Nature, Community, and Freedom – Our Shared Values

AJW talks of ultrarunning’s shared values – nature, community, and freedom.

By on August 3, 2012 | Comments

AJWs Taproom“We need these wild places… Even if we do nothing more than drive to the edge and look in… For they are the Geography of Hope.” – Wallace Stegner

One of the things I love most about ultramarathon running are the people. The folks who have gravitated toward this sport are some of the most fun-loving, thoughtful, disciplined, spontaneous, and creative people I know. Furthermore, it is amongst these wonderful folks that I have found my closest friends. Having spent the better part of the last 15 years involved in ultrarunning, I have also come to realize that while those who have made the sport part of their lives are certainly an eclectic group, there are certain characteristics that unite us under that wonderful, quirky, hodgepodge of a flag we call ultrarunning.

First of all, no matter where we come from and how fast or slow we are, we all share an unabashed love of the natural world. While there is significant diversity in our sport, I can safely say I have never met an ultrarunner who does not share a love of nature, wilderness, and the great outdoors.

Perhaps as a result of this shared love of nature, I have also learned that most ultrarunners deeply value their running community – locally, regionally, nationally, globally. While there are certainly occasional differences of opinion and often challenges to our beliefs in the context of running, by and large, the shared values we savor within our “trail family” tend to place a higher value on harmony than on divisiveness.

Thirdly, there is something about running that is truly liberating. As a result, the value we place on the freedom and simplicity of long distance trail running tends to bring out the rugged individual in all of us. While we cherish the egalitarian nature of our sport we also love to get out into the mountains with no agendas, no expectations, and no rules. At one with wild places, with some of our closest friends, in the absence of any daily life structures, we are often made whole.

As a result of this complex dynamic, it has become clear to me that along with the exponential growth of our sport has come a challenge to our values. New, larger events are putting a strain on the wild places in which we run. Relationships have become strained as money, sponsorships, and marketing allure have created wedges in the sport that previously did not exist. And, increasing levels of competition, expanded exposure, and increased media coverage have made race rules more stringent and the challenges to our freedom more acute.

Certainly, whenever we want to, we can just lace ’em up and head out into the mountains to enjoy nature, with our friends, with absolute freedom. But, we must also be aware that as our sport becomes more “mainstream” we must continue to espouse the fundamental values that have brought us to the sport in the first place. From my perspective, environmental degradation, bitter political rivalries, and overly stringent, litigious rules run counter to the very ethos of ultramarathon running. I believe it is up to all of us, those who run in the front and off the back and everyone in between, to sustain and perpetuate that which we hold so dear. Nobody else will do it for us.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Rogue Irish Style LagerThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon. Rogue’s Irish Style Lager is a nice crisp summer lager that has a creamy head and a smooth finish. The tagline on the bottle can be inspiring to even the most cynical beer drinker, “Dare, Risk, Dream.”

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What do you think of AJW’s suggested shared values of nature, community, and freedom?
  • What other shared values do you think we have in the ultrarunning community?
  • How do we preserve these shared values?
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.