Jon Obst - RIP

Last night, I learned that Jon Obst, one of the best diabetic ultra runners the world has known and my teammate on the original Team Type 1 Running Team, had passed away. For me and for everyone who knew Jon, the news was heartbreaking.

Since I learned about Jon's death, I've been thinking about the stories I knew about him. It would be entirely incorrect to say we were close. Near as I can count, we spent time together on four weekends for races, with a casual Facebook relationship in between and since. But the thing with Jon was, you didn't have to spend much time with him to feel close to him.

Before I begin,  I want you to know how good of a runner Jon was. If you look at his results, you'll see that he completed 36 ultra races, finishing 11 of them on the podium. Anyone who has completed a single ultra knows how deep of a well it takes you to compete in such races. Keep in mind, this list doesn't include the races Jon didn't finish and anyone who knows Jon would tell he you had his share of those, too. For Jon, competing was ultimately as transcendent as finishing.

And when forced to, Jon wasn't opposed to running the roads either. I don't know how many marathons he completed in his life (I remember asking him and being amazed at the number), but I roomed with him the time he knocked out a speedy 2:48 in Tucson.

And of course, Jon was one of the diabetics forever bonded by their run across America, which I documented on this blog.

But those stories don't get to the heart of who Jon was. Maybe this one will

The weekend I met Jon for the first time was at the New Jersey Ultra Fest, the first official race of the Team Type 1 Running Team. It was the ideal venue for us, with five races of distances ranging from marathon up to 100 miles, all taking place on a modified T-shaped course about 8 miles long, giving us the ability to pass one another throughout the day - a huge boost for me, as this was my first 50 miler.

Prior to the race, I had asked Jon how he felt about his chances of winning the hundred and he admitted that while he always felt he could win, he admitted it seemed less likely this time. I asked him why, and he said, "Well, I just did a hundred two weeks ago."

"What?" I said. "Two weeks ago??" Jon admitted that he'd felt obligated to compete in the GRR100 because some of his friends had helped organize it. The GRR100 wasn't a major race. In fact, only 17 runners finished it. Jon was one of them, finishing in just under thirty hours.

And here he was, two weeks later, to do it again.

Mid-way through the day, I encountered Jon on the trail, running toward me, a huge smile on his face. Everyone who knew Jon knew that smile, and knew it was ten times wider when he was running. He didn't just wave at me. Didn't just give me a runner thumbs-up. He stopped, opened his arms wide and hugged me tightly. Told me how great this was. All of us, being here, together. He told me he loved me, and then he ran off into the day, smiling wider with each step.

If you look at the results of the New Jersey Ultra Fest in 2011, you won't find Jon among the finishers. Hours later, ninety miles into it, his body ravaged by the miles and his blood sugar out of control, he was forced to drop. But it's hard for me to remember that. What I remember most was how tight that hug had been. How sincere it had been. And how it was the first of many I'd get from Jon during the few occasions we raced together.

The weekend after I met Jon, I wrote this on my blog:
"I had the extreme pleasure of talking to Jon and Cale at dinner the night before and believe me when I tell you that Jon is an amazing person. His feelings are unbelievably close to the surface... so much so that you would think the emotional toll of everyday life - forget an ultra - would be difficult for him, but instead, it's the complete opposite. I've never seen someone just so.... engaged and content."

In retrospect, this passage bothers me. In the years since, I've come to believe I was half right. Jon wasn't always content because he always was so engaged. I was lucky enough to see him during one of those moments when he was most at peace. 

I have two team photos of myself with Jon. One of them was taken - literally - within minutes of the team being together for the first time in New Jersey. The other - the one I'm posting here - was after the North Face Distance Challenge in Georgia. Jon and I both competed in the 50 miler that day.

I've noticed in both cases that Jon chose to position himself in the exact middle of the photo. It's where you'd never think the shortest guy would stand. But it's precisely where you'd expect someone to be if they were determined to soak up every last moment of the day, willing you to come closer for one more hug.

Left-Right: Ryan Jones, Matt Patrick, Marcus Grimm, Jon Obst, Tom Kingery, Benny Madrigal, Rhet Hulbert


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