Modeling Values in the Ultrarunning Community


Ask any race director what the number one issue with today’s runner is, and most will respond: “They don’t know the rules.”

People sign up for races, do the training, yet fail to “get educated.” They don’t read the race website, or they fail to attend or listen to the pre-race meeting. So they show up at races and, for better or worse, behave how they feel is appropriate: their rules. Most of the time, this is effective. Common sense usually prevails. But sometimes, it does not. Much of the negative behavior comes simply from not knowing what is acceptable and what is not.

This is especially true about the sport’s most prized asset: our “ultrarunning culture.”

Ultrarunning is growing. Growth is good, but growth can be painful. With the rapid growth of trail ultrarunning, there is a confluence of forces: on the lands that support us; on race directors who balance the needs of the trails, the volunteers and the runner; and on the runners themselves to commit, train, prepare for and ultimately execute what everyone tells them will be a Zen-like, transformational experience.

Pressure creates tension, and tension—

when unmitigated—can warp attitudes and behaviors. Suddenly, a yellow streak appears in the warm welcoming waters.

Somebody’s peeing in the pool.

The stories mount: of runners acting like unruly children at aid stations, launching outrageous post-race complaints (“The aid station didn’t have my quesadilla!”), profiteering race directors selling post-race medical treatment—before the race.

Complaints about the tainted ultrarunning culture are now as frequent as the naughty behaviors. Snarky, thinly-veiled jabs against groups—or even individuals—on social media are nearly as commonplace today as the hashtag sponsor-bombs of supported runners.

But, like the product placements, are these criticisms productive? Are a few old-schoolers and their passive-aggressive social media policing any better than the few pool-pee-ers? Or are they only making it worse?

Fire does not put out fire.

Cultural norms are learned behaviors. They must be modeled, and social theory tells us the best way to do so is within a close-knit social sphere, where behaviors are directly observed and mirrored, often unconsciously, among friends.

That said, perhaps the solution to a widespread cultural issue lies by addressing it locally: in our own running communities. Here are some ideas for what you can do:

Adopt New Ultrarunners

New ultrarunners aren’t difficult to find: they’re at our favorite races, trails, running stores, restaurants and cafés. Engage new folks. Invite them to share the trails with you and your friends. Or hang out and include them in your post-run or post-race chatter and banter—one of the best settings for ultrarunners to share and connect.

Adopting new runners into your group is a way to demonstrate your own presence in the community, and it gives you a starting point toward modeling positive community values.


The gift of a sustainable sport like ultrarunning is the presence of veteran runners. Although they eventually lose elite speed, veteran ultrarunners maintain a vast and valuable wealth of knowledge. And within the nuts-and-bolts of geography, training, nutrition and gear also lie the essential elements of positive culture.

It’s incumbent on those veterans to step up and actively mentor new runners. Not simply to run well, but so they can run—and behave—with integrity from the beginning. Share knowledge and share values.

Elicit Positive Values & Behavior

Veteran runners should model and promote positive behaviors in the local community. This means everything from being friendly and helpful to runners and non-runners alike, to picking up litter and clearing trail debris. It means volunteering at races and at trail work events, or offering to crew or pace another runner.

Positive citizenship in the local community promotes the multi-dimensional culture of ultrarunning: exposing runners to the fact that yes, indeed, there’s much more to ultrarunning than just running.

On the flip side, it’s incumbent on local runners to address bad behavior. Few of us run in a vacuum, and no one can run a race without the aid of a race director and volunteers. See a negative behavior in your backyard? Address it: tactfully, but firmly. In doing so, you are educating, and perhaps halting a problem behavior early, before it becomes widespread, or worse: accepted. Small acts have big impacts—like bending down to pick up the gel top that fell out of another runner’s pocket.

Get Skills!

Craig Thornley, ultramarathon veteran and RD for Western States 100 and Waldo 100K, is known for saying: “If you want to help the sport, get trained, so you can take real responsibility.” Our sport has many people willing to help, but relatively few trained to lead: as a trail builder or sawyer, an aid station captain, a ham radio operator or medical staff. Becoming skilled allows one person to lead possibly 10 to 20 others, and it allows their leadership to grow within a race community.

