of course, but as someone with MS for 20 years, I can’t run. All of her FB posts have been about HER accomplishments, HER run. Meanwhile, her children sit home alone. I’m glad this isn’t the norm of runners. Very encouraging to hear.

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