“We were born to unite with our fellow man
And to join in community with the human race”
One of the things that initially drew me to the sport of ultrarunning was the feeling of belonging that I experienced when I ran trails with new and old friends. It didn’t matter if I was faster than someone (or slower – which is more often the case). It didn’t matter if I made more money or less. It was very different from my “previous life” in DC where all that mattered was that I was up for an adventure and willing to smile no matter the circumstances.
Every time I volunteer at a race, I’m reminded of this feeling of community and the power that it has. Last weekend at 24 Hours of Palmer Lake I witnessed people push through personal barriers. I saw a man who had never run more than 18 miles complete his first 50 miler. And he carried an American flag for most of those miles. I saw a 12-year old girl finish her first ultra and then encourage the other kids who were still up to do one more lap together. I saw many people battling injuries and demons to push on through the night and accumulate amazing mileage. Many times people would stop by the aid station, hungry, tired, and so ready to be done. And almost every time they would be reinvigorated by the smiles and encouragement of those manning the aid station. It’s easy to tell someone to go out for another lap when you’re wrapped up in your sleeping bag, sitting in a rocking chair, and drinking a beer. It’s amazing to watch someone listen.
The ultra community isn’t limited to the race scene. It’s apparent in group runs, fat asses, or talks at the local running stores. Sometimes it’s the smile or wave from a passing runner, that helps you pick up the pace when you’re just ready to be done. Sometimes it’s the encouragement at the top of a peak that pushes you on to one more summit for the day. Sometimes it’s the plotting and reliving of adventures that happens over beer and fried chicken on a weekday night.
Sure bragging to your non-running friends about how you finished a six-hour training run that included summiting all of the peaks outside of Boulder is fun. Running races (and winning if you’re one of the lucky few) helps you challenge yourself in new ways. But I’d be willing to bet the real reason most people take to and stick with ultrarunning is because of the friends they’ve met along the way. Where else can you find someone willing to sit up with you through the night just to cheer on fellow runners stuck in their favorite type of Sisyphian hell?
Come join a group run, sign up for a race, or wander in to any brewery within walking distance to a trailhead and you can experience this sense of community for yourself!