I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Trail Runner Nation, last week and it got me thinking about my own journey of running and what has kept me going. Yes, I love running in the bush for hours on end, I love feeling strong within my body and challenged by what is without, but it is the community that keeps me engaged in the sport as a whole.
It seems a little strange, I guess, that a sport that sees me running for hours and hours, mostly alone, has such a strong community feel. This past year I feel like I have been blessed to experience this community from every possible facet. In my head I have tried to categorize these experiences, but the easiest way to share the highlights of my community is chronologically, throughout the year. These are, by no means, the only times community were part of my sport. On training runs and races and even outside in everyday life, in fact almost everyday I will be touched by our awesome community in one way or another. Things like sharing a photo on social media, asking a trailfriend for advice about a problem you’ve had, or sharing directions to a waterfall with a fellow runner. I have even had short little messages just asking if I was ok when I hadn’t popped up on strava for a few days. It all counts.
In February of this year I went to my first overseas race, the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon. I was travelling with a group of runners, but being from the bush I only knew a few of the group, mostly from a handful of races and social media. There is an inclusiveness with most trailrunners. We were all here to run the same race so yeah, come along to the pub and have some lunch, hey where do you want to go for dinner, want to grab a coffee in the morning? Even out on the course there were cheers of encouragement from people I barely knew and many good friends were made, in a trip that barely lasted 5 days. Even now we seek out each other at events to say hi and catch up on our lives in between.
In May I took on my biggest solo challenge to date at UltraTrail Australia. My community of trail friends rallied before the race had even started. Friends volunteered to keep me company on long training runs, into the night and through holidays when they could have spent time with other family and friends. There were messages back and forth of encouragement from friends around the globe. I borrowed gear from a dear friend who had never actually met me but with whom I chatted to regularly via social media. During the race, a woman I have come to think of as my big trail sister, rang me the moment she knew I was struggling, to offer me support and help me work through the problem. We have met in real life less than a handful of times, but barely a week goes by that we don’t chat. There were hugs, high fives and shouts from people I knew and some that I didn’t, offering support, help and encouragement. Not to mention the messages of support that popped up on my facebook each time I made it through a checkpoint, unbeknownst to me at the time. Then there was the finish. I still get teary whenever I talk about it. To hear the cheers of my trail friends as I crossed the line at 6am, after each of them had run their own races in the hours before, is something I will never ever forget.
In July I was honored to be on the other side of an event as support crew in the gruelling 96km Kokoda Challenge. I have completed the challenge myself and know how important support crew is. This was my second time crewing at this particular event. There is a special kind of energy when crewing for a long event for a team. There are long pauses of waiting, not sure of what may be happening out on the trails, then frenetic energy of heading to the checkpoint, setting up, the bustle of dealing with your team as quickly as possible while doing everything you can for them and then its pack up and wait to go to the next meet point. We had a team of 4 support people, so we got to know each other pretty well over our 30+hrs together, plus we met and chatted with other support teams and there was the cheering on and offering of assistance to other groups as they passed through each checkpoint. Standing at the finish line waiting for our team was one of the longest waits I have experienced and holding my dear friend Sarah moments after she finally completed Kokoda on her third attempt rivals the feelings I felt crossing my own finishline at UTA.
In September I was once again able to “give back” a little to my community as I volunteered at a local ultra. I say give back, but my experience probably gave me more than I gave to the participants. As course marshall at the main creek crossing at the Wild Earth Coastal High 50, I got to see many members of the community pushing their limits and enjoying the trails. It gave me a great perspective of my own experience in races. I was lucky enough to share the experience with my youngest son and he probably said it best when he said he loved volunteering because “helping people and making them smile made him feel good inside”. He was handing out the red frogs so got lots of smiles!
Community has been able to expand to not just those physically present in the moment of our events and training thanks to technology. In September I was able to cheer my big trail sister on from a far as she ran her first 100miler in the Glasshouse Mountains and a few weeks ago I watched many friends compete in races of various distances at Blackall. Through tracking, text messages and phone calls my community was brought together, through triumphs and tribulations we shared our experiences. Thanks to Instagram, Facebook and Strava, I can now share my often solo and remote running with friends, both near and far. I don’t feel alone in my running.
This past weekend I raced what is likely my final event for the year, I also celebrated my birthday. I arrived at the race to be greeted by familiar faces, smiles, hugs and surprises. After the race there were more hugs, I was joined by friends (both from the trail community and life in general) to wander a favourite trail and share food. I am forever grateful for finding my community, my tribe in trail runners. Every time I run they are with me, in my heart and in my head. They are the impetus to continue when the going gets tough, they are there when things go wrong and they celebrate the triumphs with me, most of all. If you are part of my trail community thank you for making this thing called trailrunning so special and such an important part of my life, and if you aren’t yet a part of my community I’d love you to join me.
You can follow me here on my blog or over at: