Community – What It Means To Us

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?

There are 7 comments

  1. Jeff Faulkner

    I can attest to what you are saying AJW. There is a feeling of belonging that comes along with trail running and even more so with ultra distance trail running. I have dozens of acquaintances, and several friendships, that exist for me due to races I've participated in. And the only social group I belong to is a regional group of trail runners here in Florida.

    There's a real connection that's formed due to our shared passion, and I enjoy it almost as much as I do the running.

  2. Ethan

    Agreed, Andy. The community aspect is key. I've got a great group of like-minded friends who I know because I run with them. And while it's true that the 'big' races may feel exclusive, I personally know three people who got into WS100 on their first attempt. Also, Hardrock may be difficult to get into but they have thoughtfully constructed their new lottery to reward persistence – because the number of tickets grows exponentially, after several continuous years of trying new entrants see greatly improved odds. And the majority of ultras are still easy enough to get into – instead of of conspiracy theories about secret entrance requirements, it would great to see people put their energy into running a new race. I've never been to one where I haven't met some good people!

  3. Nelson Prater

    I love the community aspect of running! When I joined the North Texas Trail Runners (NTTR), I couldn't believe it was real – that a group could be so welcoming. They've proven to me they're real. And, then I did my first 50-miler, and we stopped and helped a guy get up out of the brush, massaged his calves (which looked like twisted rubber bands) and helped him get on his feet and to the next aid station. We added about 15 minutes to our finish time, which would have been unheard of in a road race, but was just the usual thing to do in the trail race – we were all one helping each other get to the finish line.

  4. Anonymous

    I have a little saying, which I'll share with ya'll: Wanna know where the best people in the world are on almost any given weekend? Show up at an ultra, they'll be waiting there to say hello, they'll have smiles on their faces and twinkles in their eyes, and you'll know you're home…

    Happy holidays to all of you,

    JV in SD

  5. Sophie speidel

    Love this. You know how I feel about Hellgate? It's the same thing you feel about WS. A tough race, yes, but the community is the real deal. For 24 hours many of the same folks gather, year after year, welcoming the newcomers and excited to share the same experience. I wonder if Hardrock was where Hellgate is now…just a quiet little race where the RD can open up,the entrants list when he wants or needs to, unencumbered by the demands of a lottery. Maybe I shouldn't count on being able to run it every year, but I do for now. I can imagine how the old time Hardrockers feel now that they have to cross their fingers and hope for the lottery gods to be nice to them. I will enjoy every step I run on that course, just in case.

  6. AJW

    Sophie, yes, the way you describe Hellgate is exactly the way the old-timers describe HRH back in the day. In fact, Horty is one of those guys:)

  7. Tom

    Nice column…but what really caught my eye was the beer. Great pick for the season. Now I find myself waiting for the Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema. Mmmmmm

  8. Meghan Arbogast

    There is something in this community that goes way beyond lotteries, races, and weekend long runs. My experience is that the caring goes outside our activity into the personal lives of those we meet, as they probably did in those old small-town days. Throughout the long death of my husband, and now through the convalescence of my daughter recently diagnosed with POTS, this ultra running community has been behind me. I believe we are a group of humans very connected to our physical and spiritual selves, and we've been brought together through this like-mindedness. Being out in nature and moving our bodies is a need, and from that commonality we grow into each others lives.

  9. Paul Charteris

    A New Zealand proverb…

    He aha te mea nui o te ao?

    He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

    What is the most important thing in the world?

    It is people! It is people! It is people!

    This article is 100% on the spot AJW.

    Cheers, Paul Charteris

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