You Never Know Who Is A Ninja
Ninja: "A man/women who appears to be of average or below average athletic ability, but crushes."
My first Ninja Lesson
It was a couple years ago. I was out with a friend who was trying to teach me the 101 of training. During this ride we pushed at different intervals. We were in the midst of one of the pushes; he was encouraging me every so often with something about zone 4/5, when another voice from behind chimed in. My friend was much stronger than me and from appearance looked akin to an athlete from a sweaty Gatorade commercial. I wasn't too surprised that he could occasionally get a word out, but the new voice – effortlessly – attempted to start up a conversation. I couldn't even pretend to participate as all my energy was focused on getting oxygen to my lungs. My friend entertained politeness but soon tired and we both remained silent as the new voice continued to spout off for the next 10 minutes of the interval. I could only assume that the cheery voice belonged to a man of strong to impressive build if he was to sound so casual while I screamed quietly to keep pushing. When we arrived at an intersection and stopped, I was in disbelief upon my first glance of the dude. Rather than the chiseled, lean, kitted out figure I had in my mind, the man who had chased us up the hill for the last 20 minutes carrying on an oxygen laded conversation, sported a pre-90's bike with large antler-like bow bars, and a fanny pack. Not only that, he was older and fat. WTF?! The old man chatted on a bit with my friend, while I tried to rally back my cliff bar from my mouth to my stomach. Before I could un-keel myself, the old dude was off. He kicked it up a notch, as we clearly were holding him back. As we watched the fanny pack and bow bars fade up the hill my friend smiled and said, "you never know who's a ninja."
Kilian the Spanish Stallion
As I became more involved in cycling, outdoor sports, and random adventures, the ninja lesson has repeated itself over and over again. I recently completed a one-day summit of the Grand Teton via the Exum route. The day before the adventure Salomon's' young Spanish stallion, Kilian Jornet, broke the Grand's thirty year speed record, summiting and descending in 2 hours 54 minutes. Kilian is no ninja. He is Salomon's poster child, his appearance screaming of energy, power and youthful testosterone. He is well known, and his adventures documented in HD Vimeos called Kilian's Quest. His wardrobe consists only of white Salomon leotards and blazing red shoes. He is hard to miss.
A Gapers Attempt
So come the next day, somewhat disillusioned by how easy Kilian challenged the technical 12.5 miles and 7,428 vertical feet run, we left a note for friends that we'd be back at the latest in 7hrs. Granted we went a route that required ropes, but that doesn't at all account for the additional 9hrs from Kilian's time it took us to stagger back to our car. I couldn't walk down stairs, up stairs, or for that matter lower myself to sit on a toilet for days afterwards. Needless to say, I was not a ninja that day, but came away with an incredible respect for the mountain and regard for anyone who attempts to challenge it.
The Bearded Ninja
Still recovering, learning the value of stair handrails and bars in the handicap bathroom, I read that the Grand's record has been broken again! Post a thirty-year dry spell the record had now been broken twice in less than a week. This time not by some sponsored star, but by an unknown Colorado park ranger named Andy Anderson. Unlike Kilian, there was no film crew, no big sponsor, no 100,000 + Facebook fan cohort to cheer him on. Andy beat Kilian's record by 59 seconds, using no short cuts and staying on the trail the whole time.
No doubt Andy looks like a runner: lengthy, almost too skinny, and comfortable wearing really short shorts. Andy went for the record pretty much "just because". Though Andy admits chasing Kilian's time was motivation, he only came back to the mountain to break his old personal record he set years ago. He was able to scrounge some days off and just went for it.
Don't let the Sparkle Distract You
Kilian and Andy are both talented and dedicated athletes, and each have accomplished some significant running records. But one an unassuming ranger with wife and kid, and the other arguably this generation's most popular endurance runner. I fully admit I know more about Kilian than Andy, have watched every single one of the Kilian's Quest Vimeos, and even have a signed poster of Kilian at my desk. However Andy the bearded unassuming runner, is the one I admire most. Similar to the old fat dude who crushed me a couple years back, Andy is a ninja. You place him and Kilian side by side and your money goes to the white spandex Salomon stallion. But it is the unassuming bearded ninja who has proven better in this competition.
Similar to Andy there are many other ninjas I have run across or read about, each of them reminding me to be careful when I judge. It may not be the fancy spandex'd, sparkly shaven competitor you need to watch, but rather the cotton-t-shirt behind you. You just never know who is a ninja.