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The reciprocity of running


One of the things that I have grown to appreciate most about running is its reciprocal nature – its ability to return everything you put into it.  Such reciprocity engenders a sense of gratitude, respect, and responsibility.  Due to the inestimable returns (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, etc.) received on one’s investment, one can’t help but want to invest more both in one’s own pursuits and in sharing the inherent benefits with others.

Many of us began running and keep running because of the influence of others.  Perhaps it was a coach, a friend, or training partner that got us started.  Now, as runners, we benefit from the efforts of people we may not even know - authors, bloggers, race volunteers, spectators, competitors, medical professionals, nutrition providers and developers, and shoe and apparel designers.

This phenomenon of benefiting from the efforts of others leaves some to feel a sense of gratitude and a desire to give back.  As an undergraduate in Hawaii (where I studied anthropology and ran for a small DII school) I was introduced to the Hawaiian principle of KuleanaKuleana embodies both the rights to benefits and the responsibility one has as a beneficiary to give back.  Though I am not a native Hawaiian, I tried to incorporate the principle of Kuleana into my everyday life.  I was amazed at how much more fulfilling my life, studies, and running became.

Our small NCAA DIIliberal arts university only had a cross country team, so in the winter, spring, and summer we were not technically allowed to meet regularly as a team.  This meant that most of my teammates took up surfing and worked more hours to pay the bills.  My wife and I enjoyed this break from structured training and ended up doing a lot of training on our own in the mountains and along the beach.  One day, while on a run my wife ran into some high school kids that were running.  This was not a common sight in the area.  Though the local high school, Kahuku, was nationally recognized for its football and women’s soccer recruits, it was certainly not known for its distance running tradition.  The sight of other runners intrigued her and she soon introduced herself and asked if she could join them.  Although distance running wasn’t part of the culture on Oahu’s North Shore, there were some willing athletes, patient parents, and seasoned track coaches (also football coaches) who were willing to let us volunteer as distance coaches.

Little did we know how much we'd gain from our little investment.  We’d race out of our last class of the day, blitz down the road (about three miles away) to the high school and arrive just in time to work with aspiring distance runners.  Through the process, we came to know members of the tight-knit community and were eventually welcomed in.  Parents fed us and thanked us for working with their kids and we did our best to try and give all we could (shoes, clothes, experience, and occasional road race winnings that we weren’t allowed to accept somehow made their way into the team’s account). 

The athletes made gradual progress.  Eventually, a few of them qualified and placed at state.  By the end of the second year we had the privilege of being there when the team won its first state track title.  That still remains one of the most impressive and inspiring athletic performances I have ever witnessed.  Not surprisingly, our own running also improved (it must have been the daily tempo runs out to Kahuku followed by hills, sand, and intervals, with a 3 mile cool down back home). 

Our experience coaching prepared us for a phone call we received shortly thereafter from my high school coach and mentor.  He was stepping down and asked if my wife and I would be interested in moving back to my hometown in Oregon to assume the roles of the boys and girls cross country coaches.  While this was not in our plans, we moved back to Oregon upon graduating and have been coaching at my Alma Mater in Hermiston, Oregon ever since. 

This opened up more doors to try and give back.  As a means of extending the benefits of running to the community, developing an appreciation for race administration, and raising funds for our program, we established a community race series – the Columbia Corridor Corredores Race Series. This experience has opened my eyes to a side of running to which I had previously been oblivious.  I have come to appreciate the little details that go into making a quality event.  I have developed a huge appreciation for committed parents and volunteers.  Now I always want to thank the race directors and volunteers of all events in which I participate, large or small.  They have inspired me to never complain or write scathing emails to race directors (whether I take a wrong turn, stub a toe, don’t like the electrolyte replacement drink, or would prefer a different color or material of race t-shirt).  And they have led me to view the races in which I participate through a different lens – now rather than simply showing up to race, I am also looking at the details (or lack thereof) to see what to incorporate or not incorporate in future events.

More recently, I participated in a side of the sport that was certainly new to me.  I have always enjoyed attending race expos to see the latest products and test the freebies, but I had never before been on the side of the retailer.  When the owner of the local running store, Runner’s Soul Tri Cities, told me he was considering having a couple of booths at the upcoming Bloomsday race in Spokane, Washington and asked if I’d be interested in helping, I gladly obliged.  He has helped me over the years take care of my own running needs, but more importantly, he has gone above and beyond to help my team and athletes stay healthy by assuring they have good shoes at affordable prices.  He has also generously donated to the runs we put on, so I figured the least I could do was try to thank him by giving back while getting to do something I have always wanted to do – work in the retail running business.

