Western States Widows

My answer to Western States Widow in the last Ask An Ultrarunner synchroblog didn’t sit well with at least one of the readers of this blog.

Dear Ask An Ultrarunner:

I must take exception to your response to “Western States Widow” (April 20, 2010). Your response is presumptuous, selfish, and insulting, and lacks a true sensitivity to and understanding of her predicament.

No self-respecting wife (husband) would ever forbid her husband (his wife) from training for a race as prestigious as WS, because we recognize the joy and sense of accomplishment such an experience can bring. However, your response so egregiously ignores the need for balance in a relationship, I submit the following:

First, in suggesting she cut her husband some slack because “running WS is a big goal” that takes “time and energy” for which to prepare, you fail to recognize that she herself may have her own goals, ambitions, and projects which are equally important and perhaps even more time-consuming than training for WS. Running WS is a year-round obsession and spouses could very well suffer burn-out at a higher rate than the runner as her own work and accomplishments are over-looked by a well-meaning, and by all other standards, wonderfully remarkable, but completely oblivious spouse.

In addition to this, not all spouses are evidently as understanding and accommodating as your own, and huge props to her for accompanying you on your escape week-ends in the woods. Again, you have presented the assumption the spouse has the energy, time or inclination to cater to her husband’s training schedule when in reality, very few spouses could afford time away from the office or family to travel to a training camp where the focus has nothing to do with an equal relationship between partners, but is about only serving one partner’s interest. If the point is for partners to spend more time together– true time and quality time– I fail to see how a training camp would support this endeavor, especially if the partner-not-in-training’s only roles are as chauffeur and cook.

Often, as you indicate, there is a danger inherent in time spent apart in a relationship. If a spouse chooses not to spend time in blind support of her husband (or his wife), which is what I believe you are suggesting, or simply cannot, given the demands on his or her own time, what will be the future of that relationship? There is a point where blind obsession is entirely detrimental and serves no purpose, even in pursuit of belt buckles.

In closing, I beg you to re-examine your reasoning, and address with more sympathy and circumspect thinking the plight of the “Western States Widow.”

Sincerely yours,

Thanks for your response, C.  I can see I hit a nerve with you.  Have you ever seen one of those belt buckles that we pursue?  Perhaps you’d feel differently if you had your own.  Or not.

I probably shouldn’t offer any kind of marital advice because I’ve only had one spouse for the last 23 years.   I think I’ll let the readers answer this one – if they dare.  Who is more selfish, the WS runner who spends time training for the race or the WS widow who demands that his/her running spouse spend less time training and more with the widow?


  1. Wow… Craig, you got yourself into a sticky situation with this post, I think it wise of you to shut your mouth and let others answer for you.

    I can only speak from personal experience but as an amateur ultra runner with two kids and a wonderful wife I see both sides of this issue.

    My training, although modest (30-50 mile per week), occupies a lot of time. Time away from the kids, wife and responsibilities that I probably should pay more attention to. However my wife is VERY understanding, but there is a limit to that understanding. When my passion starts to have adverse effects on my family she looses all concern for my passion and lets me know it with a series of sighs, disapproving glances and a general disconcern for me. As she should, my ultra running is a very selfish hobby, and there is no room for selfishness when you have kids, mortgage, etc.

    I guess that bottom line is (for me anyway), I have lots of years of running left in me and since I’m not a super competative runner anyway, I don’t see the point in disturbing the balance for the buckle.

    That is where guys like you come in, despite what C. says, you and your attitude towards WS and WS widow’s is absolutely necessary for the survival of thousands of us WS wanna-bee’s. When the kids are grown I will get my buckle (WS 2017, here I come), until then, I will live my WS life vicariously through your post and stories.

    Thanks for the inspiration, keep it up, some of us (and our spouses) are counting on you!

  2. LB,
    With a name like White Trash, you would expect me to have some pearls of wisdom to dispense about relationships. I know better.

    But, congrats on 23 years of matrimony! I myself am only at 15, but it’ll be 16 come May 21 if anyone would like to go in on flowers with me, or otherwise congratulate Bev on sticking with me if you see her at the Peace Run. Another thing you have in your favor over me on this matter, is that you’ve hit 23 years while still living in Eugene, where there’s lots of people faster than you and smarter than you, and then there’s all the men! I on the other hand, brought my betrothed to Red Bluff where the competition is less fierce. If you study Anthropology or Evolutionary Biology, you could probably draw a conclusion about how much better you are than me.

  3. As a former All American athlete of my own, I am much more competitive than most people and understand the need for endorphins. Believe me, endorphins are my drug of choice, too. Yet, after dating a passionate super competitive ultrarunner for 4 years, I came to the conclusion that most of the super competitive runners are really addicted to running. Often this addition is very dangerous. Failed relationships, misplaced values, lack of job security, etc. I have seen too many ultra runners justify their narcissistic behavior with the idea that running is healthy. A glass of red wine is healthy. Two bottles a night are not so healthy. Do you know the difference?