But implicit in the skill is leadership: the opportunity to model and promote positive values in the community. Just because you’re not fast doesn’t mean you can’t have mad skills with a saw, a McLeod or a radio. Leaders reflect the brightest, and there’s no limit to positive leadership in ultras.

Want to cultivate positive culture? Your garden is your own backyard. Adopt, mentor, model and lead.


About Author

Joe Uhan is a physical therapist, coach and ultrarunner in Eugene, Oregon. He is a Minnesota native and has been a competitive runner for over 18 years. He has a Master's Degree in Kinesiology, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and is a USATF Level II Certified Coach. Joe ran his first ultra at Autumn Leaves 50/50 in October 2010, was the bronze medalist at the 2012 USATF 100K Trail Championships, and finished 9th overall at the 2012 Western States 100. Joe works at Eugene Physical Therapy in Eugene, Oregon.


  1. therunningcommunityisajoke on

    I almost died on a run last year. A 100 mile event, a 100 year storm, freak occurance. In the eleven months since I should have received support from the running ‘community.’ Instead, the incident was the topic of discussion on the 20k plus member trail and ultra running facebook forum. The armchair quarterbacks who weren’t there blamed me, the waddlers who couldnt survive a blister speculated what they’d have done or offered advice on where i must have gone wrong, (example: ‘well, I’d have been more prepared.’. Reality: 100 year storm. Dropped in without ANY warning. I Probably carry more gear in my pack than anyone…dear waddlers and speculators, do you carry material to make fire in your run pack? I do. Had it that night. I want to ask them so, how DO you make fire in 80, (yes EIGHTY,) mph wind and driving sleet that NO ONE forecast, it was just there. People assume. They have no idea. It is a miracle I’m alive. No support, in fact i’ve been the subject of gossip, ridicule and horrible treatment since the night it happened.The running ‘community’ doesn’t exist. Aside from the death of my spouse, the past 11 months have been the most horrible of my life, all at the hands of the running ‘community.’ These are the most horrible people I’ve ever met in my life.

    • Sorry to hear about your horrible experiences, but to group everyone together from different running communities across the world to the runners in your community that treated you poorly, that is a bit unfair, wouldn’t you agree. Personally, ultrarunning is not my passion although I have been running the distances for decades. It’s my hobby among my many other hobbies. I don’t really need any more responsibilities on my plate by trying to be a part of a community, so I tend to ignore any idiot elitists within the community. But I have met A LOT of really awesome, dedicated people that I am thankful for, so I suggest branching out of your local running community and maybe experiencing others if that is what kind of friendship and support you are looking for because I, and many others, can attest that they do exist in a far greater quantity than those idiot elitists.

      • therunningcommunityisajoke on

        Well, when the founder of ultrasignup, the supposed ‘pinnacles’ of the ‘community’, and people you’ve never met who couldn’t run half the shit you have, or never give back but think they know you, or what happened, and think it’s open season to ridicule you may feel the same way.
        Forget support. Never got a bit.I was, and am, completely on my own in dealing with this. I’d have been happy to just not have any support. That would have been bad enough. Instead what I got was people piling on. And that’s not how people get over trauma. Didn’t deserve it, no one would, but what I got. I get it. These aren’t people who are cool or feel good about themselves so they create this little world of fake exclusivity and self-importance. No one is fooled anymore. I’ve seen the true colors of what horrible people these are. So, rock on. No longer a part of any of it, not a chance in hell I’ll set myself up to be abused more. I don’t regret the time I spent working on my own time with in-homeless-shelter-to-programs-designed-to build-self-esteem runners. I don’t regret the time I spent helping 250 lb people cross the line of their first 5k. I don’t regret guiding blind runners to their first marathon finish at l.a. in 2014 even though that was a really long day and all the ‘community’ was off comparing finish times. I don’t regret the 30 or so times I’ve lived out of my car captaining aid stations for days, just because i wanted to give back. I don’t regret any of those or hundreds of things I quietly did. But I never thought I’d be in need. And I guess I deluded myself if I was anyone from the ‘community’ would be there…or at the very least, not make things as hard as they could for someone who not only never did anything to them, did a lot quietly for them. The running ‘community’? Doesn’t exist, a huge joke. Truly among the most horrible people I’ve ever met in my life. No WAY I’d set myself up for more abuse from these posers and phonys. Don’t give to get, but at a certain point you’re stupid if you give to people who clearly aren’t good people, clearly don’t love the sport, clearly do enjoy stepping on you, clearly are willing to bully to feel better about themselves, and clearly are willing slander you having never even met you and knowing nothing about you.

