Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Mon, 14 Dec 1998 23:39:06 -0500

Doing Right

(from RC 279)

Sometimes it's better to do right than to do well. John Trent did the right thing, and it cost him the running goal that he'd looked toward for the past year.

I saw the reformed sportswriter, who now works for the University of Nevada, last June in Reno. He was training for the Western States 100, where he wanted nothing more than to erase the final two minutes that stood between him and a sub-24-hour race the year before.

After not seeing his name in Ultrarunning's list of finishers, I e-mailed him to ask his result. He wrote right back.

"As you have probably heard," John began, "conditions in the high country this year were rough -- 24 miles of snow and ice." This caused another runner to slip into a well left by a fallen tree, and he couldn't get out alone.

John could have gone on and let someone else act as good samaritan. But without thinking of possible consequences to himself, he stopped, and while assisting he twisted his own knee. This happened just 12 miles into the race.

"At the time it didn't hurt," he recalled. "But as the race went along, my knee started bothering me quite a bit."

He still managed to continue for more than half a day. But by 75 miles he could barely bend the knee, and at 78 he finally surrendered to it.

"Ironically," he said, "even after all the snow to start the race, even after limping for my last 10 miles, I was still on 24-hour pace."

This gave him more reason to replay Western States '98 in his mind than if he had finished and met his time goal. Lots of his thinking second-guessed the decision to stop and help the stranded runner, and its cost to himself.

"We runners pride ourselves on being ethical people," he said. "I don't know if I would feel very good about myself if I had left that poor guy struggling to get up and out of the tree well on his own."

He added, "What I did wasn't an extraordinary act of selflessness. Most of the runners I know-- including five-time Western States champion Tim Twietmeyer, who's a great guy by the way, a true champion in every sense of the word -- would've done the same thing. Bottom line: Runners are normally good people, and the majority of us help each other whenever we can."

John did right, and now he knows it. "The more I've thought about it," he wrote, "the more I've come to the conclusion that sometimes in running you don't have to finish the race to be successful."

This isn't to say, though, that the dropout didn't gnaw at him for a long time afterward. He admitted to "moping around the house for a month or so."

Finally his wife, Jill, pulled him out of the funk by asking a pointed question: "Well, you're going to run Western States again, aren't you?"

"Definitely!" he answered.

John finished his letter to me by noting, "Every run is a discovery, and my experience this year at Western States has only heightened my motivation to get to the finish line in one piece next year -- and hopefully under 24 hours once and for all."

This year he earned his points for doing right. Next year he gets another chance to do well.

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