I ran my first road race in 1993, and my first trail race in 1994. I ran my first ultra in 2001. Topped fifty miles in a week for the first time in 1999. Topped one hundred miles in a week for the first time in 2004. Won my first race in 1999. Ran my first DNF (Did Not Finish) in 2002. Averaged over one hundred miles a week in 2008, and directed my first race that same year. I am not new to this sport, in any incarnation: road, trail; short, long. I've been running a long time - and yet realize how short a time I've been running compared to some of the people who nurtured me as I grew in this sport, yet realize how little any of this matters to most people, yet realize how little this actually reflects on who I am as a human being.
In addition to our work with Endless Trails, Kerri and I also work nearly full-time for Rainshadow Running, handling volunteer coordination and many of the back-end logistics, race registrations, etc. Our position allows us to frequently see both the best and worst in people, especially in how they consider themselves runners, and how that translates to perspective (or sometimes having none).
Some of the runners regularly surprise us with the depth of their passion for the community. Runners who are at races entirely for someone else, and who place someone else's success before their own. Runners who are selfless in the way the give back. Runners who realize that this - our time on the trails, with each other, at the races - is a very, very small slice of life, but can be a rich and treasured time, full of love for each other and for the experience of pushed boundaries and shared camaraderie. Runners who treat everyone at the races as a member of their family or team, worthy of dignity, respect, compassion, empathy. Runners who help each other treasure the experience of these runs, for better and for worse. Our hearts are regularly lifted by these runners, and they - and the volunteers who share so many of these same attributes - are far and away the best part of our job. These are folks excited by the growth of our sport, excited by an increased appreciation for trails, excited by the opportunity to help other runners and trail-lovers and adventurers push themselves in new-found ways. These people are our people, kindred souls, trail family.
Unfortunately, the nature of the job means we are equally, if not more often, surprised by the runners who approach these races from an unattractive and strange place of entitlement. Who are curmudgeonly toward the growth of the sport. Who remember "the good old days," when not very many people ran ultras, and most of them were men, and not very many of the attitudes of those men were, shall we say, particularly enlightened. I remember those days, and I'm glad to see our sport growing up, but not everyone is. "That's trail culture, bro," someone told me last summer, and maybe to them it was, but it doesn't need to be - and for our sport and these events to gather the recognition they deserve, it shouldn't be.
Our sport needs to be inclusive and welcoming, not exclusive and closed-off. Trails are not owned, but to be shared, cared for, protected, loved. It doesn't matter who got there first. (And truth: when someone says they were there first? They never were. Someone else was kind and helped them find their way first, which is easy to forget when you do something for yourself, and not for the community.)
We get complaints, regularly. A race is too popular. Sold out too fast. Opened too early. Opened too late. Didn't have the exact food options they wanted. Didn't cater to their gluten-free/vegan/paleo diet.
To all of those complaints, I've only this to say: Stop.
Stop thinking only of yourself. Stop making this your whole world if that means you lose sight of what actually matters, if you lose sight of what being kind and gracious means. Trail-running isn't the whole world. It's a beautiful part of it, to be certain, but oh, how the world is so much larger. Does the growth of this sport mean you don't always get to run on trails in exactly the context you want? Yeah, it does. Does the growth of this sport mean you can still just decide a few weeks before a race that you want to run it? Not likely. Does this give you the right to be a jerk about how "the sport has changed," or make snide, passive-aggressive comments about how "these races don't stand for what they thought they stood for," or otherwise act like an ass? No, not even a little. Stop making everything about you.
As one of the larger trail running and ultra race series in the country, Rainshadow does help set the tone for this sport. We know that, and are both proud of and aware of the responsibility that comes with that role. We're very aware that our sport is shifting - and we want that shift to be welcoming both to the stalwarts who've been here, running ultras, for years, and for the newbies, either running trails or ultras, or both, for the first time. We want everyone in this community, regardless of their running experience, to feel welcome and supported, and to have a chance to run in some of the most amazing places in the Northwest. But the fact is: There are a lot more (trail and ultra) runners now then there were two, five, or ten years ago. Isn't that something to be celebrated?
If you're reading this, you're probably a runner. At the very least, you're a trail-lover. Odds are good you've probably run a Rainshadow race or several, or at very least have a some idea what to expect from a Rainshadow race were you to come to one. Hopefully, though, you also realize that you - and these races - are about more than just running. Hopefully you have interests, and a full life outside of running, no matter what sort of outlet running may serve, and these races are about so much more than just seeing how quickly a bunch of runners can cover a certain distance, or how they can push their bodies.
We are a family at these races, a community of trail-supporters. We get exceptionally psyched when people want to be part of that community, too. Makes our day, it does.
But if you're only here for yourself? We can't help but think you'd be happier somewhere else.