Essay Contest: Humor And Running

[Editor’s Note: Geoff is hosting his second-annual essay contest. The prize is one free entry into one of his 2016 summer Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps! Read on to find out about the contest and how to enter.]

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” – Mark Twain

Nearly everyone I know considers humor to be an important part of life. Surely we all have times in which a comical mishap, dorky joke, or ironic situation gives us a burst of laughter and brightens our mood. A healthy dose of genuine laughter seems to make everything a bit easier and more satisfying.

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” – Charlie Chaplin

The link, however, between running and humor might not seem so obvious. Running long distances takes an immense amount of discipline, focus, and dedication–all things which can often seem to be derailed by humor. In this way it becomes easy to take our running very seriously. We can often feel like there is no space on a run for humor, and that when we are not focusing on the ‘serious’ aspects of running, we are slipping backwards as runners. Humor, though, in my opinion, is completely unavoidable. No matter how serious we are trying to be, we are surrounded by potential humor at all times. In fact, trying to be serious is something which often creates the highest potential for humor.

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” – Peter Ustinov

In this sense, I think running and humor form a very natural bond when we allow the goofy side of our sport in. When I think back on all the runs I’ve been on, I can’t even come close to recounting all of the hilarious things I have experienced. A few stories come to mind, though.

“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.” – Dr. Seuss

I used to have a running partner and close friend here in Alaska who always carried a small bit of toilet paper with him on runs. When he would see a pile of bear scat, he would pull out a small piece and stick it into the pile. I thought it was pretty funny the first time I saw it, but more than anything it was a great lesson in the humor potential that surrounds us, even in something as seemingly not funny (and potentially nerve-racking) as a fresh pile of bear poop. It can be easy to get frightened when reminded that you are running through areas where a bear may have been the last one down the trail, but for dozens of people over the years this gimmick diverted fear into confusion initially, and then into laughter.

“Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time–of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.” – Stephen Colbert

There was the time I came running up on someone in a race who was walking down the side of the trail, urinating as he went. This alone is funny enough of a scene, but what followed still brings me laughter every time I think about it. I startled him a bit as I passed, and he kind of looked over his shoulder to see who/what was there, all the while still walking and peeing. A split second later, perhaps because of a bit too much multitasking, he walked into a tree and fell over. When I looked back to make sure he was okay, he was in a pile on the ground, not walking anymore, but definitely still peeing. I lingered for a few seconds to make sure he wasn’t injured, and then ran quickly away until I was out of earshot so I could burst out laughing.

I remember another hilarious time during a session of my Alaska Mountain Ultarunning Camp. I was leading a group of campers and a few locals through a series of hard-to-navigate meadows immersed entirely in fog. Being in charge of the group, I didn’t entirely let on that I didn’t really know where we were. I stayed cool and kept using the limited navigational capabilities of my GPS watch to keep us moving generally in the right direction, or so I thought. When we came to several really obvious footprints in the mud, I was relieved. We were back on track and would be on the main trail within minutes. I finally conveyed to the group that we had been more or less completely lost and that we had stumbled back onto the correct route entirely by chance. Just as I was thinking that the tracks in the mud looked surprisingly fresh, someone else in the group said, “I think these are our tracks.” We had made a full circle and wandered back to the same spot we had been 30 minutes earlier. This situation was good for some great laughs and after several more minutes of trial and error, we were able to find our way out of the fog. Once again laughter trumped worry and fear, and my entire memory of that situation is of the self-deprecating humor of it all.

“The man with the real sense of humor is the man who can put himself in the spectator’s place and laugh at his own misfortunes.” – Bert Williams

My wife and I never went on a formal honeymoon, but we did take a trip the week after our wedding which I guess could have qualified, except that we had three other friends along with us. (This isn’t the humorous part.) As part of this trip, we did a rugged, 20-plus mile hike/run across an island here in Southeast Alaska that would finish at a remote hot springs a couple days later. No matter how difficult the route would be, it all seemed like it would be worth it for the soak in the springs. It was an unusually hot and sunny week in Alaska and we got lost the last evening while making our way down out of the mountains to the coast where the springs were. After a treacherous, several-hours-long bushwhack, we finally made it to the springs sometime after midnight. Suddenly all of the effort was about to be worth it. As we stripped down and stepped into the springs, we realized that we were so sunburned and cut up from bushwhacking through devil’s club and salmon berry that there was no possible way to soak in the hot water without immense pain. This was one of those situations in which the humor wasn’t revealed until after the fact, but now I can’t think of this moment without smiling widely.