        • See, I see those same people. It’s disgusting, but I see A LOT of great people out there. I’ve been from Coast-to-Coast, North-to-South, and yeah, there are definitely some self-absorbed jerks like you are talking about, but I cannot agree with you based on the fact that I have met tons more of great, sincere, respectful, helpful people. I’ve been a stranger in all of these races that I have attempted, and I’ve never been treated as such. I can spot the people that can careless about me, so I just avoid them and those groups altogether. If you want to see that there STILL are great people out there, I invite you out to Minnesota for the Superior Races or even the Voyageur trail race! I may see some of these people once every year or two and they remember who I am even though I don’t quite remember them! I do encourage you to think about your logic – so should I dislike and separate from all of my religious friends based off of the fact that some religious people don’t think I am a good person? Nope. If a person is worthy of your time, you will know it. If not, do as you have done, and move on, but don’t give up or look at EVERYTHING negatively.

          • therunningcommunityisajoke on

            Wow…I could register for Superior by giving money to ultrasignup to register? So, in other words, I could give money to someone who mocked me for almost dying? Again: at what point does it make sense to you to pay people who have abused you. Not a chance in hell. The running ‘community’ is so off track that they probably do think that would be an ‘honor’ to pay to subject myself to what clearly would just be more abuse. Not a chance in hell.
            Look, I get it. I get why these people are the way they are. These are not the cool people. That’s why they invent their little world of fake exclusivity and fake self-importance. It has nothing to do with the real world. And, it has NOTHING to do with running! 🙂
            I’d be very concerned about anyone who WOULD pay or volunteer, for abuse. I will not put myself in situations where I’m going to be abused, and I will not reward wrong. Look, paid ultrarunning is filled with horrible people, and as a culture, it has not interest in adressing it’s problems, or changing. Hell, it won’t even acknowledge there are problems in the ‘community.’ So, rock on. It’s got nothing to do with the real world, and it’s got NOTHING to do with running, my loving to run, or my love of the sport. 🙂
            As far as trails you suggested, I do agree, and I hope you’re enjoying every moment. I grew up in NE Iowa, (heads up armchair quarterbacks offering judgement of what happened at sf, my situation and ‘weather tips’ though they weren’t there and may not have survived what I did,) the average air temperature-not figuring in wind chill yet- for my hometown in an average January is -7. I did college, grad school and post-grad reqs in Minnesota, and have great memories of running that part of the country, bwca, voyagers, lutsen, grand marais, down to superior shores, over to ely, iron range, all beautiful stuff, I hope you enjoy your runs there.
            You don’t have to put yourself in situations where it’s clear you’re just going to be subjected to more abuse, or sell yourself short to the egos to enjoy any of that. You don’t have to put yourself in situations where it’s going to be more abuse simply because people aren’t well or don’t feel good about themselves so they treat others badly. You can say ‘not a chance in hell’ to the nonesense and abuse that is what the running ‘community’ is. You can just love the area and give back without any of the nonesense and abuse. You can just love the run.

          • so…11 months later…what are you expecting from the running community? what do you want? what kind of support are you looking for? I don’t get it

