Jess picked up distance running just prior to the Covid pandemic - so of course the logical next step was to spend the past few years becoming an ultra endurance athlete. We sat down with Jess to discuss the similarities between cycling and running culture, and how a community in sport is above all.
At the time of the interview Jess had just raced the black canyon ultra marathon on whim.
Alec: How did black canyon go?
Jess: Well, it was my first DNF (did not finish), lately I've been giving 100% to my work and school, I kinda knew I wasn't where I needed to be with my training. I think for an ultra (marathon) the smart thing to do would have been to just not show up, and part of me deep down knows that I could have just leaned into the suffering and gutted it out to the finish. I went in knowing that my priorities lately have put running at the bottom, because I have so much else going on, so I really went in with the mindset that I was just there to have fun, enjoy the scenery, and spend time with really great people. I was also crewing for a friend the day before
A: Would you classify yourself as someone who just enjoys being there and taking part in the race - or does all the satisfaction come from results?
J: I’ve had a bit of a shift with how I frame running and cycling in my life this year. I’m still really new to everything, and when you're new you have not hit a plateau yet, so you're constantly hitting new numbers and new PR’s since you’re starting at zero, and it's so exciting and it’s all about performance. It’s kinda hard to just put that idea aside for a bit, but realistically, there are just so many other things in my life. I definitely want to give the sport the dedication and respect that it deserves, but at the same time I still want to participate so I just need to have fun with it. So for now it's really about the community and spending time with friends and enjoying the hell out of everything that I’m doing.
A: On the surface you can draw basic connections between cycling and running - they're both endurance sports. Is there something more that draws you to these ultra endurance events or do you just love to suffer?
J: I love that the community is built around people pushing each other to do crazy things, no one's ever satisfied. Most people think a marathon is too long, and that's totally fine, but there's something incredible about being in a community and being surrounded by people who look at their best - and want to do even more. Even though these can be considered solo endeavors, to me it's really about being surrounded by this community and being a part of something bigger than just myself.
A: Do you find that the culture and community of running and cycling are related? Are they different? Do you tend to prefer one over another?
J: I’ve only been in both communities for a few years but I have seen similarities, mostly in how much of themselves people bring to the sport. But, just by nature of the sports themselves, the cultures are pretty different. I was drawn to trail running immediately because it is such a low key, DIY, come as you are kind of space. And cycling, just because there's gear required, you need to learn a lot of things, there's a definite method to it, there's a little more of a barrier to entry - and the culture definitely reflects that.
A: Call it a method or etiquette, sometimes it feels like a set of rules. A lot of cyclists try and play by them, but sometimes, it can be something as small as wearing the right socks…it can definitely be a turn off for a lot of people. Was that the case for you?
J: It's such a weird thing, my first time showing up to a group ride I remember someone roasted me over my socks. I had no idea there's a right sock or a wrong sock, I didn't think anyone would think that sort of thing is important, but apparently in some circles it is.
A: Yea there’s definitely parts of cycling culture that are… let’s say “less inviting”, but that hasn’t seemed to deter you. How did you navigate that when you first started cycling?
J: It’s something I think about a lot because I have had a lot of friends who will reach out to me and say “ hey I just got a bike but I don't know what to do”. For me, I never found anything that was overtly not inviting, but I definitely got roasted a lot when I first started, but I love that sort of thing so I was able to throw it right back at people. Although, for others I know that can be intimidating, and if you're new to something and already not confident that can be something that makes you not want to engage further with that community. I was definitely super lucky when I started riding, because I had some friends and family who taught me all the things I needed to know. So now I definitely spend a lot of my time trying to pay that forward and teach other people how to do stuff. You can watch all the youtube videos and do all the research, but unless you have someone there to show you the ropes it can be really hard to learn that stuff.
A: For sure, every cyclist was in that position at one point or another. I think if people can just take it back to when they first started and remember what it feels like to be new it would definitely be a lot more of an inviting sport.
J: Exactly, and you don't know what you don't know. So you're always learning, and I’m definitely still learning, especially with cycling. Contrast that with trail running, all you need to start is your natural body movement and a pair of shoes. I’ve been so lucky to find people that gave me so much knowledge and attention, so I think it’s important for me to spend time now investing in new riders.
A: As someone who’s deeply embedded in the running culture, can you give us an outside look of how someone who doesn't ride a bike views the sport.
J: There’s definitely been some roasting, mostly around the cyclist ‘look’, like trail runners don't shave their legs, they don't usually wear very tight stuff. Beyond that though, it's been mostly respect and curiosity. I’ve been on trails when you see gravel cyclists doing the same stuff we're doing on foot, and as long as everyone’s respectful the response from trail runners is usually “damn, I can’t believe that persons doing this trail - and they're on a bike”. I think there are definitely more points of connection than things that separate the communities.