Trail ultra running is a weird sport.
By definition, it’s an individual sport, only you can get yourself from the start line to the finish line under the speed of your own two feet.
But for some races, it’s starting to become a team sport and that gets me all up in my “but I only have me” feelings.
Let me explain.
Some races depending on where you live and the “trail culture” of that area, allow support crews and pacers (people who can run with you for certain sections as support) during the event. The amount these people can be involved in the runners race vary depending on the race itself with some limiting the amount of people, which checkpoints or aid stations they can go to and how much they can assist.
Some of the elite runners have so much support and are so dialled with their instructions that they can go in and out of an aid stations in less than a minute, Formula One pit style crewing.
It would take me longer to explain to the volunteer my race number and what my drop back looks like than it takes these guys to get in and out of an aid station.
Generally speaking, North American trail culture entails no mandatory gear, pacers and crews allowed and European culture is the direct opposite.
Australia and New Zealand tend to combine both models, requiring mandatory gear at a lot of races and often allowing crew and pacers if the race is 100k or more.
As someone who is a bit of a lone wolf, I’ve always found this a little bit triggering.
It used to just be seeing friends run together at events, encouraging each other, wearing cheesy matching outfits, having other pals there for them at the finish line cheering annoyingly loud that would make me feel a bit sad.
I was jealous, insanely jealous, but I would always counter it with “well I can’t have that because I can’t make it to group runs” or “people just don’t like me” or whatever excuse I had at the time.
I would find myself getting upset when I wasn’t included in my running friends adventures or training runs and I always train alone.
But as the distance increased and the focused became more on who is in your team and less so on the other people doing the actual running with you, I found myself in the same sad predicament.
Seeing people talk about their family travelling around the world to crew them, to watch them cross finish lines only widened the hole I had created in my chest.
I’d invited my family before but they aren’t really very interested. They travelled to the Gold Coast for my first marathon back in the day but left to fly home before I’d even finished.
This isn’t a pity party, it just is what it is, but it does make me feel like I’m missing out on something.
The races try to make it ok to not have people, they include drop bag support and of course there are so many wonderful volunteers at the aid stations.
It’s hard because a lot of people travel a long way to races and bringing out friends and family can also cost a lot of extra money and that’s if they can get the time off work.
It struck me when Alexi Pappas ran her first 100k on the trails at Bandera earlier in the year and said that the “aid stations made me feel so cared for” and referenced her relationship with her family and childhood.
Maybe that’s why I love the “trail community”, because they make you feel loved and accepted when maybe you don’t feel like you fit in anywhere else.
I really resonated with Alexi’s post about always getting that sandwich herself and not needing someone to do it for her, but that it felt nice.
I’ve always had super mixed feelings about people coming out to support and maybe that’s why they don’t anymore and to be honest, I have always found that I spend too much time in checkpoints when I have crew support.
I don’t want to feel like a burden or an inconvenience or that I’m wasting someone’s time. There is a pressure that comes from people waiting for you at an aid station. What if I’m not fast enough? How long have they been waiting? Will they be mad or annoyed or disappointed? I feel obligated to stay and talk to them even though I have a finishing time goal.
I’m not the best at asking for help and there are already a lot of bridges burnt, no doubt from people who would say I’m ungrateful or don’t care.
But that’s the thing, I care too much. I’m the girl getting emotional about Team Adidas Terrex or Taylor Swifts girl squad. I don’t think I’m cold, maybe just protective.
I’ve seen multiple people suggest not to have your friends and loved ones crew or pace them because you’ll be at your worst and potentially ruin the relationships you do have.
I did giggle at a recent twitter post by runner and podcaster Jonathon Levitt.
I don’t think he’s wrong.
Jonathan is the king of group runs and social outings. His recent appearance on the Strength Running Podcast was about just that, how to create a running community.
It sounds so simple, on paper or podcast.
Just go, put yourself out there, everyone feels weird.
That’s great, but I have to make it out the door first!
There is a ladies trail group run tonight about half an hours drive from my house.
I’m not busy.
It makes me anxious just thinking about going and my body floods with excuses. “There’s no point going, I won’t be able to go to the next one”, “it’s too far”, “I will probably be too slow”, “I don’t know anyone”, “I’ll be the only new person”, “I need to find a group closer”, on and on and on.
Maybe my posting this blog, it will encourage me to go, maybe it won’t.
Maybe I’ll just keep fantasising about my dream life where I crew my friends and they crew me and it looks like the ultra running movies. There’s a little bit of me that says romantic comedies aren’t real life, no but trail running movies are.
Maybe I can have that, if I just got out the door.