Better Than You Found It

In praise of leaving things better than you found them.

By on October 10, 2018 | Comments

This past weekend, Meghan and I were fortunate enough to spend two nights at the rustic St. Paul’s Hut near Red Mountain Pass in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. As we prepared to leave, I enthusiastically swept away at the carpet. It was far from efficient, but it was the best option available and I had one goal… to leave the cabin better than we found it. Taking such action would obviously leave the user-cleaned cabin in better condition for the next users, while more subtly preventing normalizing this or that little dirtiness that, over time, can creep into a mess. Put another way, leaving something better than you found it is both a positive act and a positive example.

St. Paul's Hut - Red Mountain Pass - Colorado

St. Paul’s Hut in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

As runners and, more important, as people, we can often aim to leave a place, situation, or community better than we found it. This idea most often pops into my head as the thought of leaving where I’m running cleaner than I found it. Sure, dedicated clean-up runs or hikes are great, but what about picking up one or two items every time we run? Even if on a rare occasion we drop something ourselves, this way we’re sure to leave our running environs in better shape overall.

Picking up the odd piece of trash on your run is great, but we still put wear and tear on the trails on which we run, even if we run on them responsibly. Even if your impact on your favorite trails is minimal, spending even a day a year doing trail work can easily make you a net positive. More frequent trail work can make you a hero.

2018 Hardrock 100 trail work

2018 Hardrock 100 trail work.

For most of us, our runs include interactions with others. While it might be a bit much to nod to everyone on a London street or a San Francisco Bay Area bike path, your running surely has more personal moments, too. Why not give that smile and a nod to the cyclist at the stoplight, that wave to the runner on the other side of the road, or a howdy to the hunter hiking along the trail. Although only a minuscule act, doesn’t it make that interpersonal moment better?

Gordon Hardman - Little Giant 2018

Why not stop and have quick chat with your fellow trail users?

As runners, we’re also often part of a community, whether local or much broader. Why not aim to make whatever community you’re a part of even better than when you found it? I know that when I accidentally entered the ultrarunning world, I was mentored by an amazing group of people in the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club. It wasn’t too many years later that I wanted to share what I knew–imperfect as that might be–with others in hopes of making the community even better than I found it. I hope I’m still successfully advancing that mission.

Of course, you’re not always going to agree with others and, at times, you’ll fervently disagree. That’s okay. Heck, it’s good. However, we can disagree in a manner that makes each other better than when we came into that disagreement. Listen to the other and try to deeply understand their perspective. Calmly and rationally share your point of view and how you got there. You might both continue to disagree at the end of the conversation, but if you both come away having a better understanding of the other’s perspective, then you both leave that interaction better than you found it. That may sound impossible, especially in today’s world of knee-jerk reactions and yelling past one another, but I assure you it’ll happen if you try hard. On this point, I can recall being a young socialist attending a libertarian law school–long before iRunFar was born. Whether in the classroom, in the hallway, or over a beer after exams, my classmates and I ardently debated and discussed our fundamentally different viewpoints, but did so respectfully. Rarely was anyone’s end viewpoint changed, but we understood the other’s rationale and, at times, could even empathize with it.

Telluride, Colorado - Just Because

Telluride, Colorado… just because.

Although I consciously try to leave most situations better than I found them, I’ll admit it’s not always easy. Even when I’m not the biggest fan of another’s mode of recreation, such as an off-highway vehicle traveling loudly and quickly down a remote dirt road, or, perhaps, even more so when I feel this way, I try to pleasantly acknowledge any other outdoor recreationalists I encounter. In these moments, it’s my hope that I make the immediate situation more pleasant, and, in the long run, bring awareness of different sorts of recreationalists the other person might not have previously considered. You just never know where a steward of people and place might be born.

Maybe I’m writing into the void here or maybe I’m preaching to the choir, but if there’s any chance that you or I change one decision to the positive, then, well, I’ve left this moment a little better than I found it.

Call for Comments

Where or when do you most often find yourself trying make something better than when you found it? Where could you be more diligent in this pursuit?

Animas River in August

The Animas River in Colorado left me better off than it found me last week.

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.