"Many of the world's problems could be solved if we just ran trails together."
One of the things about society today that is most troubling is our penchant for labeling people and creating divisions amongst ourselves based on things like skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, etc. My experience as an ultrarunner is a big reason why all this labeling and dividing troubles me so deeply.
Let me explain.
|Errol "the Rocket" Jones
Last night, I sat down and read the most recent issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. It includes a gem of a column by none other than Errol “the Rocket” Jones. Errol has been a part of this sport for decades – since the early 1980s – and has seen it all, from the Western States Endurance Run and Badwater Ultramarathon to The Bear and many other iconic races. In his column, Errol chronicles the big changes that have taken place over the years (gear, nutrition, number of races, etc.), adding in the end that the one thing that hasn’t changed is the community aspect of the sport.
Almost any ultrarunner, especially those who have completed races of 100 miles or more, will tell you that the distance eventually strips you down to little more than the marrow of your very being. This would explain why at various times in races I can get emotional, especially when I think about my family. Sometimes I have long conversations with God. At that moment in time, you are a stripped-down, naked human soul moving over the land in pursuit of one goal: to finish. You’re surrounded by dozens or maybe hundreds of other runners involved in that same pursuit. When you have that kind of dynamic, all we see in each other are kindred spirits.
And when you have kindred spirits in nature, you have love, friendship and true community. This is why in our sport the best of the best will drink beer at the finish and trade war stories with the back-of-the-packers. In large part because of what we experience on the trail, we all know none of us is better than the other, whether you finished in first place or last place, whether you are black or white or some other “race,” whether you are from “here” or “there,” whether you prefer the opposite sex or your own sex, whether you're a "conservative" or a "liberal," whether you're a doctor or a drifter living in the back of your truck. That stuff is immaterial on the trail—and it should be immaterial in life. Alas, it isn't that way in the real world; that stuff creates divisions in families, among friends and among strangers.
Because of the many powerful experiences I’ve had in races, over time I, like probabaly you and many other ultrarunners, stopped noticing skin color, sexual orientation, political beliefs, ethnicity, etc. and started focusing on what’s inside a person. Because we’re kindred spirits, we look out for each other; we help each other out, even if that means giving another a gel or half of one's water; we encourage each other, even if that's at 12,600 feet on Hope Pass. Even as many of us are out there to compete and achieve a given result, at the end of the day this is about like-minded folks enjoying nature together while puttting one foot in front of the other. When you have that, nothing else—not skin color, not sexual orientation, not politics and, in some cases, not even one's time—matters.
All that matters is that we’re in this together, doing something we all love.
If only that were the way of the world in which we live. We can only hope.
For more on Errol "the Rocket" Jones, check out this podcast.