          • therunningcommunityisajoke on

            I see this was posted a day ago, so hopefully we’re past the inaccurate (ugh, exasperated, this is just clearly someone who is never happy, do we have to deal with this?) myths about why I made the original post. When I did address it in the taur group last night, the first few comments were a bit like I expected they would be, (immediate comments from people like ‘I’m out’…if I were reading that and didn’t know, I would assume the person who ‘is out’ must know that pesky poster, must know them as someone who always complains, that this has been re-leased a million times, etc.) The reality is it’s never been brought up and I’ve never met any of the people who were initially oh-so-exasperated at ‘having to’ discuss it, (no, not Mark.)I get the non-reality-based spin of that, I get that people form opinions of others and maybe don’t stop and think, ‘have I ever met this person?’, or ‘am I just assuming I know based on what I’ve been told?’ ‘When I hear someone’s opinions of a situation, does it seem accurate?’ Anyway, hopefully we’re past that. So, to answer your question, the reason you might not get ‘what is it (you)I want’, or ‘what kind of support are you looking for, I don’t get it’ the answer is because I don’t want, nor have I asked for, anything. What I WOULD like to see happen, for the next person who stays involved in organized running who may experience something like this, is what I’d hope does NOT happen for them…and that is, to have something they went through NOT made a topic of speculation, gossip, conclusions, judgement, and ridicule and for them NOT in the time after to be be trolled in person, and online.
            That’s it. For what happened after my experience not to happen again. That’s ‘what I want.’
            I do understand why people speculate. If you think you can understand, you think you have control over it and it can’t happen to you. But speculation lead to gossip. Gossip becomes like a game of telephone, feeding on itself. And, then it may lead to worse than gossip to some outright nastiness, games and bullying.
            What speculation from people who weren’t there and weren’t involved doesn’t do: Provide accurate specifics that would keep other runners safe. Help those who went through the experience, (including race staff and search and rescue.)

            Now, ideally, yes: When something like this happens to someone else in the future, it would be great if the goal could be to not just remind people not to be trolling about it, but for people to be actively supportive. In other words, common decency. What form could that take? It would depend upon the individual, I would guess. Suggestions would be: Ask if, and what they need/what would be helpful? Checking in via email once every couple months or so? Helping someone get back out there in areas where there is fear? if someone has been active and is mia, ask? Challenge gossip or misconceptions, (or at the very least don’t contribute to them?) I guess those would be a few things that would additionally have been helpful to me, but the biggest thing is for anyone else this happens to not to be subjected to nastiness afterward.

          • Keran Flynn on

            It sounds like you weren’t heard and that people responded inappropriately. I’m on TAUR and UltraRunners and there have been some pretty inane and obstuse comments to really valid posts. Iveseen some rude things being said. One person said I wasn’t a real runner because I’m slower than the norm. I just brushed it off as assholiness. It also sounds like you experienced not only a hugely traumatic event, but that you also lost your wife the same year. Do you have a core group of friends and a good support network? My first husband died 24 years ago. Sometimes people don’t know what to say or how to be helpful. I hope that you’re still out there running. I don’t do many races (too expensive, too stressful), do I volunteer and run fat asses. Good luck.

          • therunningcommunityisajoke on

            Thanks Keran. First off, I’m really sorry for the loss of your first husband. It’s been over four years for the loss of mine, and the search and rescue on the run happened this past year, so no, not in the same year. I totally understand that people don’t know what to say sometimes. I do run, pretty much every day, but I work stupid hours, so I usually leave my apartment between 3:45-4:30 am, so i’m usually alone, which I don’t mind. I don’t know that organized or event running is something I’d want to be involved in again. The more months that have gone by since I’ve stopped being involved in it, it ironically has become easier and easier to avoid it, and the more I realize how, in its current culture, it has little to do with running. And, given my experiences of the past year, it just doesn’t make sense to me to essentially pay or give time to expose myself to nastiness, which has nothing to do with fun. But yes, I like to run, definitely not ‘fast’ either, still have love for the sport in and of itself, and still like to do it a lot though. Have great friends, some local, some not, can’t say any of them run, kind of lucky in that everyone has their own ‘thing(s)’they do, so we all get to see and learn new stuff as a result. I’m really sorry for your loss, and thank you for your kindness.

          • Keran Flynn on

            I’m glad you’re still out there enjoying your runs 🙂 That’s what I seem to lose when I run events that aren’t free and fun. I am volunteering this year, and I paid to run a marathon (promised a friend), but it’s a reall small, mixed terrain event. Keep smiling 🙂

