The Gift of 2%

After a night facing our solar system’s dark, far reaches, my side of the earth rotates back toward the sun enough that the new calendar day breaks blue. First light is always blue in winter, isn’t it? I hit the button on my watch, tuck my chin into my clothing layers to ward off the cold, and take my first jogging steps. My shoes crunch the snow-covered road in tympanic opposition to an otherwise silent morning, these sound waves as familiar and soothing as the beating of my own heart.

A lone mule deer stands shin deep in the loose snow off the side of the road, attempting invisibility through a lack of motion. While such a strategy works for some animalian eyes, it doesn’t for mine. Though I do see the creature, I intentionally avoid turning my head to look at it straight on. If it thinks I haven’t seen it, I know the deer is less likely to sprint away. No need to unnecessarily spook someone today.

I stop for a moment to admire a fresh trackway pressed into the snow, the only detectable record of a small bobcat’s passing. I haven’t yet seen this little one with my own eyes, though the neighbors did last week, and they say it’s barely bigger than a house cat. He or she was likely born over the summer and is making its first solo season of life. Many of the rodents are hibernating and we are down on rabbits big time–disease must have recently riddled the population–so as I run I wonder on what this bobcat feeds.

Out in the desert, miles away and 2,000 vertical feet below me, the rocks suddenly alight in cotton-candy-pink light. From my still-refrigerator-ed position in the west-side shadow of my home mountains, I imagine how the sun feels. The bright light looks like warmth to me, and even from this far off–it’ll be 40 minutes until the sun beams land up here–I can feel its heat filling the interstices of my body. I feel so alive that it’s hard to stay inside my skin.

How and why this works like this, I don’t know. Perhaps, I’m not meant to know. All I am sure of is that today, like every day, running gives me the gifts of heat and light and love and feelings for which I don’t have words.

***

Each year, most of us runners devote hundreds of hours of time to our sport. My Strava account tells me that I spent 579 hours and 13 minutes doing sports in 2018. Oh my heck, that’s more than 6.5% of all the hours in all the days of the entire year that I spent running! I’m sure that number looks a lot like couch lounging to the Jim Walmsleys and Courtney Dauwalters out there, but we’re talking about a dedicated passion project, for sure. During these 579 hours, I experienced incredible natural landscapes, felt the love and friendship of new friends and old within our community, have maintained my health and well-being, and felt an intangible but invaluable sense of ‘home.’ So much time, so many gifts.

None of these experiences are guaranteed. Without our trail running and ultrarunning community as well as our planet’s natural landscapes, our sport wouldn’t exist. Sure, something would fill its place, but it’d be a skeleton of our present vibrancy. None of what we have exists in a vacuum, no matter what we do, despite what we do. We depend on our nature and culture; our nature and culture depend on us.

So, I greet you, me, and the collective we today with a simple challenge: the gift of two percent. In honor of the daily gifts we all receive from our sport, let’s challenge ourselves to give the gift of two percent of our running time back to our sport in 2019.

Two percent of my 2018 of running is about 11 hours and 35 minutes. In 2019, I will gift that time back to my sport, half of it to community-based volunteerism and the other half to volunteering for our wild places.

Will you join me in giving the same gift? And, will you ask a friend to join us, too? What if 50 of us commit to donating 2% of our running time? If 50 people who run an hour a day each year donate 2% of their running time, that’s a gift of more than two weeks. Or what if we become a tribe of 150 givers? We could gift almost 6.5 weeks of our time. This is a pretty hefty collective gift!

I’m signed up for The Bear 100 Mile this September, which, like many 100 milers in the United States, requires eight hours of volunteer service on trail maintenance or at an ultramarathon. This is volunteerism, for sure, and it’s a racing requirement I certainly support. Can we all agree that it’s also transactional? In order to ‘get’ what I want in running The Bear, I have to ‘give’ of my time. Thus, I’m not counting these hours in my gift of 2%. Mine will be an unrequited gift back to the places and people who nurture me so.

I know, we are busy. We have kids, a job or two, and other hobbies and passions, all important things which consume the hours in our days. Most of us are probably busier than we’d prefer to be. But I’d also venture a guess that most of us need running. Down in our bones, we’ve come to rely on this sport in some critical way: for finding friendships, fighting demons, chasing dreams, or seeking health. In fact, the busiest people may need running the most. Trail running is integral to me and I suspect it is to you, too. If this is the case, then we all have the time to give back.

