Friday, May 18, 2012

The Big Year: Inspiration takes a rare form


I feel like I'm breaking some sort of blogger-ultra -trail- runner code by acknowledging the existence of mainstream anything, but I love movies. I rent them on a near-nightly basis. I like to think that I actively watch the movies, enjoying how a group of people have collaborated to tell a story and share a message with the world. (I do my best never to call them "films," hipsters).

The other day on ill-planned long run adventure with Jason Robillard, we took a jog of shame from the Boulder Bus Station to my apartment. We talked about finding things to be passionate about in life. If you're familiar with both of us(who am I kidding, we have a remora/shark symbiosis), then you know where our passion lies. Either intentionally or inadvertently, we seldom leave our little, yet global community of running enthusiasts. The people that stand out in my mind as being overtly passionate enough about a hobby to make a lifestyle out of a hobby are nearly all runners. Maybe the cousins of runners - climbers, cyclists, hikers, etc. This can't be a true sample of the world we live in. There must be others out there. We both agreed that it would be a pleasure to experience another indulgence that people build their lives around, one that isn't based around heel/toe differentials or S-caps.

My girlfriend, roommate, and I rented the movie The Big Year, starring Jack Black, Owen Wilson, and Steve Martin. It was my turn to pick, and I love Tenacious D(J. Black's dynamic duo with Kyle Gass). The trailer showed some funny moments and some cool outdoor scenes, so I invested the dollar.

As I watched the story unfold, I couldn't help but identify with the characters. These three men are in different milestones in their lives, but have dropped everything to pursue a passion. The passion? Birding. All three of these guys have decided to embark on a "Big Year," Which is an officially unofficial contest among birders to spot the most species of birds in a calendar year. The lengths the characters go to in a chase for an obscure, prizeless title are astounding. Martin's character retires from his leadership of a fortune 500 company and spends the year flying all over the Western Hemisphere(with the support of his wife and family from home). Owen Wilson's character continuously leaves his wife at home against her wishes while they try to have conceive a child.

What really struck a chord with me was the character Brad Harris, played by Jack Black. An unknown in the world of birding, he decides to give a Big Year a try. He saves up his vacation time from his full time job and gives a wealthy retired man and a dedicated pro a real run for their money. He maxes out his credit cards(and his mother's) in pursuit of a dream that doesn't make sense to the vast majority of the population. He has to reluctantly answer questions like "is there any money in this?" "any recognition?" The answer, of course, is no. Friends and family can't get their heads around this obsession with something that, even with the best outcome, will produce to "real" gains in his life. As the story progresses, Harris shows himself, his family, and the film's audience that to pursue your passion, the passion must be in the pursuit. He becomes engrossed in his travels(with a little cajoling from his supportive mother), finds love, and at the end realizes that the outcome is irrelevant if the journey is pure.


I wouldn't be writing about it if I wasn't moved by the story(that, and it's a day of little running and work today). I sincerely hope that I don't come across as grandiose when I notice parallels in my own life. I recognize that I'm not the best at what I do(run, as far as this blog is concerned). Odds of me being the next Scott Jurek or Geoff Roes are slim to none. Seeing pictures of me puffing on a nebulizer asthma treatment or wearing knee braces reminds me that I have no business even doing what I do, much less improving. I've come to Boulder on a slim budget I've saved from 60hour weeks in a factory, working part time to support myself while I give real training an honest attempt. I want to train in earnest for just one year and see what I'm made of. Medals, times, and weekly miles are measures of success, but I've got a different goal in mind. I want to look back on this time in my life and be able to say that I gave it what I had. As the mileage gets higher(hopefully) and I feel like calling it "good enough," I hope I find the resolve to keep training smart and earnestly. Seeing people that have passions differing from my own, even if it's just in a movie, has helped put things into perspective. Other people may find it foolish, but they aren't the ones who I have to stare at while I brush my teeth.

7 comments:

  1. Not for nothing, but the odds that Roes or Jurek would become Roes or Jurek weren't great. Trail ultrarunning is an unlikely endeavor for unlikely people, and success is had by those willing to chase it. We can't all win Western States, of course, but we can all do some pretty epic shit along the way.

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    1. Agreed. I'm a self saboteur by nature, and my biggest fight in my life is avoiding mistakes of sloth.

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  2. You're an inspiration, Jesse, in running and life in general. Thanks for sharing stuff like this!

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    1. Thanks Luke! My niche in this little hobby of ours might not be dominating races, but hey, if we can help each other lace up our shoes(or sandals or barefeet or whatever), then its all good!

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  3. I loved this movie too. Great review. You might not have the biggest Big Year, but who cares if you get to see an American Pygmy Kingfisher?

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  4. It's all good, but no one has won an ultra marathon while wearing those half-leg ballet tights. That's a natural fact. Science.

    -Great writing these past couple of weeks! The thin air is doing something right to your brain!

    Run on, run long,
    -Pat.

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    1. Are you saying my man-pris are feminine? I thought the brand name, "miss-terious," was just a play on words! Damn, damn, damn.

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