As Marine ultrarunners (MURCAns) we are a unique breed, for sure. Fueled by a passion to be better, be of service, and conquer the unconquerable. I’ve watched as MURCAns run to raise awareness about diseases, veteran’s issues, and domestic violence. I’ve seen MURCAns coaching one another and throwing away any hope of a descent race finish for themselves, to slow down and stay with struggling runners to ensure they finish the race. Right about now, many of my fellow MURCAns may well be thinking they‘ve got this whooped; you are doing all these things. Surely, your running matters.
Although the things I mentioned are noteworthy and I encourage you all to continue to pursue such endeavors, I think we as MURCAns often miss our greatest opportunity for service and conquering the beast. Ultrarunners have a unique bond. We’ve suffered the same soul-crushing miles, managed half-dollar size blisters, we’ve frozen, we’ve fried, we’ve recovered, and sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we have DNF’d. It’s easy to pass miles on the trail sharing superficial stories with another human that has lived through familiar yet uncommon experiences. Time slips away as we reminisce, but what have we actually accomplished? Sure, we pounded out miles, earned a finisher’s medal, or finally summited that unrunnable mountain; but what did we really accomplish?
Each long run or race breaks down mental barriers. These miles erode the façade we present in our day to day life. We are laid bare. No adornments or misgivings. Just who we really are for the world to see- an opportunity for a wellness check should you be running with a MURCAn who is paying attention.
Listen to understand, not to respond.
We all know ultrarunners talk about things with each other that most people wouldn’t think about discussing: embarrassing chaffing, pooping in weird places, that one time that… So while the normal social defenses are down, we should be taking the opportunity to see what is really going on inside of our fellow runners. Where do they struggle? what scares them? and what do they lack? Be a good listener on the trail, but be even better at asking the important questions. Let the questions hang there, lingering like the big pink elephant on the trail. You might be surprised how much other runners will share with you.
As you get a look into the life of another runner, remember there is an implied trust as someone shares with you. Listen to understand, not to respond. It’s possible you’ll hear stories of addiction, abuse, depression, and grief. Don’t judge. Listen and be prepared to be of service. Can you trade phone numbers and follow up later, should you encourage them to seek professional help, or did they just need a listening ear for a few hours? You’ll have to decide that.
Spending our time to on the trail to reach out to others runners on a human to human level has the potential to change another runner’s life and potentially the lives of those closest to them. If we can watch for and take advantages of opportunities to carry out these wellness checks with other runners, we really can make our runs matter.