Civil Disobedience and the Hardrock 100

Patagonia has always been a big supporter of environmental causes, and as a result they have been subject to intense criticism over the years. In one case, a group was criticizing their support of certain environmental causes with a boycott of their products. Members of the opposing group picketed outside many Patagonia stores in protest of the company’s policies. In response, Patagonia began the “pledge-a-picket” program, whereby they would “reward” every picketer who showed up to their stores with a ten-dollar donation to the organization being picketed against, in their name. The picketing soon stopped and the boycott fell apart.

In 2008, Tim DeChristopher, a student at the University of Utah, attended an auction for the sale of oil and gas leases in Southern Utah. Registering himself in his correct name, he bid on over $1.2 million in leases surrounding the area of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. When authorities became aware of the fact that DeChristopher did not actually have the money to pay for the leases, the auction was halted. He has since been convicted of two felonies for his actions and is facing a maximum sentence of up to ten years in prison and $750,000 in fines. At the same time, the intense media attention surrounding the event has led to much higher public scrutiny of the leases. The mayor of Moab, Dave Sakrison, submitted a report prior to the auction stating that the drilling of oil and gas in Spanish Valley south of Moab could negatively affect the town’s water quality. Furthermore, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has since pulled many of the leases on which DeChristopher bid from the market. These actions, however, will not affect DeChristopher’s sentence, which he faces openly and in full acceptance of his actions.

Roch Horton

Roch Horton

Getting into the Hardrock 100 is really hard to do lately, with nearly 600 people applying for 140 spots for the 2011 race. The lottery system has been scrutinized heavily, but a consensus is yet to be reached on how best to accommodate runners. Part of the lottery rules state that runners who have finished five or more Hardrocks gain automatic entry to the race indefinitely. Given the difficulty of getting in otherwise, many five-time finishers now enter the race just because they can, regardless of whether they’ve been training or actually have a legitimate chance of finishing. But Roch Horton is different. Despite being an accomplished ultrarunner who continues to train and race competitively, Roch has opted out of his guaranteed entry at Hardrock this year. For the past ten years, Roch has run the race. He has finished every single time and says Hardrock is one of his favorite races in the world. But after a decade of running through the San Juans every summer, Roch has decided not to run the race any longer and instead “give someone else a chance.” He says he has had some of the best times of his life at Hardrock and is ready to step back to allow someone new to have a shot.

What do these stories have in common? They are all instances of individuals taking personal action to effect the change they believe in. Instead of complaining or, worse, resorting to violence, these people came up with creative ways to make their beliefs reality. Patagonia found a way to reduce the power of their detractors while simultaneously supporting the causes they’d backed all along. Tim DeChristopher saw what he termed, “ an injustice being committed, and I thought it was a greater injustice than anything I could do to try to stop it.” So he disrupted the process in such a way that personally harmed none while drawing massive public attention to his cause. Roch Horton recognized that sweeping change to the Hardrock lottery is unlikely in the near future and may even be unnecessary, so he utilized the only power he had and sacrificed his own entry in favor of someone who has never had the opportunity to experience the race.

Grassroots actions such as these showcase the unexpected power individuals wield over large forces. Ranging from personal abdication of guaranteed rights to creative retaliation and even nonviolent civil disobedience, each of these actions created not only the intended change, but also a precedent for others to follow. Although the larger processes governing the actions being fought have not changed, the individual cases have. If people continue to enact change on this level, the actions have the potential to add up to such a number that large-scale change is inevitable. The power of individuals is a potent force indeed.

Call for Comments
Please share your stories of standing up for your beliefs, whether they’re autobiographical or of someone who’s inspired you.

There are 20 comments

  1. anonymous

    Good article. I someday want to do Hardrock, but know I need several more 100 miles races than what I already have (2). Still, I was encouraged by several friends to enter the lottery in order to increase my chances in future years given there was very little chance of actually getting in. While I am sure many people had a similar strategy, I chose not to enter, so as not to reduce the chances of those ready for HR. It's the right thing to do and when the Hardrock gods someday shine a light on me, I want to do it the right way.

  2. Jeff

    I'm not sure if I'd construe Roch Horton's actions as a protest against the Hardrock lottery/entry system. He knew that if he ran this year someone else would not be able to enjoy the San Juans as he had for the last ten. Maybe there's more to it and he's said more about than what is in this post, but it sounds to me like he's just being nice.

  3. Kovas

    I know I'm in the minority on this, but I don't really understand the attraction of running a race that is so overly popular that you have to have lotteries and waitlists to get in. If the event were on private property, then maybe I could see not having other options. However, noone can stop you from running the Hardrock or Western States or Leadville courses, nor can anyone stop you from creating your own race.

