Last Saturday morning, while most of us were asleep, Kilian Jornet and Jason Schlarb decided to run across the Hardrock 100 finish line holding hands. They tied for first place in one of the most famous ultramarathons in the world, instead of straining to sprint during the final feet of the race so one of them could cross the finish line first.
They took a competition, something one person is supposed to “win,” shrugged and said, hey buddy, that was fun running with you for 80 of 100 miles, I guess we might as well keep it fun and finish together.
You could call it good sportsmanship, or refer to the often-cited maxim “winning isn’t everything,” or talk about the spirit of ultrarunning, or how it was such a cool thing for those two guys to do. Here’s what I saw: Two guys who realized that a human experience is more important than winning. After hanging out with each other for about 18 of 23 consecutive hours, neither one of them wanted to ruin a great moment by sprinting to the finish and making the story all about himself.
Right now, you’re probably aware that the United States is a very politically charged place, and a lot of us are being assholes to each other because of it. We want to divide everyone we know into two groups: Us and Them, and no matter which side you’re on, you wish the other side would just be reasonable instead of being such idiots. Almost no one is listening to anyone because we want there to be only two clear sides to every situation, and one side will win and the other will lose. There is right and wrong, and no room for nuance or a grey area. It’s never a conversation, only a debate or an argument.
Around the 70-mile mark in the Hardrock 100 last Saturday morning, Jason Schlarb told Kilian Jornet that it would be an honor if Jornet would wait for him and finish together, since they’d run a lot of the race together. Jornet said it was “logical” to finish together, after running together since after the halfway point. Both of them were this close to winning, and for some reason, neither of them had a problem with the idea of not being crowned champion of the 2016 race. They were just two guys out for a run together, turning in the second-fastest time ever on the course, and at the very least, not being jerks to each other in the name of competition.
One friend of mine says ultrarunning is more about a bunch of people running together than about racing against each other, and I don’t know if everyone sees it that way. But last Saturday, those two guys looked at each other and didn’t see competition, but what they had in common. And that might be a good lesson for all of us right now.