Saturday, 3 March 2012

Kyle Skaggs, The Tramp and The Squirrels.

A dear friend relayed to me a wonderful story the other day. As she had walked in Hyde Park she saw a man, obviously homeless, slowly walk and sit at the base of a tree. In his hand was a brown paper bag. Now preconceptions would determine that inside the bag would be alcohol, glue or something equally bad for ones health. As he opened the bag, she quickly saw that, in fact, it contained nuts. She watched entranced as, one by one, first a single squirrel, but quickly followed by many more, appeared from the branches above, approached the unkempt man and ate the nuts held in his hand. They did so without fear. It was immediately obvious to her that this was not a solitary one off action, but one which he carried out regularly. The squirrels were his friends.

I listened intently. I was impressed, but not surprised she had stood and watched. In these days of hustle and bustle it is all too easy for people to fail to notice these commonplace acts of pure, innocent beauty, to be too wrapped up in the everyday pressures of aspiration and material gain. As she finished the story and commented on this man who had nothing, we both reached the same conclusion. Did he actually have nothing or did he, in fact, have everything?

Kyle Skaggs has, since my return to running, been a big inspiration to me. Part of the new breed of U.S ultrarunners with his brother, Eric, and Anton Krupicka, that made long distance trail running cool. With minimalist ideas to, not just running, but to life, they echoed the views and ethos that I had arrived at over my journey to make sense of this crazy, but wonderful world. I marvelled at his performance in the 2008 Hardrock 100, and how he'd based himself for the proceeding months of the race at Silverton, Colorado and constantly ran sections of the course, aiming to beat the race record. The Hardrock is, perhaps, the hardest 100 mile race in the United States, if not the world. With 34,000 ft of elevation and equal amount of descent , all at an average elevation of 11,000, it is certainly a major test. That year Kyle made history, with arguably one of the best ever utlradistance performances ever. He finished the race in a time of 23hrs 20m, becoming the first (and so far only) man to complete the race in under 24hrs. In doing so he beat the course record, held by another ultra legend, Scott Jerek, by an amazing 2hrs 45mins. I followed sporadic performances over the next couple of years, then he seemed to just disappear.

In these modern days of  virtual communication, it is very rare for an elite athlete, especially with the pressure of sponsors to appease, to have no presence on the internet. As far as I could tell Kyle had no facebook page, no twitter feed and no blog. Frustrating as it was for people interested in his running, it was also liberating. Here was someone who seemed to be untouched by the need to massage his ego, to not feel compelled to tell people what training he was doing and what races he was competing in. I came across snippets that he was organic farming in New Mexico, which appears were true. A couple of days ago I stumbled across the article at the start of this blog.

It is all so easy to pigeon hole ones running and take pride in times, places and performances. It is easy to enjoy the interaction with nature on the paths and trails, but to disregard this love in an holistic sense in life and everyday actions- to refuse to see the negative connection between such things as driving or flying great distances to be part of this beauty. To buy less and ethically, to shun transport utilising fossil fuels, to just be more respectful to our mother earth should all be part and parcel of enjoying nature. It's not easy, just as ploughing by horse instead of tractor isn't..... but it's right. For that, Kyle, I salute you. An inspiration.

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