          • therunningcommunityisajoke on

            Thanks Keran, you too. It was a pretty great feeling to delete my runreg, raceroster, active, etc.etc.etc..accounts this weekend.
            I laughed out loud when altra sent me a solicitation email to buy their shoes a couple of weeks ago, (really? I can pay your company to buy your product when at least 2 of your ‘elite’ ‘athletes’ got caught ridiculing what happened to me and were directly a-holes to me although they don’t know me and weren’t there that night?) Wow, what a treat, lol. Where do I sign up to reward a company that has such poor judgement that they apparently forget to vett or look at character when choosing who to rep them? Please, tell me how I can give you my support when people representing your name have been a part of the bullying and nastiness I was subjected to after this. Lol, nooooo.
            And I knew I was on my way out when I turned down free stuff, (Brooks formerly my favorite road shoe company until some trolling about this incident from one of their ‘athletes’ who also wasn’t there at the incident and who I’d also never met,)emailed me about a month ago offering me the chance to look at wear testing for them, (they do ‘everyday runner’ type wear testing.) I emailed them back that I stopped buying their product last fall and really wasn’t interested in putting anything with their name on it on my body, even for free, if to do so means my character is lumped in with spectacularly nasty people.

            It’s not a healthy system. There will be no changes. There will NEED to be a new thing to gossip about, speculate about, make someone a scapegoat about. That’s what an unhealthy ‘community’ does, with the full approval of those who remain silent when they see it happening. No interest in exposing myself to that dynamic again.

            I don’t wish these people any ill.
            It’s just astonishing to me that they think anyone would want to subject themselves to more of the same.

            Thanks again. Happy (and fun, and kick-ass running which has nothing to do with event running or the running ‘community’) to you as well!

            Lol. ↓ Thanks, based upon the last 11 months of nastiness and one of your athletes being a contributing troll, and your company apparently also being asleep at the wheel regarding stuff like that, I’ll pass on this ‘opportunity ‘ and stay on my own so I know what to expect next and it doesn’t involve nastiness. Pass. 🙂

          • therunningcommunityisajoke on

            You’ve always got the companies that get suckered in by the Lisa Smith Batchen’s, the Zwarkowski’s (I ran a ‘bad water quad!’ with no tracking or proof!), please donate to my fake charity now that all goes in my pocket! LOL!
            Or you have the companies like Altra that get suckered by malignant narcissists like Ed Ettinghausen and his sources of narcissistic supply, (who don;t realize he slanders them as soon as their back is turned,) who don’t realize that works against their company, they lose dollars, and more importantly, reputation. Break it down per dollar. if you lose people who have faithfully supported the industry, and ‘gain’ people who don;t shell out time or dollars in actuality, what have you gained? Business 101. If your professional reputation, like Altra with Ed, or Brooks like Zwarkowski lies in associating with people who slander others, who, once someone quietly leave them they ‘just want you to know’ that (anyone who discovered they’re slandering them,) is ‘so unstable’, that isn’t a great thing.
            I’m a psychologist, I get narcissists get developmentally stuck at the age of trauma, If because they’re angry foster children still trying to work out mommy and daddy leaving at a certain age by slandering anyone who ‘won’t let them use that rescue story for their group’, and, once they find out about they’ve been slandered by the narcissist, wants nothing to with them, it IS another abandonment, (you can’t leave me, I’ll punish you!)
            Restraining orders are not something I ever thought would be a part of my life, and were such a last resort, but I followed the advice of my local police department on the last 100 incidences. of stalking and slander, and did what i had to do earlier this spring. R.O. are never good things, but if someone is so ill they stalk and pursue because you won’t be a part of their world, (and, to Lisa’s mind? and Ed’s mind? he truly does believe ‘he trained me’ (he didn’t.) he truly DOES believe ‘she wants me to follow her and talk about her…she NEEDS me.” you don’t have much choice but legal remedies. That’s why, as regrettable as even having to think about protective order was, those steps are sometimes necessary so I did this spring. Now, both continue to run around and let anyone who will listen know ‘_____ is SO ‘unstable’.” but I think more and more people see the truth daily, (although they need to stop supporting them by associating with them if they want any change.)
            By the time it gets to the point where people who lie are believed without question, and people who tell the truth have to ‘prove’ or ‘work’ to establish a baseline of reality,(you saw how hard I was questioned about conditions that night….the person doing the questioning has NO IDEA how controlled they are by accepting the poison that was planted against me without question, while simultaneously accepting a badwater quad that never happened happened, a charity that has no ranking and is not a real charity is doing with the money what is intended, etc without question.) That’s when you know the inmates are ruling the asylum. the solution? The good people who are interested abandon the narcissists en masse and reclaim their sport if they want. i have no investment in that. I’m kicking ass on my runs and having a ball. None of it involves being stalked or slandered.
            Hey..where ARE Ed’s other kids,(not the props Martha tries to put out to create the illusion they’re there.) Where ARE Zwarkowski’s older 2 boys, (Spoiler alert, when healthy children of narcissists reach adulthood they leave..the narcissist tries to sabotage their life, but they leave. And the narcissist paints this as something wrong with them when they do, (I’m praying for them!’) 🙂
            Hey…where IS the tracking data for Lisa’s ‘Badwater Quad?’ Garmin? Spot? Suunto? How about for her ’50 miles in 50 states in 62 days?’ any proof of that? I have garmin of everything I’ve run even the ugly. weird. 🙂 Hey, where IS the per dollar tracking of ‘bad water for good water’
            Reclaim your sport or don’t I continue to run. When crazy becomes abusive, I’m out, but I continue to run. The industry that supports cray and abusive just has NONE of my support unless it’s interested in getting back on track, (shrugs, up to them, or not, not my deal.)