Certainly there are many of us who already donate our time to trail running, who already volunteer at trail races and in nature centers for non-transactional reasons, who already commit more than 2% of our year in running to our sport. To those of you who already do this, thank you. Perhaps some of you might be willing to commit to another 2%?

Here’s how the challenge will work:

  • Leave a comment to this article to join the challenge. Tell us who you are, how much time you spent running last year, and what 2% of that time is. Your comment becomes your commitment. (If you agree to be contacted personally about your gift for a follow-up article, leave your email address in the email box. It won’t be published and I will only use it for this article and not for any other purpose, ever.)
  • Go forth and give your gift of 2%! Let’s challenge ourselves to give half of that time to our run community and half of it to the natural places through which we run. Make someone in your trail world smile with a helping hand in an aid station. Beautify a landscape through which your feet roam. Help an organization count birds, survey recreation usage, or rehabilitate an ecosystem. Enjoy the process of giving your gift.
  • Toward the end of the year, we’ll return to all of our gifts together with a follow-up article in this column. We’ll share stories and ruminate and celebrate the positive impact that the collective we have made on that which positively impacts us.

***

It’s not too long until some more minutes pass, the sunlight finally finds its way to me, and my daily run comes to its end. I stand on my stoop, pull off my frozen-solid shoes, and bathe in the sun’s real warmth. On the land and in my body, a new day dawns. With it, I feel clarity and calmness and confidence and the desire to go out and work hard and a reminder of who I want to be today. This is the gift of running.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 37 comments

  1. Locke Stuart

    Really like the article. This is something that I SHOULD do. I spent roughly 590 hours last year swimming, biking, and running. Discovered ultras two years ago, and I am now hooked. Use triathlon as x training. :-) I am going to commit to volunteering in some fashion for 12 hours this coming year to give back to the ultra community.

  2. Amy McDowell

    I love this idea! I ran for 388 hours last year, which means a little under 8 hours of giving back. I am already scheduled to volunteer for 4 hours at an aid station at the Umstead 100 and may also volunteer as a pacer there as well, but this made me feel like I should do more too! I will be on the look out for more opportunities throughout the year.

  3. Meghan Hicks

    Hi Stuart and Amy,

    Thanks for joining the challenge; I’m so happy you’re both in! That’s 31 hours and 35 minutes committed so far between the three of us.

    Now, who’s next? :)

  4. Katie Webb

    Thanks for putting this challenge out there Meghan, I’m in! One of my goals for 2019 was to spend more time giving back to the sport…either by volunteering at races or by attending races I’m not running to support friends. I ran 345 hours last year, so 2% would be 7 hours if I round up. That doesn’t seem like nearly enough time in exchange for what I get back from the community and the sport, so I’ll double mine and go in for 14 hours.

  5. Jeff Rome

    I spent quite a bit of time running last year, not all of it tracked, but 16 hours of giving should cover at least 2%. I plan on being at some aid stations over the summer, and would like to find some trail work opportunities outside of those related to running events. There are a lot of user made cairns where I run, and it would be a good volunteer project to figure out how best to dissuade people from making more.

  6. Sarah Lavender Smith

    In 2018 I spent right around 450 hours running, so 2% = about 9 hours. I already plan to put many more hours than that into volunteering this spring as a run mentor & board member for a community youth group called Running for a Better Oakland. I’ll endeavor to spend at least 4.5 hours doing trail work, as I did last summer, organized by the Telluride Mountain Club. I’m overdue for volunteering for an aid station — I used to try to work an aid station quarterly but haven’t done that for almost a year. Thanks for the article & challenge.

  7. Kim Russell

    I am not sure on totals, but over 500 hours of total running, weights, swim etc, so 2% is 10 hours. I am doing some train maintenance on my favorite trail this Saturday and hope to do a lot more. Thanks for the challenge.

