Outhouses and Running

Last updated: 20-Oct-20

By Seth Grotzke

The desire to run fast is probably universal. I don’t hear many people talking about their worst times, the “Slowest Known Time”, or how they were able to turn a short run around the park into an all night search and rescue. (Although, now come to think of it, I think there might be a niche for the SKT.) We want to move fast, and the faster the better when it comes to our own two feet.

Not only do we push our limits in order to move faster and farther, we also have a burning desire to test that against others. It used to be confined to races a few times a year. The beauty of it was that we could always claim “a bad day” or “an unexpected injury” and keep some of our pride. In the olden days no one knew how fast we were outside of races. But not so in our modern age. People actually can know how slow I am all the time! And on top of that it isn’t just hearsay when someone says how quickly they finished a race or a round. We can track along with their GPS coordinates and online feed.

With the explosion of professional runners, sponsored athletes, and running influencers, running can be pretty depressing for those of us who are merely average. It seems like every time I turn around someone has run up Mount Everest, or jogged around the world in sandals, or some other pointless stunt…of which I am completely jealous. There are just no first places for people like me.

But I am ok with that. I am ok knowing I will never win a race or get a shoe deal. I am ok with never being confused with an “influencer” (which has sort of a sinister ring to it when you say it out loud). And it isn’t because I am masochistic or claim to believe in some existential self-nirvana while running. It actually comes from a lesson involving my mother, a bear, and an outhouse. And since you asked, I will share it with you.

My mother had laughed, then questioned, then screamed. That wouldn’t have been particularly noteworthy accept that she was in an outhouse at the time, and that outhouse was in the Rocky Mountains.

For many of my childhood summers my family would pack up the minivan and head west, leaving the lakes of Minnesota in order to move across the Great Plain as fast as the speed limit would allow. The first glimpse of the mountains was a relief, even though those first sightings would mean we still had hours and hours to travel. Once in the mountains, life was different. The mountains were high, the rivers were swift, and there were rattle snakes. Pretty much paradise.

My grandparents cabin was nestled up to the Gallatin River, which could lull you to sleep at night and try to take your life by hypothermia by day. The slightly listing outpost which we occupied for a couple weeks each summer stood between a camp and the national forest, and we shared the plot with a variety of animals large and small.

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One key feature of this summer oasis was the outhouse. The structure itself was dug into the side of the mountain and furnished with a large window to give it light. And although a large picture window moved this outhouse from “creepy” to “luxury” in terms of outdoor toilets, we still kept and broke records every summer for how long we could go without going. When we finally did break down and took a trip to the “Chateau” as it was fondly named, the first step was to clear the cobwebs. The second was to shut the shades.

It was in the vulnerable moment of having lost a battle with the call of nature that we heard my mother cry out, “I see you. Stop messing around!” Then came our names. And then we heard the scream.
As the story goes, the blinds had not been shut enough to block out all the happenings surrounding the Chateau. While trying to move through the necessities as quickly as possible my mother had seen one of us creep along the bottom of the window in an effort to scare her. The problem, however, was that the rest of the family was inside the cabin.

Following her frantic naming of each possible culprit, she realized there may be another offender. Upon exciting the loo she realized that a bear had evidently taken a number and was awaiting his turn. Slightly embarrassed by the whole deal, and possibly because the shades had not been fully drawn, the bear quickly made his exit up the neighboring pine tree.

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Everyone filed out to see the large beast and comment on his slightly flushed appearance, but no one really wanted to see him come down. Except my dad. And it was at this moment that much of my character as an ultra runner was formed.

He looked around at the observers and said, “I don’t need to be fast to get away from this bear. I just need to be a little faster than one of you.”

And that, my friends, is why being slow doesn’t bother me…as long as I’m a little faster than one of you.

"With the explosion of professional runners, sponsored athletes, and running influencers, running can be pretty depressing for those of us who are merely average."

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