Monday, August 13, 2007

Running Relationships

Running Relationships

Recently I have been thinking a bit about my running relationships and how important they are to me. In fact, with the exception of my relationship with my immediate family, the relationships I have developed over the past 10 years in the sport of ultrarunning are the most meaningful and important connections I have.

This truth was brought home for me this past weekend on a trip to Salt Lake City to attend the Outdoor Retailer Show. Attending the show itself was fun but the best part about the weekend was the gathering together of good friends who are also great runners.

On Friday afternoon at the “Uphill Treadmill Challenge” (an event during which I was soundly beaten by the eventual winner, Dave Mackey) it was like an ultrarunner’s reunion party. In the crowd and on the treadmills were the following folks we all know on a first name basis: Karl, Scott, Krissy, Nikki, Dave, Anton, James, Jasper, Hal, Roch, Garett and Ian. In the midst of the absurdity of this event and the corporate craziness of big time retail, was a group of friends bonded by the simple act of running the trails.

After dinner that night and licking my wounds from the treadmill embarrassment, I went off with Roch, Jasper and Garett to run the last 26 miles of the Wasatch 100 Course, hard. As we bounded through the Wasatch Range, the conversation ranged from family and friends to various predictions about the fall ultra season. By the time we arrived at The Homestead at 2AM we had once again confirmed to brotherhood of the trails and felt that warm feeling that comes after enjoying the better part of the night chasing a headlamp beam and savoring the joy of just being alive. None of us seemed to care one bit about the two hours of sleep that awaited us.

Saturday at the show in the midst of all the handshaking and schmoozing I caught up with running friends from across the country and around the world. Seemingly brought together by the needs of our sponsors, this close-knit group of runners finds a way to connect in ways that few other groups do. As I finished the weekend with an early Sunday morning run with Nikki and Krissy, I imagined what it would be like for a stranger to encounter us on the trails. In the course of 8 miles we talked about Krissy’s amazing Hardrock victory, Nikki’s plan for winning Tour de Mont Blanc, and my tired legs. These topics, of course, are normal enough, but we also got into it about peeing standing up (both boys and girls), puking blood, and ripping off toenails. I can only imagine what the mainstream Salt Lake City populace would have thought of us having overheard the conversation.

That, ultimately, is what I left the weekend thinking about. We are, at our core, just normal people doing extraordinary things and the fact that I can count these people as friends means the world to me. I am looking forward to next year’s crazy corporate show already!


Gretchen said...

I hear exactly what you are saying Andy. I have found that there is something about ultra running that seems to create an even stronger sense of cameraderie than running shorter races. That was not something I expected when moving to the longer races, but it has come to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the sport. The strong community has made running an even more valuable part of my life, and I hear that sentiment echoed often by other runners.
Congrats on Vermont BTW!

olga said...

Ditto on our ultrarunning friends been our extended family (and in my case been pretty much my only family). It is especially clear in times of need. Not only the fun times and sharing trails are great, but the support is so overwhelming, I simply don't have enough words - in either language. I can say as much as you all guys keep me floatin'...

Bob Gentile said...

good post, thanks

Trail Goat said...

Awesome post, AJW. The ultrarunning community is great in so many respects. For instance, one can build the tight relationships you described, but, for me, the community offers two other important aspects. First, it's great to have the loose-knit group of friends and acquaintances scattered around the country. Folks who you'd want to pace, feel comfortable asking to pace, who you'd shoot an email for a recommendation on local trails to run while traveling in their neck of the woods... with the hope that you can tag along with them.

There's also awesome the great dynamic that you can go to any race, trail run, or other event and have instant friends. People who understand you and welcome you. I can't begin to count the brief friendships I've struck up on the trail or at a pre- or post-race event. While I may never speak with these people again, in the moment they were more than acquaintances. There was an openness and comfort that is found only among friends.

And related to these brief friendships... and perhaps another step removed in closeness are the wonderful people at ultra events. The vast majority or runners, pacers, volunteers, crews, and family are wonderful people who are willing to lend a hand or offer any encouragement they can. Having spent my life living in urban and suburban areas of the East coast, coming across such a large concentration of such people is a rush and lightens my soul.

Anyway, I can't wait to spend some time on the trails of Wyoming with you in a week.


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