Trail running. Mountain ultramarathons. As you may have noticed (considering what I’ve been writing on all year), I find these activities to be among the greatest examples of an exploratory way of life.
It’s getting outdoors, getting into and doing something positive for the bodies we are, coming home in movement that lets all thought ebb away even as it carries to a deeper understanding of selves and locations. It’s so much.
It’s also a reason for and result of a love of wild nature – just what so many argue we’d need more of, in order to love and protect the world.
In becoming focused on personal records, looking to experience ever more of the great races that are so well-known and just a (more or less) short flight away, as it so often does, however, even the ultrarunning circus contributes to the problems that threaten the world.
Sure, things are not as bad as they are with F1 racing or similar events which entail considerably more consumption of energy and resources, and at least the running may be inspirational in considerably better ways (for the body, the mind, and the world), but it is strikingly ironic when love of nature manifests itself in going many places, and at best not leaving trash and giving some inspiration, but never considering the wider impacts of the travel.
It gets all the more ironic when it becomes the – all too often heard – idea of traveling to all the places threatened by our carbon emissions and overconsumption before they disappear, contributing to even more carbon emissions and resource consumption to get to them…
Many, if not most, things in our lives now go like that. We do what we can, because it can be done – but we don’t do so much of what we could also be doing – in particular, when it means refraining from doing something – and that would be better for ourselves as well as the world.
Here’s the challenge to us as runners, as outdoors people, then – same as for everyone and everywhere: To strike a balance between benefits and costs, between our pleasure and our impact.
Every (ultra)runner who runs with his/her own running vest, doesn’t constantly look to replace that with a “newer and better” model, carries their own water bottles/reservoir which is well taken care of, packs out what they packed in, and favors the local exploration over the jet-setting, individual car-tripping run-travel does better.
Every race that focuses on local runners over the international roster, disqualifies for taking destructive off-trail shortcuts or despoliation of its course’s beauty, refills bottles at aid stations but doesn’t inundate the place with plastic cups, contributes positively.
The pleasure doesn’t get reduced by this heightened acceptance of responsibility. Sure, things are made a bit less unthinkingly easy. You need to be more responsible for yourself and the places you run – but since it’s about the love of the sport and the great outdoors it takes place in, that should come naturally.
Such runs are made less for the hordes of people who just want to finish that great, well-known marathon in that fascinating city far away, no matter if they should really be running – but it wouldn’t be quite so bad to have some barriers between our illusions of grandeur and actual accomplishment.
Does that attitude mean that I’d never fly to the New York City marathon or the Ultra Caballo Blanco among the Raramuri (Tarahumara, made famous in Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run”)?
No, I might consider – but I’d also consider the balance to strike between benefits and costs, and try to at least not just fly far for one event (especially as long as I am not among the pros making a living with it, and live in Europe, where there are still scores of fascinating races and enough trails to run, even just in the East of the Alps, to last for a few lifetimes), but to stay longer and also do something more that is of benefit to the world and the locals – and in better ways than just leaving some money there…