  8. Carissa Liebowitz

    I’m so excited to see this article! Last year, I challenged myself to volunteer at 5 (or more) events and ended up at 13 different events – partially because I was injured for a portion of the year. However, this year, I’m definitely committed beyond 2% of my last year’s hours of 387, I’m aiming for 40 hours of service this year. There are so many ways to help out, officially or just being a good human, especially in ultras – aid stations, marking a course, sweeping a course, helping move supplies and drop bags, providing meals for other volunteers, offering to pace a stranger, or helping people schlep stuff to their vehicles.

    It’s so important for me to give back to this sport that gives me so much joy. Plus, the karma points can’t hurt on race day!

  9. Meghan Hicks

    Katie, Jeff, Sarah, Kim, and Carissa,

    Yeah, you are awesome! Thank you! I love that you are sharing some specifics of to what you are gifting your time, and I so love to hear that it together represents a combination of gifts to the natural spaces through which we run and our trail running community.

    Here’s our present total:
    8 participants
    121 gifted hours
    (I rounded my gift up to 12 hours for ease of calculations and because I’m inspired by everyone else committing to more than 2% of their running time. So cool!)

  10. Steve Ray

    I ruptured my Achilles this year, so 2% would be 0 hours since I can’t do anything. I will try though to get out and volunteer as much as my ankle will let me even if it is babysitting so someone else can run or handing out potatoes at a race while I sit in a chair.

  11. Oz Runner Girl

    Thank you Megan.
    I am in British Columbia and injured so I will volunteer for all the Coast Mtn Trail series races as well as the Diez Vista 50k and the Squamish 50 and the Whistler Alpine Meadow races.
    I will be a course marshall on all these events. Its really so wonderful and amazing to see races from a volunteer position….we should all do this more often.
    thank you for the reminder.

  12. Chris Nicholson

    I just started volunteering with Back On My Feet (www.backonmyfeet.org), a national nonprofit that helps homeless individuals access employment and housing resources, using running and the positivity and community associated with running as a source of empowerment. For anyone looking for a volunteer opportunity which involves running and addresses issues of homelessness, housing and jobs – check out BOMF!

  13. Frederic

    Great idea !
    Having volunteered around 150 hours in 2018 to my local bike co-op, that would mean I need to run 7,500 hours, I better get started :-)

  14. Megan

    Good idea Meghan. A goal for this year was to spend some of my free time giving back. I ran 301 hours last year which is only 6 hours, I will go with double that, 12 hours, at least a full day giving back to the trails, the community and the wild spaces that feed my soul.

  15. Doug K

    thank you, a good reminder. Our church has a similar drive this year, tithing of talents as well as income.. so 10% of each day to be given to prayer, community service, etc. 2% of running time is much easier ;-)

    I used to do 2-3 races as volunteer each year, then we had kids and my volunteer time went to swim team, boy scouts, etc etc. One kid is gone to college and the other is about to go.. so I need to get back out there.
    2% of my running time for last year is about half an hour, so that don’t help. Instead I’ll try to get to one race as volunteer, and one Backcountry Hunters and Anglers work project, should be 12 hours at least. That’s little enough in all conscience..

  16. Caitlin Rushlow

    What a wonderful idea, Meghan- I’m in! I have no idea how many hours I ran last year, but I’m sure my outdoor recreation hours (thinking “collective we” here :)) total way over 1000, including a trail marathon, our bikepacking trip, a six day float in Hell’s canyon, and several overnight backpacking trips- not even counting frequent trail runs and cross country skis! So I’ll aim to volunteer at least 20 hours. I’ll start with volunteering again for the Wallowa Mountain Hells Canyon Trails Association, as well as the Wallowa Lake Triathlon, and add more as I can! And… committed, yes!

  17. Leah A

    I *love* this idea. My total running hours last year were 418, so 2% leaves around 8 and a half hours of volunteering. I’m already in to marshal at the Grizzly (a notorious trail race in my home area of South Devon, UK), which I’m really looking forward to. The plan is to also man an unofficial aid station again on the Birmingham and Black Country Half Marathon in July – it’s a point to point, heading directly south into the sun with no shade, in what is essentially a brick oven during the hottest part of the day (in a heat wave last summer), so my running crew and I showed up with bags of ice, salted crisps and a load of watermelon last year which went down a treat, and plan to do the same again this year. Unconfirmed as yet, but I think there’s discussion about doing an aid station at one of the Centurion events this summer with the crew from Advent Running as well as our usual cheer station at the London Marathon. Otherwise, I’ll be continuing to put time into the local running community here in Birmingham UK – organising and leading free weekly runs, and helping others working towards their goals. (That’s not entirely selfless though – the more people I introduce to the trails, the more fun people there are locally to run with, so it’s a win win!)

  18. Meghan Hicks

    Megan, Doug, Caitlin, and Leah,

    Hurrah, more joiners! Thanks to the four of you as well.

    Megan, love your remark about feeding your soul. So delishly tangible in sentiment.

    Doug, isn’t it a little nuts when we begin to think about how much we ‘use’ our natural places and communities (that’s not meant in a use-abuse sense, just in a how-much-they-are-a-true-part-of-our-lives sense) in relationship with how little we give back? I get a little choked up in thinking about my own scales-tipped personal ratio.

    Here’s our running total:
    16 participants
    173.5 gifted hours

    We’re up to more than a week of gifted hours, how great! Who is next to join us? Thank you, everyone!

  19. Larry Kundruik

    Count me in. I do not track my mileage or time but I am planning on being at camp Hardrock this year to help with cook Hardrock and aide station preparation, 20 to 30 hours? Plus I will do some local trail work to use as volunteer hours for any 2020 race that might require them. Love this idea.

  20. KristinZ

    :) I don’t have exact hours for my running, but I know it’s a lot. I love it so. I also tend to volunteer what I’d guess is a good deal more than 2% ea yr and am happy to do so—aid stations, pacing, helping new runners discover our trails, lead kiddo runners in a weekly run club, HR for iRunFar, etc. I’ll throw the number 40 hrs out there and hope to beat it in 2019.

  21. Rich Myers

    Cool, I’m in! In 2018 I recorded 437 hours so 2% would put me down for 9 hours. However, in 2018, I volunteered 46 hours for Aravaipa Running and Arizona Road Racers, so I’m setting my 2019 goal at 51 hours or about a 10% increase. Already for 2019, I’ve logged 19 hours volunteering for Aid and Registration at San Tan Scramble and Coldwater Rumble 100. It’s awesome so many people have already responded! What a great idea!

  22. Meghan Hicks

    Woohoo, our giving team continues to expand thanks to Larry, Kristin, and Rich!

    Our present total:
    19 participants
    284.5 gifted hours

    We’re coming up on 12 days being gifted to the trail running community and our natural spaces, hurrah! I’d secretly love to see 50 people join the challenge, so keep those gift pledges coming. It seems like there’s a slight imbalance in pledges toward the community over nature, so does anyone want to step up with a gift pledge to volunteering in their local natural space?

    Thanks so much to everyone who joins this little challenge. Our little commitments can together lead to big results, I am confident!

  23. Robert Bartholomew

    Megan we appreciate everything you do for the trail running community so we will join in on your challenge. My wife and I ran ~400 hrs last year. We are currently aid station captains for two 50k races, volunteered at a marathon water stop, volunteer at three youth cross county races and are volunteer trail maintainers maintaining a 22.5 mile section of the Mason-Dixon Trail. We also hosted a small trail race last year and hope to make it an annual event. Your challenge will hopefully inspire us to continue with what we are doing and to improve in some areas, mainly with trail maintenance.

  24. Sarah Heinzerling

    I love this!!!
    I was in school last year so it’s low so I will commit to 4%…
    112 hrs and 43 mins
    2% = 2.25 hrs
    4% = 4.5 hrs

  25. Mike Austin

    I’m in, 399 hours last year, so 8 hours. Probably volunteer at the VT100, and then I would like to do some trail maintenance.

  26. Meghan Hicks

    Robert, Mrs. Bartholomew, Sarah, Mike, and Aaron,

    How cool and thanks for joining the challenge!

    Current pledged totals:
    24 participants
    297 hours
    (The hours total includes just the specifically pledged hours, and not those who left their time pledges more open-ended. So, I think our group’s end-of-year total will be a lot higher. But it’s still fun to keep track of numbers!)

