Be Like Dooper: Be Grateful for Others

A look at the many ways to be thankful for others while running an ultramarathon.

By on April 10, 2024 | Comments

Bill Dooper. You’ve been gone for six years, yet you keep inspiring.

You inspire me to be a better person. You inspire me to find simple joy in life. You inspire me to write this today.

Bill Dooper - Grouse Gulch - Hardrock 100

Bill Dooper sharing his enthusiasm along the Hardrock 100 course. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Despite running many trail races and being at countless ultras, Dooper never ran an ultramarathon. Still, if he did, I can only imagine he’d have carried an “I get to do this” attitude with him the whole way. Sure, he would have acknowledged when things got tough, but I believe his gratitude would have overshadowed any discomfort. There’d be gratitude for the event’s existence, for his entry, for the beauty all around, for the ability to try the endeavor, and for those he got to share the journey with. Always remember, you don’t have to run an ultramarathon, you GET to run an ultramarathon.

In this piece, I want to focus on one aspect of what I imagine Dooper to be grateful for those around us in an ultra — and how we can show our appreciation for the people we share the experience with. 

Whether you’re running with someone, they’re passing you, or vice versa, make their day better with encouragement. This might not work at a 5-kilometer race or running amongst many thousands in a big city road marathon, but it sure does in nearly any ultra. It’s quick, easy, and costs nothing. In fact, I reckon it’s beneficial to you at the same time. Positivity begets more positivity, and positivity results in better performance and more fun while you’re at it.

I’ll never forget some years ago at the Hardrock 100 when Timothy Olson, Scott Jaime, myself, and others were trading places routinely (if slowly) during the final 25 miles. Without fail, every time one person would overtake another, each would sincerely offer encouragement. Yeah, we all wanted to do our best. At the same time, we also wanted everyone else to do their best. Ultras are not a zero-sum game.

Then, don’t forget the 2023 Western States 100 women’s race where the six women who ultimately finished in fourth through ninth place, and just 28 minutes apart, worked with each other to push to new heights as a full women’s field. When it was done and dusted, two of those six, along with the podium finishers ahead of them, racked up five of the top 10 fastest times ever in the historic event.

2023 Western States 100 - Leah Yingling, Eszter Csillag, Meghan Morgan

Leah Yingling (left), Eszter Csillag (middle), and Meghan Morgan running together at Robinson Flat, around mile 30 of the 2023 Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar/Jaja Ferrer Capili

When you can, go beyond those simple encouraging words and think about how to actively help other runners. If someone’s pulled off to the side of the trail with an issue, stop for a moment to see if you can help them be it with advice, something you’re carrying, or simply encouragement.

In a few decades of running ultras, I’ve encountered plenty of folks in the depths of a dark patch, whether injury-induced, caused by a failing stomach, or simply being in a funk. I’ve slowed or stopped to chat with plenty of them and, should I know them, occasionally share a big hug.

Some of my favorite ultra memories aren’t me crossing a finish line, but having those same runners blow by me later in a race. Who knows if I made a difference, but it feels good to have tried. So, give it a try sometime!

Yassine Diboun - 2023 Hardrock 100 Mile

Yassine Diboun flying away from me in Grouse Gulch after chatting through his rough stretch a few miles earlier during the 2023 Hardrock 100 Mile. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

And it is a pleasure to run with fellow racers during an event. It sure does make the time and the miles fly by while lowering the mental effort needed to cover the distance. Often times this happens naturally enough, and that’s a gift.

Personally, if I’m the one to come up on another runner and we start to fall into sync after any brief introductory chatter, I’ll ask if they mind the company and tell them to wave me off if they prefer to be alone at any point. Almost universally, everyone’s thankful for the opportunity to run with others, whether it’s a longtime friend or a complete stranger. As you do this, always be mindful of respecting others’ personal space and feelings of personal safety; for instance, there may be times when a woman might feel uncomfortable being approached by a man for conversation during an ultra.

2023 Hardrock 100 - Darla Askew - Bryon Powell

Chatting away the early miles of Hardrock 2023 with Darla Askew. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Don’t forget to thank the volunteers, your crew, and other folks along the way. It’s only right. And it feels good. Whatever their role in your day from putting on the race to creating space and support in your life to giving you a hearty high-five along the course reflect the good that all those people are putting out into the world back to them.

Heck, in thinking of Dooper, there’s a whole ‘nother group you can be thankful for while running an ultra. Think of all the people who’ve helped you on your life’s journey. For a few Hardrocks, I’ve made an aid-station-by-aid-station list with a person or group of people to reflect on and be thankful for while on that section of the course. These have been family, friends, coaches, and Dooper.

2016 Hardrock - Personal Notes

My section-by-section notes on who to reflect on during the 2016 Hardrock 100. (Mostly redacted.)

So, the next time you’re out there running an ultramarathon, be grateful and show it to those around you in body and spirit.

And here’s to you, Bill Dooper, for creating a spirit of gratitude that still infuses the ultra community!

Call for Comments

  • What are some of the many ways others help you while you’re running an ultramarathon?
  • How do you acknowledge those who help you during an ultra?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.