I have read through all the essays received for the now-complete ‘Humor and Running’ essay contest announced two weeks ago. Before revealing the essayist who will receive a free entry to the Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp, I first want to thank everyone for taking the time to submit such funny, interesting, and thought-provoking essays. Just as when I did the “Why Do You Run?’ essay contest last year (contest and winner announcement and essay), I ended up feeling like this was a very valuable process for me. It was interesting and eye opening to see humor through the eyes of a few dozen other avid runners.
My biggest take away from reading all of these essays is just how subjective humor is. Some essays led to an apex of humor in which the writer clearly thought this was the funniest part of the story, and yet I found myself laughing more at something that happened in the lead up to that point. For some reason, I take a lot of comfort in realizing this. We all clearly have a different sense of humor, and this reality is a big part of what makes each comical situation so worthwhile and personal. It’s almost as if we experience these funny moments in an even more deep and meaningful way because so many other people might not find them funny at all. The humor is often ours and ours only.
There were also a handful of specific themes that entrants consistently found to be their funniest running moments. Nearly a third of all essays included humor based around human waste, both urine and feces, and our sometimes not-so-graceful ways of dealing with it on runs. I’ll spare you the sometimes nauseating details and let you use your imagination on some of the ‘humor’ depicted in these essays.
Nearly as common were essays involving other species. Dogs, porcupines, mice, moose, cows, and even Sasquatch all made it into at least one essay. These essays definitely reminded me of a few funny runs I’ve had involving other species over the years, especially one in which I was viciously attacked by a bird protecting her young. It wasn’t very funny to me at the time, but I can only imagine now how much I would laugh if I had a video of that moment.
Unintended public nudity was also a theme that found its way into a handful of essays. This is another theme that reminds me of a personal story that some might find funny, but that I find to be too bizarre and inappropriate to share here.
The final trend that was present in more than one essay was that of humorous injury, if there is such a thing. Falling over logs, running into tree branches, tripping over the tiniest rock in the trail, etc. I’ve certainly had my share of these kinds of humorous moments, and I’ve witnessed enough of others’ similar moments that I’m guessing this is something nearly every runner could come up with a funny story about. In fact, I think each of these common themes are such an inherent part of running that nearly every runner could think of some funny story pertaining to each of them.
The harder part, though, might be coming up with a funny story that other people would universally find funny. Humor is, after all, a very subjective thing. I was also reminded of this subjectivity in how hard it was to select a winner. Our two-person selection panel (Meghan Hicks and I) were surprisingly without consensus in our opinions, so much so that I then asked a few friends for their opinions. I had the final decision that would break the ‘tie’ between Meghan and I, but I wanted to have a few more readers to make sure there wasn’t something funny that I was missing within the subjectivity of the subject matter. This further judging process did even more to reaffirm this reality. One person would respond that a certain essay was by far their favorite and the next person would respond that they thought that essay was not very funny at all.
I eventually opted for the essay by Ian Ramsey as the winner. This was a very tough decision, but I ultimately chose it because I think it was both funny and well written. There were a few other essays I found to be just as funny and some that I found to be as well or more well written, but this one had the best combination of these two things, which was our judging criteria in this contest. Congratulations, Ian, I look forward to meeting you this summer in Alaska!
Thanks to everyone who participated, and here is the winning essay in its entirety:
Years ago, one March, I spent a few days camping, running and hiking in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness deep in the heart of the Smokies, on the Tennessee/North Carolina Border. After a harsh Maine winter of shoveling, sniffling, and road-salting my way through sub-zero temperatures, the southern Appalachians, with their green rhododendrons and mossy warmth seemed as exotic as Costa Rica.
One morning, I put on my shorts and muddy running shoes, heading out for a twelve-mile jog. With hardly anyone else on the trail, I floated on songs of warblers that wouldn’t make it to Maine for another two months, inhaled the forest, hopped over gurgling streams. About 2/3 of the way, I stopped in a sunny glen along the Slickrock river and disrobed to lie on some rocks in the sun, intent on replenishing depleted Vitamin D stores. With the sun warming my moon-white skin, I fell asleep before I knew it. When a distant sound woke me, I jumped, kicking my shorts into the creek, which gushed with spring melt runoff. With an emphatic SHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT!, I threw on my shoes and scrambled after my escaping garment, which was heading downstream faster than Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
After an hour of frantically scratching, stressing, and soaking my naked body, I gave up searching the rock-and-bramble river for the elusive stinky Adidas running shorts. The question was how to get my pale self back four miles to my campsite. With few people along the trail, I figured that I would canter back, staying attentive, and simply hide along the trail if I encountered anyone. This worked splendidly for most of the journey, and I was able to crouch like a nudist ninja behind sizeable poplar trees to let several parties of hikers amble past. Unfortunately, I was getting so confident in my skills that I didn’t notice the church group at the scenic overlook just off the trail, and I stopped in my tracks when I heard “Momma, that man is NEKKID!” screamed by a southern accented ten year old girl. I turned to see a gaggle of pre-teens and adults, all looking prim and proper, staring at my goose bumped splendor. I broke into a run and didn’t stop until my campsite, where I broke camp and drove for two hours, sure that I was going to be arrested for public nudity. I haven’t lost my shorts since.