Checking in on the Gift of 2%

On this late October day, my Strava account tells me that I’ve spent roughly 480 hours of the time that has so far passed in calendar year 2019 running. This adds up to about 6.7% of the year thus far. Put differently, it amounts to 20 of the 296-and-change days that have ticked by or when averaged by day is 1 hour and 36 minutes each day. My, ahem, running total is so far on par with last year, where I spent 6.5% of 2018 running. (Side note, that last fact is not only fascinating but totally not planned.) When I add up this time and tangibly see on the face of a calculator just how much of my life I dedicate to running, I feel like a lucky lady. I am so grateful to have the resources of time, money, health, community, and landscapes that collectively give me room to roam.

Earlier this year, I published an article called “The Gift of 2%” where I challenged myself and others to dedicate 2% of our year in running to giving back to our sport. In that article, I argued that we trail runners and ultrarunners are who we are because of our running, and our running is what it is because of the natural places and communities through which and with which we run. I committed to gifting 2% of my 2018 in running–that’s 11 hours and 35 minutes total and I divided that time equally among nature and community–back. In comments to the article, 31 more people committed in excess of 360.5 hours of their time. (Some people joined the gifting challenge but didn’t designate a time quantity.)

Almost 10 months of 2019 have now passed and it seems a good time to check in on our collective gifting. In 2019 so far, I’ve volunteered 12 hours at two different trail races in my Moab, Utah hometown. I was assigned by the race directors to both races’ finish lines, where I got to hand out medals, awards, and hugs. It was so fun! As discussed in my early year article, I planned to (and eventually did) run the 2019 Bear 100 Mile, which requires you to complete eight hours of volunteer work to participate in the race. I am not counting those hours toward my total because they are transactional. In doing them, I get something in return. After subtracting those eight hours, I have completed just four hours of my 11:35 goal.

Oops, I’m behind! I still need to complete about two hours of volunteer service for my community and the full five hours and 48 minutes of service to the natural landscapes through which I run. Fortunately, in a few weeks, I am scheduled to volunteer for several days at another trail race, so I should well exceed my community-gifting goal. But I don’t have a plan for volunteering for nature yet, and with only a couple months left in the year, I need one!

I probably share this personal conundrum with many trail runners and ultrarunners. Our sport offers easy access to volunteering for our community. A majority of trail races and ultramarathons are volunteer driven. And volunteering at a race is a fun opportunity to socialize with our friends without having to put our bodies through the agony of the race itself. ;-) Our link to serving the natural places which sustain our running is perhaps less natural and fluid. A lot of us must be more intentional in seeking out ways in which we can give back to the places through which we adventure.

What am I personally doing about this and how will I make my gift of 2% goal? In the last week, I’ve reached out to several regional organizations to see about upcoming volunteer opportunities, everything from animal and plant surveying to trails maintenance and building, and from natural-resource education to land-advocacy awareness. I don’t have a time, place, or activity to which I’m committed yet, but I hope that will come soon.

Now, how about you? If you are one of the 31 people who committed to this challenge back in January, how do things stand for you? Leave a comment to update us all on the progress of your gifting goal. If you have some hours to go, like me, do you have a plan for how you will achieve your goal? And, if you’re just joining us, there’s still plenty of time to join the challenge in some way! With all that running does for us, surely all of us should–and can–do something for it. Leave a comment to update us all on your progress in the challenge, to join the challenge and make your own commitment, or to share your thoughts on volunteerism in trail running and ultrarunning. I’ll be back again, after we pass into the new year, for a final check-in, and I hope to see you here, too.

Meghan Hicks

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

There are 11 comments

  1. Steve Bremner

    I try to volunteer for at least one race a year. I’ve been on the board of Friends of the Peak, maintaining the trails around the Pikes Peak Massif, for over five years, currently serving as the president. I try to personally participate in at least three trail working days every year. Giving back to the community rewards the individual volunteering as well as building bonds across the community.

  2. Kim Russell

    I have met my goal of 10 hours with about 8 hours of trail work and directing a local charity run which requires many hours of work. But I hoped to do a lot more than that, so thanks for the reminder. There is still time!

  3. John Vanderpot

    A confession: I’m not nearly as good at record-keeping or math as you, so the truth is I have no idea how much time I spent out there this year, I would guess a lot? (Very precise, I know…)

    But I did read your earlier piece on this topic and basically internalized the idea that, yeah, I should be giving more back… and since then have given 2 3-day weekends to bigger area events as well as several days to smaller ones and am on my way out to AZ this evening to help with whatever crazy is waiting outside of Phoenix tomorrow? (Hi Jubs!)

    The takeaway’s been this: it’s a lot more fun than I ever imagined, people really appreciate you being there, once you free up the time and make the commitment the “work” is never particularly hard, plus a free lunch and another T-shirt!