In addition to some apparel, hydration equipment, and electrolyte sources, Runner’s Soul Tri Cities was working with a new shoe company – Altra.  While working at the Runner's Soul booth I was able to catch up with my former college teammate, and Altra founder, Golden Harper.  We were busy all day.  We stayed up late talking into the night as though we were still in college, woke up early, and worked all day.  The entire 48 hour experience was invigorating.  It didn’t hurt that we got to work with people before they had a challenging experience and they were happy to be there.  We were happy to share products that we genuinely felt could help them in their training and racing.  I enjoyed watching Golden in his element and I enjoyed seeing the satisfaction customers experienced when they tried out a new product. 
Our college cross country team.  I'm on the far left.  Golden is on the far right with the headband.
My admiration/appreciation for Golden and other innovators in our sport significantly increased.  Golden and I were teammates, but we also battled over top honors on a team with about five or six guys that at any given point could be our #1 runner.  As a prep All-American and son of running store owners, Golden’s future was pretty well set.  But rather than doing the natural and easy thing - going home to take over the family business after graduation – Golden challenged the financial recession and the shoe industry’s giants by turning conventional running shoe wisdom on its head.  He went off on his own and created shoes to fill the void that a life on his feet and in the running store made all too visible. 

As his teammate, training partner, and friendly rival, I have to admit that I attributed a lot of Golden’s early success (2:45 marathon as a 12 year old, 9th at Foot Locker Nationals in record time, etc.) to his privileged advantage with access to all the latest products as the son of a running store owner.  It wasn’t until recently that I was willing to admit that he occasionally got the better of me because he has what all of us need and most of admire – guts.  It used to annoy me when he’d hammer the downhills on our training runs through the Ko’o’lau’loa Range, but I have since come to admire his brazen recklessness. 

It took guts to race and set a world record in the marathon at age 12.  It took guts to run down and outkick Alan Webb in his high school prime.  It took guts to overcome injuries and letdown, transfer schools, win conference, and set new school records.  However, in my mind all of Golden's titles and records pale in comparison to what he has done in this economy, in the already oversaturated shoe industry with the deck stacked against him (a recent college graduate).  It took and continues to take guts to turn one’s ideas into a reality.  Through his innovations, the running shoe industry has been revolutionized and products are being made that allow people to run that once thought they'd never be able to run again.

Former teammate and founder of Altra Running, Golden Harper, climbing his favorite peaks in shoes he developed.
Golden and I parted ways as he made his way to the airport and I jogged to the starting line.  He texted me after the race to ask how it went.  It was exhilarating.  I didn’t win, or run terribly fast.  I wasn’t even in the money.  But I got to run with some really fast people, take part in a HUGE, well-orchestrated event, and I got to do something I have always wanted to do (work in a running booth) and in the process I got to catch up with a good friend-a modern day Bill Bowerman. 

In the race, as the trail pack and I approached the infamous “Doomsday Hill”, a wheelchair athlete nearly clipped my feet as he bombed the tangent on the descent.  My first emotion was annoyance for his recklessness, but that soon changed when I realized that he had lost control and I was forced to watch helplessly as he hit a curb and was catapulted from the chair and strewn across the pavement. 

When we got to him he was already covered with blood and losing more.  All he asked was that we help strap him back in (which was no small task--his legs were dead weight, he was covered with blood, and to get back in racing position the body is contorted in the most uncomfortable aerodynamically efficient position possible - with feet and legs tucked under the body as he leans forward sitting on the legs).  I was inspired by the fact that none of the runners who stopped asked for protective gloves or if the injured contender had participated in any risky behaviors that could potentially affect them.  All any of us thought was that one of our own had fallen and we wanted to help him back up.  When asked if he wanted someone to call 9-1-1 he simply responded that there is no way he wouldn’t finish the race. 

After a few minutes of getting the wheel reset, his helmet back in place, and him back into the chair we all resumed our original pace.  Several runners had passed us, but after seeing the grit and guts of the athlete who crashed and was still losing blood, I couldn’t help but see those who passed as simply another opportunity to challenge myself.  I raced up Doomsday with added vigor and determination and actually ran people down rather than being run down as had happened the last time I ran it.  I caught everyone in sight and worked my way up probably about 100 spots in the last three miles.  While I didn’t get the time I had initially hoped for, I had a much more fulfilling experience at Bloomsday than I had anticipated.  I remembered to always appreciate any chance I get to run and to never take the chance to run with others for granted.

These are just a few of the recent running experiences that have been greatly enriched as a result of the efforts of others.  I have come to better appreciate their efforts as I have tried to do the same.  I will be eternally indebted to the many coaches, mentors, teammates, training partners, friends, race directors, volunteers, spectators, competitors, authors, bloggers, medical professionals, and innovators who have helped me make running a viable lifestyle.  I hope to reciprocate at least a portion of what they have given me as I run, coach, volunteer, organize races, and blog.  I hope to embody the reciprocal nature of running in my life as I strive to incorporate a spirit of Kuleana in all that I do. 

If you would like to enrich your running and the running experience of others I encourage you to look for opportunities to give back.  I did not mention my own experiences to limit you in your efforts, but rather to show how my life and running have improved as a result of the efforts I have made to look beyond the next PR or win and look outward to helping others find fulfillment through running.  

We all live in different places with different experiences, but we can all contribute to the sport through our individual and collective efforts to give back.   One of the best parts of trail running is the sense of community.  As trail runners we volunteer to prepare trails for upcoming races.  We crew, cheer, and pace our competitors who ultimately become close friends.  We challenge one another to be better and even when we train alone, we know that we owe it to ourselves and others like us out there to put in the work so that when we meet up we will be ready to test one another.   

4 comments:

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