    My former boyfriend took his life. He choose running over everything, friends, commitments, family, jobs, etc. When an injury forced him to limit running, he couldn’t handle it. Tread carefully and appreciate your family… In the end, it relationships that matter..

    • Suicide is not that simple of an issue, rather than condemn may I suggest compassion for those for whom life is so painful that they choose death as the best option for escape from what could very well have been years of struggle against anxiety, hopelessness and emotional isolation.

      • @compassionate friend,

        I don’t mean to condemn, rather to plead the need for this ultra running community to choose wisely and be aware of your decisions in life and how they affect other people, including one’s own self. Be careful in glorifying your elite, least they may feel they are immune to any weaknesses – since they feel they are superhuman athletes. The Ultra community, by nature, includes more addicted like personalities. Running can be an addition that can destroy your relationships, your family, your career, etc just like any the addiction. If you have members in your community that are addicted to running, show them compassion and encouragement in seeking balance in their lives. The WS buckle is not the holy grail..

        • @Title9Baby, This post thread is a very thoughtful and, I think, profound one. The points raised herein are quite real and while the example of Dave Terry’s tragic suicide is perhaps the most poignant, I know of many other stories of runners who have found refuge from their addictions in running and simultaneously fueled their addictive tendencies. It is a fine balance for many of us, myself included. I truly dread the thought of the day when I can no longer run 100 miles. I know it will come someday but for now, like many addicts, I am in denial of that reality. I do not wish to glorify my addiction to running and while I know that I often poke fun at myself and others in this wonderful sport, there is profound truth and wisdom in the words of title9baby written above. If we can learn anything about ourselves in this sport of extreme excess it would be to know our limits and our weaknesses and to vigilantly prepare for the fact that our running, just like everything else, will one day come to an end. The most fortunate among us will have control over that eventuality but most of us will not. At that time, the “Western States Widows” in our lives will perhaps have their most important crewing assignment of all!

    • @Title9Baby, Very sorry your boyfriend took his own life. The ultrarunning community also felt this loss, but each one of us in our own way. Since Dave’s passing, I have thought a lot about what life will be like for me after reaching my goal of 10 WS finishes, especially if I wasn’t able to run anymore. I believe that having other interests outside ultrarunning, and a supportive spouse, will help any emptiness I may feel. I agree with compassionate friend that suicide is a complicated issue, and one I wish we could talk about. Why is it such a taboo subject?

  4. I feel the need to comment, but what can I seriously say knowing that when I post the cookie monster image I selected over a year ago will show up as my profile picture. I admire CM for his ability to quickly consume mass amounts of cookies without getting sick. I find pleasure in seeing him fully indulge himself in his passion without regret. Life is complicated, and I find his singular focused pursuit grounding, and sometimes I need that. Like CM I get a lot of pride and self identity from my running, but I worry that I need running as title9baby pointed out. I think a lot of us find our passion in our jobs, sports, or eating cookies then just dive in ignoring the other parts of our life. One of the more touching WS race reports I remember reading was about a guy sobbing as he had to drop out, not so much because he couldn’t finish but because he knew his family had given up so much for him to enter. We all have unique personal situations, but I think buckles, miles, and faster times are not always the healthy choice or the choice that takes the most strength.

  5. When I was a boy, the movie, Brian’s Song, never failed to get me and the whole family shedding tears during its final scenes. Year after year. It didn’t matter that after we saw the movie the first time we knew what was coming. I was so interested in the story that I checked out the book it was based on from the local public library.

    Those of you familiar with this story of football running back legend, Gale Sayers, and his teammate and friend, Brian Piccolo, who ultimately died of cancer, despite a valiant fight to defeat it, may remember the title of this book, I Am Third.

    In it Sayer’s, “The Kansas Comet” writes:

    God is First
    My family and friends are Second
    And I am Third

    I can’t help but admire that line of thinking, that truly selfless prioritizing of values, although I do think I can put friends and family and myself before God a lot of times.

    Obviously, Gale Sayers was an ultra running back but not an ultra runner.

    I imagine it is difficult for any serious ultrarunner to live up to that “I am Third” part. It is for me, sometimes.

    The transition to an ultrarunning life puts definite stress on the most loving of families, not to mention, I imagine, the maintenance of such a life year after year, unless it’s one’s spouse’s passion to go along for the ride as well (I think a rarity). And add kids, young kids, to the mix and that just makes it even more challenging.

    Not everyone is fortunate to have a family like a mere handful of ultrarunners may have, dedicated in mind, body and soul to the cause, even if our family’s may be loving and wonderful in other ways.

    I’ve learned that it’s a delicate balance, and firmly know that if it ever is a choice between continuing this lifestyle and keeping my marriage and family happy and in tact, ultrarunning for me will have to become a thing of the past. It doesn’t mean running would have to go entirely, just that large commitment of time and money to it that goes along with it now.

    Thank you for all of the thoughtful comments on this post, especially the letter above that Craig had the courage to publish to start it all.

Leave a Comment