Mt. Wilson

on the way to Mt. Wilson

on the way to Mt. Wilson

I have two friends running Western States this weekend: Maggie Beach & Sheri Okamamoto.

Kista & I will be driving up to Auburn early Sat am to cheer them as they finish.

This year there’ve been record snows up in Squaw Valley. Folks on the Ultralist report that locals cannot remember there having ever been this much snow. The Tevis horse race (from whence WS came) has been postponed this year due to the gnarly weather. (Gnarly is a technical term for hardcore).

This past Sunday, Maggie, Bob, Drew & I decided to forgo the usual run to hike/stroll/meander up to Mt. Wilson. The original idea was a recon run for Mt. Disappointment, which Maggie and I will run in August, but none of us could figure out the maps and opted instead for a gentle stroll, sandwiches at the top, and then back down. The above photo is from that trek. The clouds stretched out below us like a sea. Somewhere underneath all that white are several million Angelinos. We could not see any of them.

There was a moment during the hike up in which the nerves became clear. Maggie’s fear is not so much that she won’t succeed, but that her friends have expectations that are too high, and that we will somehow think less of her if she can’t meet these expectations. She’s afraid of failing us.

I remember my 400 meter days. I never really cared about winning. What mattered to me was that no one beat me. The net effect might be the same, but these come from a very different place. I was never trying to accomplish success but rather trying desperately to not accomplish failure.

I was blessed with the ability I needed to pull it off.

I also remember the enormous relief during my last race, knowing I would never need to do it again. Who would’ve thought that 30 years later I’d be back at it.

I sense a little of this in my friend. In my case, I think it came from fear. In her case, it’s more a need to make a point.

She comes from a conservative midwestern family, where there are clear ideas of what a woman can and cannot do.

Maggie tends to prove her points rather emphatically. One thing a woman can’t do is become an engineer. Engineering is a man’s job. She didn’t just become an engineer. She ended up with a doctorate from Cal Tech, went to work for JPL/NASA, and ended up in Antarctica and authoring papers like “Elemental fractionation in ultraviolet laser ablation sampling of igneous silicate minerals relevant to Mars”. One of her specialties, as I understand it, in Regular Joe terms, is blowing shit up with lasers, which totally sounds like “a man’s job”.

What I learned was that sometimes you can prove a point to the entire world except the person you are trying to prove it to. This is almost always the case when that person is a parent. I was about 40 years old when I realized I was still trying desperately to prove a point to my parents…even though they were dead. It was just what I did.

Maggie sets the bar high for herself. She’s not really a half measures girl. My step father was fond of saying “anything worth doing is worth doing well” and had no tolerance for half-assing stuff. He never complimented anyone for doing a good job because that’s what you were supposed to do. Otherwise, what’s the point in trying? What he would do instead is point out everything that could have been done better, in his opinion, so that the next time you’d be that much closer to getting it right.

He would’ve applauded Maggie’s engineering doctorate. Of course, he would have applauded it in a way that nobody could possibly recognize as applause, but if she was his daughter cranking out papers about Elemental fractionation in ultraviolet laser ablation he probably would have looked up from his newspaper and grunted in admiration.

He would not have understood abandoning that career to become a mother, and, later, a trainer, just as he did not understand my abandoning geology, and later the music business (emphasis, in his mind, on business) for a (ehem) “career” in the arts. He would never understand doing something to make a point, or making career or lifestyle decisions based on ethical or moral concerns, even though one could argue that he did those very things by retiring a decade early when towards the end of his career he was no longer a scientist but a manager whose job it was not to let folks know they were going to get laid off.

5 years ago Maggie took up jogging to get in shape. And now comes Western States. This is a big deal of a race. The entire ultra community seems to have pre race jitters. Maggie, who is relatively new to trails, is running it for the first time. Sheri is running it for the second. Last year, Sheri was one of a number of runners pulled because they did not make a cut-off at one of the aid stations. The problem is they did make the cut-off with plenty of time to spare, and so all those runners pulled were given automatic admission this year.

It’s a race that gets the elite of the elites. Scot Jurek won it 7 times in a row at the peak of his career. Last year was an epic down-to-the-wire contest between Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka. Roess won. This year, Krupicka is out with a recently broken leg.

There have been record snows and the beginning of the race has been changed. Last year the race was won in about 15 hours. The organizers suggest runners add an hour to their calculations due to snow and course changes. Crew access will be limited in the first third of the race due to these changes.

Western States offers up unique challenges, and does so under a spotlight.

Maggie has sent out an email advising friends to be realistic in their expectations. She’s worried we’ll be disappointed if she fails to place. After all, she wins races. Her worst ultra finish is 3rd place, womens. She is emphatic in her email: “I will not win this thing”.

She’s a friend, and a great running partner. She’s much faster and stronger a runner than I am. She’s got nothing to prove to me.

Maggie, Sheri, and all our other friends running Western States – have an awesome race. We will see you at the finish line!

Live coverage, for anyone who is interested, is here:

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