By Randy Zuniga
Mile 40, bent over with cramps, half way through an eight mile climb. “Gel? Bar? What do you need?” I looked past my legs behind me and saw the upside down view of a thigh pinned bib. The cramps passed and I stood back up. “I’m hurtin’.” I moved off the single track to let the Runner pass. “Come with me. We’ll go together. What’s your name?”
This is what you find in the Ultrarunning community. A group of people who root for each other while competing against one another during a race or even out on a training run. And when these people aren’t running in the races they’re volunteering at them in the aid stations and on the trail.
SURF (San Diego Ultra Running Friends) is a group in San Diego that completely supports their local races and the runners who compete in them. Yesterday there was a training run for The Cuyamaca 100K. SURF had an 18 mile training run along the course and finished with a picnic with a great spread of food provided by the organization. The elites ran with the middle of the packers and the middle of the packers with the back of the packers. One runner referred to it as the “accordion effect.” The elites would take off then stop and wait -- the rest of the group would follow. Everyone would spread out then come together… Spread out then come together… All the while encouraging one another, giving and receiving advice, and exchanging gear tips.
I’m not running the Cuyamaca 100K this fall. I have my sights set on another race the weekend before. But, I want to give back to the community that I feel I have gotten so much from. I told the Race Director that I wanted to volunteer for his race and with a smirk he responded… “I’m going to give you all of the shittiest jobs.” And I knew at that point we were buddies.
Last year I ran the 100K with my brother -- at mile 56, he could barely bend over and tie his shoes. He had small rocks that had worked their way into his shoes between his toes. The aid station crew sat him down, took off his shoes, and cleaned his greasy feet with their bare hands without even flinching! They threw his shoes back on and sent him on his way.
At an aid station during a different race, my wife lost her wallet. The aid station manager knowing it was probably someone’s involved in the race -- called the bank on the debit card -- within an hour my wife got a phone call from her bank, was told where she could pick up her wallet, and had it back in her hands.
Ultrarunners are good honest people who bond together for the love of the trails and friendships that are born on them. People who pick you up when you’re in a dark place with miles of trail left in front of you and vice versa. People who clean the crud off of your sweaty feet and people who just want to help you succeed while even trying to give a wallet back to your loved one. Overall, just an amazing group of people… Actually, not just people, but friends. Friends who can run incredible long distances.
That runner who came up behind me on that 8 mile climb while I was wrecked with cramps ended up finishing that race. I was unable to “right the ship”. I didn’t know him, but when I found out he finished I couldn’t help but smile to myself.