Dance with the one that brung ya

By Gary Griffin

There’s a cliché in team sports: “You gotta dance with the one that brung ya’.” Translated, that means you don’t make changes to your team or your strategy late in the season. Whatever and whoever worked to get you this far, stick with it. I now know that this theory applies to the very “unteam-like” sport of ultrarunning.

This past Saturday found me in the 4 a.m. darkness of Ft. Pickens State Park near Pensacola, preparing to embark on another mind-numbing adventure through a portion of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the annual Pennar 40 Mile Run. I had no business being there, and a mere 6 days before had told race director Andy Williams that I was OUT. As in NOT IN. I was mentally and physically tired, and have run Pennar often enough to know that it will eat you up and spit you out if you are not ready on both fronts. I often tell folks: “Pennar is the kind of run that can make you quit – not just for that day or for the next week, but forever.” The heat, coupled with the hours of having to face that monster alone, can etch some bad memories into your mind. Oh – but the feeling of joy upon finishing!! Finishing. That’s why I kept going back. But not this year. No way.

So why was I standing at that starting line? Because my friend Dana Stetson, who was primed to win Pennar this year as he has done before, found himself unable to attend. Instead of standing at the starting line, he was standing at his mother’s graveside, mourning her death after a valiant fight against an overpowering disease. The only way I was going to get through Pennar was to think of Dana and use lessons learned in other ultras, i.e., run within myself, and not get carried away early. In other words, apply the basic math of long distance running: NS + P = RFM. Nothing stupid plus patience equals relentless forward motion. Relentless forward motion will usually succeed, because in the words of a seasoned ultrarunner: “No distance is too far if you’ve got the time.”

Pennar always provides lessons and this year’s was this: wisely using the tools at your disposal instead of trying to manufacture something that isn’t in your arsenal can work wonders. “Dance with the one that brung ya’.” The next class starts at 4 a.m. early next June at Ft. Pickens.