Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Charlie Sheen Tragedy and Ultrarunning

When someone is out of control and self-destructing, oftentimes we see three different types of witnesses to the tragedy unfolding. The first kind instigates the out-of-control behavior by serving as an antagonist. The more craziness they see, the more craziness they provoke, and so they in effect aid and abet in the self-destruction. Then there's the person who just stands by and watches, kind of a voyeur if you will. This person is really quite useless no matter how dismayed they may appear. The last kind is the person who tries to step in and rescue the individual who is self-destructing, or at least call for help.

We're seeing this with Charlie Sheen. The (morally bankrupt) media is provoking Charlie Sheen, who is clearly unraveling, is authoring his own self-destruction and desperately needs help. But guess what? The media doesn't care and it's not going to help. It just wants ratings. Then there's Mr. and Mrs. TV Watcher, who are just standing by observing mostly because there's little any of us can do except turn off the tube. Only no one's turning off their TV; we want to see this train-wreck. That leaves the individuals who want to help Charlie Sheen...his family, his friends. But, really, where are they?

We've seen this movie over and over and over again. It plays out not only on TV with celebrities from Charlie Sheen to Brittany Spears to Lindsey Lohan, but also in our personal lives, in our families, in the workplace and elsewhere. Lots of times it's not just the individual who harms themselves; many around them are also hurt. I hurt for Charlie Sheen, but mostly for his family.

Why do I care about what we're seeing with Charlie Sheen? Because I'm raising my son in this world.

Which brings me to the point of this post. This is a cruel world in which we live. Look at what's happening in Wisconsin with all the hate-mongering, or what happened in Tucson a few months ago. Look at what's happening daily in Washington, DC with all the finger-pointing. The murders reported daily. The nasty comments people spew at each other. Aggressive drivers. Racism. Hate speech and crimes. Labels. Etc.

In a world like this, it's easy to see why ultrarunning has such a huge appeal. It's an escape from a sick, sick world that, frankly, could use a trail run as a mental health break.

Ultrarunning removes you from the world, if only temporarily, placing you in an environment so incredibly different than the place we live in day in and day out. When you're in an ultra event, you forget about bills that need to be paid. You don't care about what's on the TV tonight. All of a sudden the ills of the world don't matter. It's just you and nature, you and the finish line, you and the next aid station, you and your crew, you and that happy volunteer. You are in the moment. And what a moment it is. Nothing else matters.

When you've gone 100 or more miles, you begin to see the world differently. Nothing is the same again. And those who haven't gone the distance could never understand this.

So it's not surprising that ultrarunning, and really long-distance running in general, is quite cleansing and reinvigorating.

If only more people got that. Maybe more people are getting it. There is, after all, a reason behind all these race sell-outs. People are escaping from the world.

Maybe Charlie Sheen should join us.


  1. Umm ... so I get what you are saying ... but...

    I think it is very human (natural) for us to watch stories of success and failure. In other words, we like stories of all sorts.

    And while I get what you are saying about ultras, while not all roads lead to Rome, there are many roads to Rome.

  2. I get what you're saying, GZ, but I think what's pushing society over the tipping point from "natural" to unnatural interest in stories is the obsession with fame and celebrity. I haven't seen what's up w/ Sheen, but I understand people are eating it up. So, I agree, we do like stories, but there are far better stories than Sheen's mental illness. Allow me to VERY strongly recommend the book Unbroken, the story of Olympic distance runner and WWII POW Louis Zamperini. Now that's a story worth investing some time.

  3. George: Agreed that are many roads that do lead to Rome. I didn't make that point well enough. My post would suggest that running 100 miles is the only way. I do think running the Peaks Peak Marathon (a dream race of mine only it's on LT100 weekend!) is one such way to enlightenment :)!

    The point I was trying to make is that ultrarunners and trail runner have a unique view of the world and, frankly, we're very harmless to the world (as are many other folks out there--not just runners) versus those who eat up stories like Charlie Sheen and perpetuate voyeuristic living that is really quite unhealthy and destructive. I believe if more people ran trails this would be a much happier, healthy and safer world :).

    Jim: My wife read Unbroken and loved it. It's on my list!


  4. I agree - the fascination with other people's rise to fame or their fall from it is misguided. I have told folks - make your own album. I mean, be your own rock star, your own book character ... it makes for a better story than worrying about someone else's.

    In terms to different roads ... Wyatt, I meant even outside of running. It could be a musical instrument, riding a horse, studying physics ...

  5. Exactly. My wife rides horses and gets a great escape from it. Same with art, bird watching, hiking, traveling, etc.