Community – What It Means To Us

A look at the importance of community in the growth of ultramarathons.

By on December 21, 2012 | Comments

AJWs TaproomA month or so ago I was contacted by Jacob Todd, a graduate student from Georgia, who stumbled upon one of my columns while researching a paper. In my column on our shared values, Todd notes that one of the characteristics of ultramarathon trail running that is so separate and distinct from other sports is the value placed on building community and establishing camaraderie within the ranks of runners and among the people who sustain and support the sport.

I thought about Todd’s notion last week when I followed along with the Hardrock lottery and its aftermath. Amidst the calls for a revised selection system which would allow “elites” entry into the race and a more fair system that gave first timers a fair shot was a gentle but quiet series of voices commenting on the tremendous community that the Hardrock 100 had built over the years and how important that shared sense of belonging is to members of that community.

Let’s face it, we live in an age when meaningful community is harder and harder to find. The town common is a thing of the past, institutions such as schools and churches have become decentralized, the way we live and work has further separated us as suburbs have become exurbs, and even our online communities have grown shallow and tired. Therefore, it’s no wonder that when a created community such as an ultramarathon race can produce of feeling of connectedness, belonging, and shared purpose, it attracts people.

Having run a handful of the biggest and most well-established 100-mile races in the country it has become clear to me that the communitarian aspect of these events is a significant reason for the growth in their popularity and longevity. Whether it is the Hutchinson family legacy at the Vermont 100, the anti-establishment ethos of the Wasatch 100, the “Ken Chlouber Effect” of the Leadville 100, or the warm and fuzzy family feel of the Hardrock 100, these events have found a way into people’s hearts in ways that many modern branding and marketing professionals would love to be able to generate or harness.

Look at my favorite race, the Western States 100. Regardless of the entry fee increasing at double the rate of inflation over the past five years, the public backlash to the hype of the event, the feeling that it somehow has a secret set of rules that rewards the “in crowd” at the expense of first-timers, and the tremendous explosion in other available race events for runners to enter, the event continues to out-pace all others in terms of its popularity with supply far outstripping demand. Why this is is anybody’s guess but I have to believe that one of the reasons for this explosion is grounded in the innate human desire to feel a sense of connection to something larger than oneself in a world in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a meaningful sense of purpose. I suppose, if these events are helping us all find a place to drop anchor in a world adrift, it must be a good thing.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
anderson valley winter solstice
This week’s beer of the week comes from Anderson Valley Brewing Company in California. Their Winter Solstice Holiday Ale is one of the finest “Holiday Brews” of the season combining a nice piney flavor with a rich hoppy aroma. It will warm up even the coldest heart!

Ps. The winner of the Ray Miller 50 entry contest is Larry Gassan. Larry will be awarded one free entry into the event and will be photographed, in black and white, upon his finish. ;-) Congratulations, Larry!

Call for Comment (from Bryon)
How has community added to your ultramarathon experience?

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.