Once, when I was out on a mountain run with a half-dozen friends, during a break at a mountain pass, we suddenly heard the dog that was with us start barking. I immediately assumed she had found a marmot, ptarmigan, or goat. What she had actually discovered was our friend who had secretly carried a full-body Tyvek paint suit with him and who was suddenly dressed up as a goat to amuse and confuse the dog (and us). The dog was, in fact, very confused, and we were, in fact, very amused. The funniest part might have been when he ran all the way down the mountain wearing his goat suit.

Geoff Roes humor essay contest 1

Proof of the Tyvek goat suit incident. Photo: Geoff Roes

These are a handful of comical moments I’ve experienced on the trails. I imagine most everyone has experienced similarly humorous moments while running. I’d love to hear about these moments, so much so that I’m offering one free entry to one of the 2016 sessions of Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp to the person who submits the best short essay about humor on the trails! We had a lot of fun with an essay contest last year that attempted to answer the question, “Why do you run?” So much fun that we have decided to try it again, only with a new topic.

So let’s hear it. What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever experienced on the trail? Essays will be judged based on the hilarity of the incident as well as the quality of the storytelling. Please read through all the details below before submitting your essay as only those which follow each of these guidelines will be eligible:

[Editor’s Note: The contest closed on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016. Thanks to everyone who entered!]

  • This giveaway includes all camp entry fees. You will be responsible for your travel to/from Juneau, Alaska.
  • Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp (and therefore this essay contest) is only open to participants aged 18 and over.
  • Entry will be valid for either one of the 2016 sessions: June 10-16 or July 14-20.
  • Please read through the camp website before submitting your entry. Only enter the contest if you plan to attend the camp if you are chosen.
  • Please keep your essay to 400 words or less.
  • Submit your essay directly to Geoff at [email protected] with the subject “iRunFar essay contest.”
  • Please submit your essay in the body of your email message so there’s no issue with incompatible attachments.
  • If you wish to chime in on this topic, but do not wish to enter the contest, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section here on iRunFar. Please only email Geoff with essays you wish to submit to the contest.
  • The deadline to submit essays will be 11:59 p.m. Alaska Time on Wednesday, February 3.
  • The winner will be notified via email, and announced here on iRunFar on February 10.
  • Any essays submitted may be published on iRunFar. Please let us know when you submit your essay if you don’t want it published, or if you want your name to remain anonymous.
  • We will judge your essay based on the humor of the incident you portray as well as on how well you tell the story via the written word of that incident. Please note that we are judging the written word only in this contest.
  • Good luck!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

You heard Geoff! Submit your essay to him via email to enter the contest. Feel free to comment here with other remarks, but know that a comment to this article is not considered entry into the contest.

There are 3 comments

  1. Rich Gordon

    In January 2015 my next door neighbor, Matt, was driving us to the Willis River 35k/50k. He told me to be on the lookout for the trail maintenance guy, nicknamed “Radar.” The way Matt described Radar I pictured Deliverance-meets-Friday-the-13th. OK, so I figure Matt’s just yanking my chain.

    During the race I’m just a minute or so behind a young woman. You know, I get to the aid station just as she’s leaving. At about 15 miles or so, I come upon her just standing on the trail. I ask if she’s OK. She says, “I just saw this hunter, and I got really worried. I thought I should wait for somebody to run with me.”

    OK, so I agree to run with her. I’m thinking: We’re in a State Park (no hunting), it’s past deer season (no hunting), and we’ve heard no gunfire all day. But heck, it’s rural Virginia, so you just never know.

    Sure enough, not five minutes later we pass by Radar, standing off the trail while randomly hacking at a stump with a machete big enough to make an MS-13 member jealous. He is EXACTLY as described: old overalls, scraggly beard, ancient beany. “Is that the guy? I ask. “Yes,” she says, “He really creeped me out!”
    “That’s just Radar, the trail maintenance guy. I heard he’s really harmless,” I said.

    Dude, if I hadn’t been forewarned, even I might have gone looking for back-up!

    You just NEVER know what you’ll see out on the trails!

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Hi Rich, thanks for your story! If you’d like to officially enter Geoff’s essay contest, be sure to submit it to Geoff by email as per the instructions contained within this article. Comments to the article here are always welcomed, but they don’t qualify as contest entries. Thanks and good luck!

  2. Sean Meissner

    Geoff,
    The last I read, you were very doubtful that your camps would continue. Great to see that you were able to come to an agreement with the FS to keep them running!

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