    Talk about a good deal!

  4. Rob B.

    My wife and I are retired so we have more spare time then most. We are volunteer trail maintainers for the Mason-Dixon Trail. We are responsible for an 11 mile section. We run about 25 hours a month and volunteer about 8 hours a month. I run a bit more than my wife and she volunteers a bit more than me.

    As a volunteer trail maintainer here are several things I wish more people would do while they are out on the trails running or hiking. I would consider any of this volunteering and sign off on your paperwork as such, if needed. Thanks for your help, the trails need it.

    1. While on a trail if there are downed limbs or small trees remove them from the trail don’t just step over them.
    2. If it is too large for you to handle report it to someone, in parks to rangers, on other trails to maintainers.
    3. Never litter and if you see litter pick it up when possible.

  5. Mark Houston

    I didn’t pledge after reading your article, but I’ve ended up investing over 40 hours in 2019 in direct trail maintenance/repair for the Parks of Aledo (TX) trail system. I joined the local mountain bike club that is responsible for trail upkeep so I could become one of the official “trail stewards.” I mountain bike a little, but as a trail runner the role allows me to work for great relations among all trail users.

  6. Jeff Rome

    Oh geez, well I’ve been pretty bad at giving back. I’d say my greatest non-transactional service to the trail world has been knocking down cairns as tourist season picked up in Acadia park. The only two days of trail work I did this year will get me another lottery ticket for a run, so that doesn’t really count. And sure, I could make an excuse such as working every weekend when volunteer events normally happen. But I took time off for racing, so why is it so much harder to take time off for volunteering when it doesn’t involve a lottery ticket? And why do I feel like my volunteering needs to happen under something already organized?

    I’d like to think I’ll be doing this area a service soon by making the first tracks in snowy trails, but that’s mostly just me trying to rationalize running instead of doing real volunteer work. I owe a lot to these mountains and the community they host. Giving back is hard when you feel like there’s always so much more ground left to cover before you really know a place. But the winter is my time off, and soon I’ll have weekends free. I’m sure I can find some way to help the trails, even though they’ll be deep under snow.

  7. Meghan Hicks

    Steve, Kim, John, Rob, Mark, and Jeff,

    Thanks so much for your comments, and your commitments, however formalized or casual or whatever in between. I really love hearing the details of the gifting you are doing for your sport, as well as some of the mental gymnastics you do over the gifting choices you make. I’m sure if I have enjoyed your candor, many others do as well.


    Thank you so much for serving on that board. I do not envy the job you have of trying to manage all the competing interests on that very popular mountain. Thanks also for volunteering for iRunFar earlier this year! :-)


    Congrats on meeting your goal, so awesome! If you find a little spare time to do a little more, I hope you’ll come back and comment in our last article on this gifting challenge. Hearing how the process goes for others is so meaningful. Thanks!


    Oh wow, that’s so cool you’ve increased your commitment to serving your running community in 2019. A huge cheers to that!


    Thank you so much to you and your wife for taking care of a big section of trail. I know it’s a lot of work! Thank you also for sharing a couple easy recommendations on how people can be of simple service to their local trails when they are out and about. I hope it gives people ideas and impetus!


    Oh, that’s cool! I am also interested in figuring out how my service to my sport can overlap and be of service to other outdoor communities. Thanks for your volunteer efforts as well as your work in bridging the sport gaps.


    Thanks for the thoughtful response, especially in sharing the thought process on your volunteerism. I really appreciate it. (Hey, I know a guy over there on your side of the mountains who can probably give you ideas on where you can go carry out a bit of independent trail work. He’s the same guy we all admire for his mountain running prowess of the past and who is now an incredible trails maintainer and race organizer. ;-)) Thanks again for commenting!

  8. Mike A

    I have failed miserably the first 10 months of the year, family and work life exploded. However, I am determined to meet my pledged goal over the next two months. Some trail work, local race volunteering and a day of charitable labor are all on the calendar!

  9. Paul Waye

    What a totally awesome concept!
    I independently made a similar commitment to myself this year that on every single Strava activity (run, bike, swim etc) I would pick up trash (aka plogging). It didn’t have to be much but had to be something.. even on races. So at a marathon a couple of weeks ago I carried around a plastic bottle I picked up off the ground that morning (I carried it in my Naked belt). I also try and inspire others, so post it on my @wayeoflife Instagram account. Next year I am going to branch out into extra ways such as you mention with volunteering etc. Great article/concept Meghan!

  10. Donna

    I guess I should have signed up for this challenge back in January! I’ve spent a little over 300 hours running, and 80 hours volunteering. It was a great way to stay connected to the running community while scaling back the amount of races I was paying for.

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