  27. Flo Wachter

    That is a great inspiration. I´ve been out there on the trails for 268 hours. So I will put 6 hours on an inviromental Project, I need to find now. I put everything in this wonderfull nature, because I am allready race-directing an small Ultra here in Germany, wich are so to see my first 2% (everybody knows that race-directing is more than six hours work)

  28. Martin Schneekloth (@ultrakraut)

    First of all, I made sure to share this article on my FB page, because the need for volunteering cannot be shared often enough. I have also made one strange observation here in the southeast. Generally, there are a lot more mountain bikers active in the trail building and trail maintenance scene. Does that hold true in other areas as well? It just surprises me, because there are way more organized runners out there than mountain bikers. Anyway, in 2018, I ran 535 hours, which would equate to roughly 11 hours of volunteer work to meet the 2% pledge goal. Since January 1, 2019, I have volunteered at the Mountain Mist 50K for 4 hours and I have spent a total of 8 hours working on trail maintenance at the local Monte Sano State Park as well as the Land Trust of North Alabama, which means I have already exceeded my 2% pledge goal for the year. So let’s double it, I say:-)

  29. Meghan Hicks

    Flo and Martin, yes! What great projects you are already working on and committed to. So exciting and thanks for being a part of this challenge!

    February 1 totals:
    26 participants
    325 hours

    We’re almost to two full weeks of pledged hours; thank you to everyone who has joined so far!

  30. Ladia Albertson-Junkans

    Such beautiful writing (as always!) and SUCH a great idea — I absolutely love it and I’m absolutely in! I don’t know how many hours I ran but I’ll commit 17.5 hrs (2% of the total hrs in a year in honor of the daily gifts running gives me even when I’m not physically running). My community hours will largely go to a summer trail running group I’m trying to start for high school girls in my local community this summer, as well as volunteering at a few races (like you, in addition to the 100 mile race required hours). For the environment, I will volunteer with our local trail work organization again and do more to help with trail maintenance and trash pick-up. Thank you for inspiring us to pay forward and reflect on all the gifts running gives us every hour of every day. I am so thankful for you and the irunfar community.

  31. Sophie Speidel

    Megan, I don’t track my running hours but will commit to 10 hours of trail work here on the trails of my hometown of Charlottesville, VA (where the mountain biking community is far more active and participatory in trail maintanence than our large trail running community, unfortunately). And, while I’m at it, I’ll encourage my students in my Outdoor Leadership class to join me! Thanks for being such a great role model for all of us.

  32. Lisa

    I love this! My 2% is around 8 hours, which I’ve already gladly and gleefully given back to the sport while spending time at winter ultras. (Roughly 20 hours so far, between two big races.) And there are so many more ahead, already marked on my calendar as prominently as the races in which I choose to participate.

    There’s no better way to share the joy than to help create it yourself. :) This community is all of us!

  33. Meghan Hicks

    Ladia, Sophie, and Lisa, yay, thank you so much for joining the fun! I love what Lisa said, “This community is all of us!” So perfect!

    All, I offer a kind reminder to anyone reading through these comments about the importance of volunteerism for our natural spaces, which sometimes are left behind in our volunteer offerings and are most often considered by trail runners through trail building/upkeep. Of course those things are critical, but there is much more that goes into the understanding, protection, and management of our wild spaces, and land administrators are often in desperate need of volunteer help to carry out these missions. In my home public lands, a couple of examples of how our land administrators have asked for help before have been for bird counting, native plant reseeding/planting, archaeological site preservation, and invasive species removal. If you’re interested in this sort of volunteerism, I recommend you connect with your local land administrators and ask how they could best use your help. Additionally, many land administrators organize volunteer days to carry out this kind of work, so you can join one of them. All I offer here is an encouragement to cast your volunteerism net far and wide!

    Okay, here’s our current pledge count:
    29 participants
    360.5 hours

    Thank you so much to EVERYONE!

  34. Astrid Claessen

    Hi Meghan, due to an injury I’m no longer able to run the way I like so I am now devoting that time to helping the running community. Each year we (my partner Joost and I) volunteer at 3 ultra’s and last year we even spend 3000 hours creating a documentary showcasing ultra running in our region. Looking forward to March 1st when the first ultra of the year let’s us welcome runners to our checkpoint. A great year in nature and the community ahead.

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