Reflection from Matt Niedzwiecki
 

Given at the UCSD Economics Department Gathering on Aug 13, 2012



I first met Ben at his going away party in DC.

We both worked for the World Bank that

summer. He invited me and a couple other

incoming UCSD Econ PhD students that year --

Mike Furchtgott and Chim Lau. I showed up to

his house, met him, he introduced me to Mike

and Chim, and I hardly saw him again for the

rest of the night. There were hundreds of people

who stopped by that night, all to see him one last

time before he left on some adventure and then

headed off to San Diego to begin grad school.


We became good friends first year hung out in math camp and studied together for exams. A bunch of us lived in Mesa housing, on the east side of campus, Ben lived in a dorm more towards the center of campus. When he'd come over to Mesa, about 2 miles each way, he'd run. He'd show up more than a little sweaty, but we quickly got used to it; it was Ben, he didn't care much for fashion, especially around friends. Really became close when he, and Dallas and I made a plan to hike to the summit of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48, but accessible to everyone, even those without technical skills, as long as you prepared your body for the 20 miles of hiking, 6000' of elevation gain -- and this all starts around 8500 ft, so oxygen is sparse. We climbed big peaks in So Cal, Baldy, Jacinto, Gorgonio –Gary, Ben's dad, joined us for that one, training our legs and our lungs for Whitney. We did Whitney – via the Mountaineer's Route, which is the harder way to hike up. Ben always liked to challenge himself and us. It was a typical Ben trip: excited (nervous) to begin, but feel prepared. middle 1/3: question why you ever agreed to do this and if you'll ever speak to Ben again and if you'll finish, final 1/3: amazed at what you've accomplished, because without Ben there to inspire you, there's no way you'd even consider something like this possible. It wasn't just Whitney. We went on some long bike rides (130 miles from LJ shores to top of Palomar mtn, 140 from LJ shores through Julian and up to Cuyamaca) Hikes: 10,000' vertical climb, 20 mile hike "Cactus to Clouds" Palm Springs to the top of San Jacinto. Ben always would go off ahead -- he was patient, always came back to wait for us, but he was so much stronger that he needed.


Ben organized weekly track workouts, Thursdays at 5pm. We'd get together to run a workout together -- mile repeats, 800m repeats (Yasso 8's). It was a place to come together and share our love of running, work hard together, push each other. When I was preparing for my first marathon, training plans. Ben was very serious about training – 100 mile trail ultra marathons or Chancellor's challenge 5k – always had a plan, always thought very hard about it and consulted other runners. He had a goal, and he knew exactly the steps he had to take to prepare himself physically and mentally, to reach that goal. Not just with running, but I think that's how Ben approached many things in his life. Every obstacle that stands in your way is within you; if you make the right plan and then stick to it, and work as hard as you can, you can achieve your goal. At times it may feel impossible, and it's going to hurt, but if you keep pushing, you'll finish. I think what drew Ben to running was the purity of the sport -- it's you and your legs, going from point A to point B, as fast as possible. Goal-oriented, inward-looking competition (only compete with yourself).  I had many philosophical discussions with Ben about what it meant to be an athlete. The consensus that we came to was that it was all about  what you did with your natural gifts -- not an objective time or distance, not something that is comparable across individuals – but how close you came to your own potential. One of my favorite quotes: "But speed is not the only point. Racing is about pushing yourself – and to do so psychologically, having a watch may even be a distraction. Going fast is nice. But a time is not the goal, rather the best experience is what we strive for." (Ben on "Naked Wrist Running")


Ben would send out weekly emails before our Thursday track workouts, and he'd always close with a quote. Here are some of my favorites:


"It’s a small piece of your life, make it hurt." - Aaron Cox


"There are clubs you can't belong to, neighborhoods you can't live in,

schools you can't get into, but the roads are always open."   - Nike


"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." -Dalai Lama


Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or

predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.--William Faulkner


What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways

they wanted to know The Secret.  And not one of them was prepared,

truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with the

chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and

sometimes heart-rending process of removing molecule by molecule, the

very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes.

The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials. How could they be expected to

understand that? - Once A Runner


Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he

knew.It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond

comprehension. But it also made him free. - Once a Runner


Bid me run and I will strive with things impossible. -Shakespeare, Julius Caeser


"I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery

acid. Then I ran some more." - Fight Club


"Stadiums are for spectators.  We runners have nature and that is much

better." --Juha Vaatainen


"to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." -

Steve Prefontaine


“You can measure your heart rate. but you cant measure heart. you can

quote me on it.” - Ben Horne