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Building Understanding And Respect Through Running

Geoff Roes writes about how running helps us appreciate landscapes and communities.

By on February 24, 2016 | Comments

In nearly all cases it seems that we humans tend to have more respect for things which we more fully understand. When people disrespect other people you can often point to a lack of understanding as part of the root cause. You see this in large-scale instances, as in entire cultures disrespecting other cultures that they don’t fully understand, and you see this in individual cases, as in people disrespecting other people that they don’t understand.

This reality also extends beyond respect of other people(s) to include virtually everything in our lives. It would not be a stretch at all to say that the more people seem to understand anything in this world, the more they tend to respect it. Whether it’s the planet we live on or the car we drive, if we have an intimate knowledge of how something works and how it will respond to stresses we put on it, we are much more likely to treat it with care, respect, and in a way that intends to be as sustainable as possible. This isn’t to say that with enough understanding we always get it right, but I think that having an intimate understanding of the people and the world around us almost always leads to having a higher level of respect for it all.

I think it’s also accurate to say that building respect through understanding can easily be one of the benefits of partaking in an activity like running. People often ask me why I run, and one of the answers I most often state is that I run to more deeply respect the land and the community around me. When I travel to a new place I find myself out of sorts until I can get out on foot and move around the surrounding area and come to more fully understand the place I am in. I cannot recall a single community or region of land that I have not come to respect more as I have come to understand it more, and for me running has always been a tool to help me come to this understanding. You might instead choose hiking, paddling, skiing, biking, or some other activity, but if you are regularly doing some activity that gets you out in a community and the land surrounding a community, you will almost certainly come to more deeply understand and thus more deeply respect it.

My current hometown of Juneau, Alaska is a great example of this for me. When I first moved here I had a fairly average (at best) level of respect for this community and the land surrounding it. I can remember numerous times thinking to myself, How could anyone live here long term? It’s so isolated, so wet and dreary, and so not a place I could ever envision staying for more than a few years. Slowly, though, over the past decade I have come to understand Juneau, and more importantly the land surrounding Juneau (in large part through my running), and with this understanding my respect has skyrocketed. There is now nowhere in the world I understand and respect as much as Juneau.

This process of increased understanding is still happening for me on a regular basis. Each time I explore another section of forest or alpine ridgeline for the first time I feel like I more clearly understand my hometown; each time a new season passes by and I observe the subtle changes that occur with this passing I feel like I understand the local area more; and each time I meet new people I feel like I understand the community more. Over time this increased understanding has led me to have more respect for Juneau and the land surrounding Juneau than I have ever had for anywhere.

I do think Juneau is a special and unique place that has an inherently high potential to be respected in a deep way, but I think my respect for Juneau is based less on its inherent quality and more on the fact that I have taken the time and logged the miles to be able to deeply and intimately understand it in a way that allows me to have this immense level of respect for it. Certainly running has not been the only means of doing this, but it has significantly accelerated this process for me.

Each time I go out on a run I try to closely observe the things around me. As often as possible, I try to use my running to take me somewhere I have never been before. Furthermore, when I run with other people I try to use my interactions with them as a way to better understand the local culture and community. When all of these things are combined together I like to think that running for me becomes a nearly perfect tool to help me better understand my surroundings. With this understanding it then becomes nearly unavoidable to have anything other than a deep respect for everything surrounding me here in Juneau.

The forests, the mountains and rivers, the wildlife, the ocean, and all the people who live in this community: I have a better understanding of and respect for all of these things because of my experiences and curiosities as a runner. Running is certainly not the only way to gain this understanding, but any runner would be wise to consider using their running habit as a way to better understand the beautiful land and vibrant community that surrounds them.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What aspects of your home terrain and community does regular running among it help identify and appreciate?
  • When you visit a new place and community, what role does running play in helping you connect to it?
Geoff Roes
Geoff Roes has set numerous ultramarathon course records including the Western States and Wasatch 100 milers. Salomon, Clif, Drymax, Ryders Eyewear, and Atlas Snowshoes all support Geoff's running. You can read more about his running on his blog Fumbling Towards Endurance and join him at his Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps.