Where to………

A few weeks before Many On The Genny this year I was ready to throw in the towel on what we do. It seemed that just like the direction of this country, the direction of the sport I love so dearly is not going where I had hoped it would, where I believe it should for sustainability and community.

Races that seem to stick to the ideals of the sport (community, responsibility, conservation, environmentalism), are losing racers, while the ones who seek a profit are growing.

I have been seeing the road running culture come to the trails. Some of that, I like. The competition, the speed, the top end talent. It’s inspiring and motivating.

Some of it I hate. The demands for better swag, the entitled emails from runners, the massive numbers of people entering races, and most importantly to me, the huge profits being made by races.

Today I was watching this http://www.patagonia.com/new-localism/takayna.html and 2 minutes in, it stopped me in my tracks.  It began to remind me of large, overproduced, damaging aspects of our sport. I immediately thought, “how the hell are we utilizing the nature we love?”

I started to think, what was my role in this – What is the negative environmental impact of hosting a trail race? Is it different than just going out and spending miles alone in the woods?

I remember clearly a conversation had once when talking about putting a cap on races, another Race Director said “Since when is getting people outside and active a bad thing.” I thought about it for a minute and responded simply that “it is not, until it is.”

Outside Magazine recently published a piece about “Place First” in the outdoors. You can, and really should, read it here

Basically it means putting nature, above anything else

Agreeing on the idea of “place first” means accepting the idea that we’ll sometimes have to make sacrifices—in access, in convenience—in order to sustain the nature that makes it all possible

I would certainly like to add to that, profit.

We just produced a race with 125 registered runners. 109 of them started the day. 106 finished. Many had crew with them, we hiked aid stations in to the woods. We cheered, rang cowbells, and celebrated.

What impact did this have?

Reading a race report, on the back half of the race, one runner spent 13 miles without seeing another runner. That surely seems like a small impact. But what if we had 400 runners on the same trail? 1000? More?

Sometimes when I talk to people about why we cap our races, they look at me like I am crazy. When we tell them we spent over 100 hours preparing the course, for hardly any money they say things like “That hardly seems worth it.”

I want to share spaces, I want to bring people out to experience the beauty and life changing days on the trails that I have experienced. I think however, we need to do this in a much more thought out way.

We need to consider our impact. If I tell runners to not go off trail, and they do, making the trail wider and encroaching on wildlife, fauna, insects and more – That is my fault.

If I operate a race that is too large, and we have a wet year and folks are avoiding mud or ruining trails, that is my fault.

If I blast 500 people through on a Saturday, and the local woman who walks her dog every Sunday can’t navigate the ruts and footsteps we created, that is my fault.

If runners decide for some reason, to just toss garbage anywhere they want, instead of carrying it to the next aid station…. It’s also my fault.

My goal for every race is to make sure that the day after the event  you would not even know we had been there. If you can, we fix it immediately. We have been successful in this thus far, and I think maybe it is time for me to take a larger step up and start advocating for the sport and it’s ability to convene with nature in place of it’s ability to damage nature.

‘The right use in the right location at the right time,’” Is where I think I want to head with this. I don’t believe in folks not getting out onto the trails, I don’t believe any events currently around should be cancelled, it’s just the how, the when, and really strongly the why. 

Big corporations and chains are putting on events for major profits without too much thought for the damaging impacts our sport has on our environment…. It may seem a stretch to  you, but it’s not much different than other forms of environmental destruction to me shown in the Patagonia film or written about in the article shared.

I had my low moments heading in to Many On The Genny

I thought this might be the last year of Race Directing for me. I thought the runners have changed, the community has changed. Perhaps, just like the country.

Maybe the direction they want to go would be a direction without me. The sport was here long before me, it will be here long after me. That much I know.

No one is more important to the sport than the sport itself. To think my own impact on the sport is that notable is self centered at best….

I believe though, that the reasons people are coming to the trails are still pure. They just don’t know how to act in a nature friendly way because some of the people bringing them out are not nature friendly themselves.

So I had a choice, to step down from all of this, or to change my mindset. To not get angry but to thoughtfully fight for a better way to use nature.

The runners at our finish lines always motivate me. They teach me that we are doing this the right way. The smiles, the sweaty hugs, the emptying pockets and packs of trash they found along the way. Some of you, many of you still get it.

I think, no, I hope, that leading by example, producing small, beautiful, meaningful events with little to no footprint is still the way to go.

I hope people will adapt to a nature first concept… and if the majority don’t, then we will still be here for the minority, creating what you remember most and cherish about the sport of trail running.

 

4 thoughts on “Where to………

  1. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News | Friday, June 29 | Ultrarunnerpodcast.com

  2. You are awesome! I’ve seen two beautiful trails get decimated from races where the course was akin to a mud bog. One I hike on a weekly basis and it makes me sad seeing the places where the trail is 10 times as wide as it should be and frankly ruined, the other, one day I will get back there, with no race and hopefully see it in its beauty rather than the muddy slimy frankly dangerous rocky mess it turned into.

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  3. Bruce Cyra

    Eric, your event and course sound super fun, it must be very remote wilderness, and I share a lot of your lament. And, I also see the impact our running events on the trails impact the trails both negatively and positively. I see people on the trails ON FOOT having minimal impact but also doing trail work (Cascade Crest). I see horse punch-throughs and dust-filled dirt bike v-ruts on some races (Plain 100), stepping off the trail to allow a train of loud high speed motorcycles past me so I don’t get hit. What I am saying is that its a good thing to want to keep trail culture. I see it all the time. Comparatively, I am not worried.
    Bruce.

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