Staying Connected to the Community

AJW writes about the rewards of staying involved in the ultrarunning community, beyond one’s own racing days.

By on February 24, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomThis past weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Black Canyon 100k, one of the marquee events on the Arizona ultrarunning calendar. The delightful February weather in the Sonoran Desert, impeccable organization by Aravaipa Running, and the lure of a Western States 100 qualifying standard make Black Canyon one of the most popular ultramarathons in the United States. This year’s event, in addition, was a Western States 100 Golden Ticket race, meaning that it attracted a talented international field of ultra-luminaries. In short, it was an electrifying weekend filled with fantastic performances and great people.

2023 Black Canyon 100k start

The start of the 2023 Black Canyon 100k. Photo: Jesse Ellis/@letswanderphotography

On Saturday afternoon, as I was milling around the finish line after the bulk of my volunteer assignment was complete, I found myself re-engaging with several Arizona friends who I had first gotten to know over two decades ago when I first called the Valley of the Sun home. We caught up on life, friends and family, and the changing times. Then, before our group parted ways, one of the group said, “AJW, it’s really great you still come to these things even though you can’t win them anymore. I wish more people did that.”

The comment made me pause and reflect. Indeed, when their competitive days are over, many runners drift off into the sunset and don’t hang around the ultra scene once their time has passed. I have never been one of those guys, and the reason is simple. My love for the people and the community in and around ultrarunning is a huge part of who I am. It is not an understatement to say that my best friends in the world are those that I have met through this sport. Put simply — I have a visceral need to be involved, however peripherally, in this community that made me who I am. For it is through being actively engaged that I gain energy and, in turn, become a better version of myself.

As luck would have it, I also had the opportunity over these last few days to have a wide-ranging conversation with another long-time member of the sport, Ellie Greenwood. The “UltraRunning Magazine” (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year in 2011, 2012, and 2014, Comrades Marathon winner in 2014, and Western States 100 course record holder from 2012 — Ellie was, in her prime, one of the most dominant runners our sport has ever seen. Injuries and life have slowed her down in recent years, but Ellie is as involved in the sport as ever as a coach, writer, and frequent member of the iRunFar race coverage team. Like me, Ellie still gets plenty of energy from her connection to the community.

Ellie Greenwood with her crew during the 2012 Western States 100. Photo courtesy of Ellie Greenwood.

I’ve often wondered why more people don’t stay engaged in the sport after their racing days are done. I am sure folks have their reasons and probably would prefer not to talk about it. What I do know, however, is that for those of us who do wish to remain connected and engaged — like Ellie and me — there are ample opportunities to do so. And as I learned this past weekend, it’s quite likely that the community will be grateful for our involvement and happy to have us around. To me, that’s the mark of a strong community and one that I plan to be part of forever.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s beer of the week comes from North Mountain Brewing Company in Phoenix, Arizona.

Grooving With a Pict is a sultry Scottish ale that is smoky and smooth. This is the perfect winter beer paired with barbecue or a late autumn sipper after a long run.

Call for Comments

  • How do you stay connected with the ultrarunning community if your racing days are behind you or if you are out for a time with an injury?
  • Do you find it rewarding to be still involved in some way?
AJW - Western States - Volunteering 2021

AJW volunteering at the 2021 Western States 100. Photo: Greg Lanctot

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.