The Gift of 2%

After a night facing our solar system’s dark, far reaches, my side of the earth rotates back toward the sun enough that the new calendar day breaks blue. First light is always blue in winter, isn’t it? I hit the button on my watch, tuck my chin into my clothing layers to ward off the cold, and take my first jogging steps. My shoes crunch the snow-covered road in tympanic opposition to an otherwise silent morning, these sound waves as familiar and soothing as the beating of my own heart.

A lone mule deer stands shin deep in the loose snow off the side of the road, attempting invisibility through a lack of motion. While such a strategy works for some animalian eyes, it doesn’t for mine. Though I do see the creature, I intentionally avoid turning my head to look at it straight on. If it thinks I haven’t seen it, I know the deer is less likely to sprint away. No need to unnecessarily spook someone today.

I stop for a moment to admire a fresh trackway pressed into the snow, the only detectable record of a small bobcat’s passing. I haven’t yet seen this little one with my own eyes, though the neighbors did last week, and they say it’s barely bigger than a house cat. He or she was likely born over the summer and is making its first solo season of life. Many of the rodents are hibernating and we are down on rabbits big time–disease must have recently riddled the population–so as I run I wonder on what this bobcat feeds.

Out in the desert, miles away and 2,000 vertical feet below me, the rocks suddenly alight in cotton-candy-pink light. From my still-refrigerator-ed position in the west-side shadow of my home mountains, I imagine how the sun feels. The bright light looks like warmth to me, and even from this far off–it’ll be 40 minutes until the sun beams land up here–I can feel its heat filling the interstices of my body. I feel so alive that it’s hard to stay inside my skin.

How and why this works like this, I don’t know. Perhaps, I’m not meant to know. All I am sure of is that today, like every day, running gives me the gifts of heat and light and love and feelings for which I don’t have words.

***

Each year, most of us runners devote hundreds of hours of time to our sport. My Strava account tells me that I spent 579 hours and 13 minutes doing sports in 2018. Oh my heck, that’s more than 6.5% of all the hours in all the days of the entire year that I spent running! I’m sure that number looks a lot like couch lounging to the Jim Walmsleys and Courtney Dauwalters out there, but we’re talking about a dedicated passion project, for sure. During these 579 hours, I experienced incredible natural landscapes, felt the love and friendship of new friends and old within our community, have maintained my health and well-being, and felt an intangible but invaluable sense of ‘home.’ So much time, so many gifts.

None of these experiences are guaranteed. Without our trail running and ultrarunning community as well as our planet’s natural landscapes, our sport wouldn’t exist. Sure, something would fill its place, but it’d be a skeleton of our present vibrancy. None of what we have exists in a vacuum, no matter what we do, despite what we do. We depend on our nature and culture; our nature and culture depend on us.

So, I greet you, me, and the collective we today with a simple challenge: the gift of two percent. In honor of the daily gifts we all receive from our sport, let’s challenge ourselves to give the gift of two percent of our running time back to our sport in 2019.

Two percent of my 2018 of running is about 11 hours and 35 minutes. In 2019, I will gift that time back to my sport, half of it to community-based volunteerism and the other half to volunteering for our wild places.

Will you join me in giving the same gift? And, will you ask a friend to join us, too? What if 50 of us commit to donating 2% of our running time? If 50 people who run an hour a day each year donate 2% of their running time, that’s a gift of more than two weeks. Or what if we become a tribe of 150 givers? We could gift almost 6.5 weeks of our time. This is a pretty hefty collective gift!

I’m signed up for The Bear 100 Mile this September, which, like many 100 milers in the United States, requires eight hours of volunteer service on trail maintenance or at an ultramarathon. This is volunteerism, for sure, and it’s a racing requirement I certainly support. Can we all agree that it’s also transactional? In order to ‘get’ what I want in running The Bear, I have to ‘give’ of my time. Thus, I’m not counting these hours in my gift of 2%. Mine will be an unrequited gift back to the places and people who nurture me so.

I know, we are busy. We have kids, a job or two, and other hobbies and passions, all important things which consume the hours in our days. Most of us are probably busier than we’d prefer to be. But I’d also venture a guess that most of us need running. Down in our bones, we’ve come to rely on this sport in some critical way: for finding friendships, fighting demons, chasing dreams, or seeking health. In fact, the busiest people may need running the most. Trail running is integral to me and I suspect it is to you, too. If this is the case, then we all have the time to give back.

Certainly there are many of us who already donate our time to trail running, who already volunteer at trail races and in nature centers for non-transactional reasons, who already commit more than 2% of our year in running to our sport. To those of you who already do this, thank you. Perhaps some of you might be willing to commit to another 2%?

Here’s how the challenge will work:

  • Leave a comment to this article to join the challenge. Tell us who you are, how much time you spent running last year, and what 2% of that time is. Your comment becomes your commitment. (If you agree to be contacted personally about your gift for a follow-up article, leave your email address in the email box. It won’t be published and I will only use it for this article and not for any other purpose, ever.)
  • Go forth and give your gift of 2%! Let’s challenge ourselves to give half of that time to our run community and half of it to the natural places through which we run. Make someone in your trail world smile with a helping hand in an aid station. Beautify a landscape through which your feet roam. Help an organization count birds, survey recreation usage, or rehabilitate an ecosystem. Enjoy the process of giving your gift.
  • Toward the end of the year, we’ll return to all of our gifts together with a follow-up article in this column. We’ll share stories and ruminate and celebrate the positive impact that the collective we have made on that which positively impacts us.

***

It’s not too long until some more minutes pass, the sunlight finally finds its way to me, and my daily run comes to its end. I stand on my stoop, pull off my frozen-solid shoes, and bathe in the sun’s real warmth. On the land and in my body, a new day dawns. With it, I feel clarity and calmness and confidence and the desire to go out and work hard and a reminder of who I want to be today. This is the gift of running.

Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar 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.