For as far back as I can remember, I’ve run. I never owned a bike growing up, and my family never owed a car, so everywhere I went, I ran, walked or took public transportation. It just seemed more fun to run rather than walk to get to places – unless I couldn’t be sweaty upon arrival, which mandated a walk or ride. I grew to love running, though none of it was ever organized or a race.
Timing is sometimes everything in life, and I happened to move to California just about the time that the running boom of the ‘70s started. I was in an environment that encouraged running, and life had never been sweeter or more rewarding for me. I had a passion that I could exercise every day, with or without others, and I didn’t need money, a lot of gear or transportation to get to it.
Running gave me purpose when other aspects of life gave me cause for concern. Ultrarunning in particular gave me a true sense of community. Some of the friendships I made road running remain steadfast to this day, but there was never the community that I’ve always felt and experienced since transitioning to the trails and ultrarunnning in 1980.
There’s the often-used expression of “it takes a village,” and that’s never truer than when it comes to ultrarunning and putting on events. The bloom is off the rose if all your training runs are done alone, so you need training companions from time to time. None of us run races without the support of race management and a legion of volunteers – and then there’s the good graces of significant others, and the assistance of family and friends, that help make the voyage possible. It takes a village, a tribe, a community to make ultra races possible.
As the year starts to wrap itself into shape, most of us have already targeted our big races. In doing so, you’ve no doubt pondered whether you’ll run solo or have the benefit of a pacer and crew, and you’re considering transportation and accommodations and working out a general game plan. This could be one of those defining moments in your life, and you want things to be as right as they can be, but you don’t exist in a vacuum.
There’s an expression used by a friend of mine nicknamed Dapper Don, borrowed from a tune by the Black Eyed Peas: “one tribe, y’all.” That phrase was never more fitting than when it comes to the ultra community, but not everyone who dons a pair of trail running shoes and comes to the races is necessarily a part of that community. Some are just passing through. Still others are in for the long haul, and when the flare of the moment has worn off and the dust clears, years down the road, they’ll still be out there, pitching in, to both compete and assist in the advancing of the cause.
Along with everything else that you’re planning for this racing season, plan on giving back to the community in some major way. Plan to pace or crew a friend, but also plan on working a race or two that you know you won’t run just to give back some of what you’ve received. I know there are some who simply have no time or interest in giving in that fashion. They’re only interested in running their races, and that’s okay; that doesn’t invalidate their participation. That said, there’s someone out there like me, for whom running is all that they have. You can make their day or their year with the help that you render.
A tribe is generally supportive of its members, and everyone should do what they can to help advance the cause of the group, and not just benefit from the good graces brought on by the whole. If you’re reading this far back in the UltraRunning rag, you’re no doubt cut from a different bolt of cloth. So if you haven’t already done so, make plans for your volunteerism this year. Maybe I’ll see you there. If not, be prepared; you may be a subject for a rant of mine later this year. One tribe, y’all.