  4. Aaron

    Great article. All three of these provide excellent examples of good citizenship. Some may think it's never OK to break the law, but civil disobedience is a time-honored tactic, in America especially, to speak your mind and affect change.

  5. Rob

    Hardrock's a great race, i've finished it three times (out of 6 starts) but there is so much more Out There to see and explore (and I'm not just talking about races). So while I'd like to eventually notch my 5th finish someday, I'm just as happy to go do some other races or long, multi-day speed-hikes somewhere. It's all very beautiful country, just get out and explore! Again, not really seeing the connection between Roch and those other two examples? I do agree that one shouldn't register for a race they don't intend to finish (a big problem in the past at Hardrock, and perhaps a continuing one?), don't take up space and let more worthy folks have a shot!

  6. Sean Cunniff

    I agree. Its a lovely gesture, but its not civil disobedience. When I saw this piece, I assumed it would be about running the race without an official entry. Short of lying down in front of the starting line on race morning, that's about as close as you're going to get.

    1. David

      I agree: commendable gesture, but not civil disobedience. I was also assuming that this was going to be a post about running without an official number, in which case I was going to point out that this isn't really civil disobedience, ie. active refusal to obey the laws or commands of a government or other governing power.

      It's a bit petty to compare the rather reasonable – albeit restrictive – entry limits placed on a backcountry race to the sacrifices made Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Ai Weiwei, and countless others, is it not?

      1. MikeH

        Agreed, interesting stories, but not all civil disobedience. One of the personal examples has a risk of a prison sentence and bankruptcy, while the other is simply a nice gesture. The Patagonia example would be ambiguous as to who the grassroots group of individuals were (depending on your point of view), since 3 different groups were involved.

        However, I am all for awareness and discussion on any issues as they clearly tie to running/environmental issues, so I encourage you (Dakota) to continue to speak freely on issues like this.

  7. Scott

    This article confuses me. DeChristopher's actions constituted civil disobedience. Patagonia did not civlly disobey anything, but rather found a creative (and somewhat antagonistic) way to declaw protesters. It sounds like Horton was just being considerate, but was in any case operating wholly within the Hardrock rules. I just don't see a connection. And comparing the threat of jail to forebearing an opportunity to enter a race? It just seems like a stretch. I'm all for courtesy, though, so if Horton is able to lead by example and thereby open up more spots for newbies in the race, more power to him.

  8. olga

    I decided agaisnt entering WS since I got 3 finishes and the race has some crazy lottery. I did enter HR because I want to run it just one more time, and then I can back off this one as well. While there are races out there that I absolutely love, I really enjoy exploring and entering new ones, thus letting others see what I saw – and allwoing myself see what I hadn't.

    Roch's da man.

    The rest of the stuff here is too political for me:)

    1. maria

      "too political for me" = "I am happily ignorant"

      I hate the "it's too political" excuse for not caring. How about, if you don't understand something, you try to read about it and think on it a little?

  9. Scott Weber

    In 2010, after starting the Badwater Ultramarathon 16 times and officially finishing 13 of those times (my last start and finish in 2009), I decided to say no to the race. While the entry fee had become – at least to me – outrageous, I said no for another reason: the disrespectful behind-the-scenes comments of the RD towards a solo runner as well as the ever more circus-like atmosphere of the race. It was my own version of a protest. It was a difficult thing to walk away from the event – and the experience – that had become the cornerstone of my ultramarathoning, but one, that despite its difficulty, was the right thing to do for me. I am not sure if it had any effect other than for myself, but to loosely quote the lyrics of an Indigo Girls' song: "Don't compromise … you're screwed either way … so, you might as well feel good and have some pride."

    My standing up for my own beliefs pale in consequence to DeChristopher and I didn't altruistically not apply to open up a spot for another runner like Horton did … I simply said no for myself, made my opinions known and moved on.

    I am also interested in hearing from other ultrarunners who have made changes due to their beliefs about the sport, sponsors or direction of a race. Thx for bringing up this interesting topic.

    1. Scott Weber

      …I'd should also add, that had I not boycotted the race in 2010, I surely would have in 2011 – the year the time limit was changed from 60 hours to 48 hours (and the entry fee raised to just shy of 1000 dollars).

      So much of the history of Badwater centers on the concept of enduring no matter what … of finishing … even if it meant taking those full 60 hours – or longer – to do so. Celebrating those endurance warriors – short on speed perhaps, but magnificent in their endurance and tenacity – is something that was the tradition at Badwater … many a faster runner stayed to view the final finishers making their way up the Whitney Portals road to gain the finish. I think of how many of the Badwater legends were in that 50-60 hour range and what a different event it would have been without those people.

Post Your Thoughts