          • You are making my head spin, my friend! I’m trying to follow you, but you don’t seem to grasp what I am saying. I’m all for my lonewolf, self-supported runs. I don’t need aid stations, I don’t need to pay for my entertainment in many forms of my life. I get the whole Ultrasignup beef that you have. I’m not really a fan of Ultrasignup or even Ultrarunning Magazine. I never wanted to be a part of any organization or community. I just cannot lump all people into one bad category, and if you really want to eventually run organized events again, that you have to pay for, you have to understand that there are good people that exist in the various different communities that organize events. Not all money is being absorbed by some entity like Ultrasignup. I agree that it is a choice to run these events, and I like to save money, so by default I run very little organized events. I’m on your side about the true jerks in the community, but at the same point in time, your blanket statement degrades truly good people that I know that are a part of their respective non-Ultrasignup running communities.

      • therunningcommunityisajoke on

        Hey Mark, (I mean ‘guest’). 🙂 Hope you are doing better.
        Anyway, you already know it was salt flats 100. The race I’ve spent a year defending the rd every time someone question ned his judgement. The race I signed up for again the day it opened again in July. The race I’ve spent my training preparing for 6 days a week since then. And the race everyone’s favorite malignant narcissist/altra rep stalker Ed Ettinghausen mysteriously put it out there in the gossip channels that he felt he ‘needed to go back to, yet again. Do you think the angry foster child Ed will get enough ‘control’ self-worth from this one, (having me not go somewhere one of the main ringleaders of the shit I’ve taken about this through his slander suddenly ‘needs to be again’ so he can ‘win’). Do you think that it will disguise his whole lie of a life, (where ARE his other kids?) Where IS the proof of his friends ‘runs’? Do you think it will be enough for the angry foster child Ed to ‘control’ and ‘win’ by him ‘needing to go’ ‘be with his friends’ who ‘hate me’ because (oh that’s right…no reason except ed’s slander. If aomeone wont let you share ‘that rescue story’ in your failed run jester run group, make sure they receive no support, invent stories about them, slander them in every way possible, and terrorize them for a year…and then sabotage their plans of 10 months.Weird how I am ‘so this (negative,) or ‘so that (negative,) or he ‘knows’ I am(negative)…yet he and his little tribe spend so much time stalking and needing to be where and focusing on the ‘so (insert a negative) person. All just malignant narcissism games, all about control, (cutting off support, making someone seem less than human and undeserving of support and deservng of punishment instead, lavishing support on others for trivial thinga, making sure leaving or setting limits on him or his tribe comes with ‘punishment’ of slander, smear campaigns, harassment, stalking, attempts to sabotage future plans, etc.. Poor little malignant narcissist Ed, trying desperately to keep the ‘he’s SUCH a saint false self mask in front of his needy little sourcea of Narcissistic Supply who don’t realoze he slanders them the second their back is turned too. Angry little foster child ed and his tribe of friends whose lives are equal lies needing to ‘control.’ Lolololol.