We Run These Countries

“…When things look worst, we run the most.” —Christopher McDougall

You don’t need me to tell you how bad things look; the media just as well as the barbershop or coffee-stand banter writes up the diagnosis better than I ever could anyway. Suffice to say, things are rough all over. Add to that the fact that I just lost a job that I have held and loved for over a decade to nothing more than cold finances (seriously, I would rather have been fired in a flurry of incendiary curse words), and yeah, ‘rough all over’ seems a little gentle.

And yet, there’s our man of myth and strength Rickey Gates deciding that the time is ripe for a short run across a wide land, and ultra-endurance cyclist Juliana Buhring–perhaps the most remarkable example of smarts and wits and existential excellence our sport has to offer–all set to take her freshly wracked knee for a rip from tip to tip in Australia, and Jim Walmsley… holy cow, JIM WALMSLEY! And me–there I am too, lining up a series of races and adventures that I can’t really afford for the summer and yet so clearly can’t afford NOT to do. There I am, training smart and genuinely happy to do so, to run veritable fields of ice with the spikes on, to freeze my nads off for mile dumped on glorious mile of blizzard, and to ride that bike trainer so hard that, finally, it seems to be groaning more than I.

I give talks sometimes–nice folks who run big companies and teachers who gather to share stories and recharge sometimes call me up and ask if I’ll come to talk to them. I always go–I like talking to people and I love to talk about running and riding my bike and I especially dig it when I tell them that they can do it too, that adventure is right in their backyard, that fitness is probably more than fitting into a certain size jeans. I tell them about how I never really fit in, how my shape didn’t seem to have a spot in the world’s puzzle and how, until I found the trail and ultrarunners, that I was entirely unsure that there was a place where I fit. I felt, as Annie Dillard says, “totally unfit for life in this world,” as a matter of fact, and acted accordingly.

But then again, as our man George Sheehan says, “The unlived life is the real threat”–these days, it seems to me, that translates into saying, “Don’t forget, we teach through our actions.” In a time where words fail, where truth is up for grabs by the most forceful instead of something verifiable, what we DO is who we ARE. And so, reach your hand even more to those around you, invite more people out for a run, hold a community drop-in on how to change flats and fix chains, take a rip through someone else’s neighbourhood and stop in at the local espresso dive to hear the local chatter, keep planning, keep riding, keep recalling why we have national parks and where your ancestors came from and why our mutual lands of Canada and America and so many other places are founded on diversity.

That we all fit in. That this is a big place, that it invites big ideas, holds dreams in its mountains and rivers and pastures. Running is just as much politic as it is art and athletics, use it.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Does running compel you toward a sense of guardianship over the places you run?
  • What tangible, specific things can you as a runner and human being do to be a guardian to your local natural landscapes?
Andrew Titus

used to run far; however, like some ol' wise guy once said, "the job of the athlete is simple: to keep moving." So, that's what he does, whether in his hiking boots, on cross-country skis, or astride a bike. A writer, teacher, father, and husband, you are sure to see him cruising the forests of his St. John River Valley home in New Brunswick, Canada, still happy as can be–even without the running.

There are 6 comments

  1. J Jonah Jameson

    Nothing personal, but this article really speaks to the privilege that is inherent in this sport without being aware of it. It is very, very white. First, this land we run on in North America is stolen land. Also, you can’t train to run ultras unless you have a stable income, or a partner with one, and the money to buy the immense amount of gear the sport requires that you have to continuously replace. So many people are not born into this privilege.

    And, I see Ricky Gates and his journey, and all I see is another white man on an appropriative “vision quest”. Great. Is he raising money for charity? No. Is he aware that a black American, man or woman, would be terrified by the prospect of doing what he is doing, let alone a white woman? No. Is he citing/acknowledging the fact that he is crossing a continent that was stolen from an indigenous population through genocide and oppression? No. He just vaguely references the political reality that is divided America and doesn’t understand that he, a white male, stands to lose the least and gain the most from TrumplandUSA. Women, POC minorities, undocumented immigrants, and more stand to lose habeas corpus and much much worse. He has the privilege to take a leave of absence (I assume) and fund his journey with $5000. How many Americans could even dream of that?

    This is a really, really white sport that doesn’t seem to have any awareness of privilege.

    1. Andrew Titus

      JJJ. Though I take what you say about ‘stolen land’ as sound, I am unsure how else I might honour the land itself except by running on it with awareness and gratitude. As far as my privilege goes, as a teacher I take the things that the place I live in and the community I am a part of teach me and make sure that they are talked about, critiqued, questioned and, finally, made part of the social discourse we are all part of. Again, I am unsure what else you would have me do. I’m serious — critique is easy in an age of cynicism and anger, but applicable solutions are what is necessary. And finally, while I don’t know how Gates affords his adventures, I am pretty sure that he does the world more good than harm in doing it. And as for me, we’ll, as I said, I just lost my job… I look forward to hearing your suggestions for what we might do instead of these things.

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