I am asked often, at the various world championships we have, around the world on what is the big attraction of ultrarunning. I say is it is the sport of international camaraderie.
How many times have you gone to an ultra race and shook hands with everyone around you at the start line? How many times have you chatted with your fellow runners, while out on the course, even cheering them on?? How many times have you stopped to help an injured runner even when you are in your zone and destined for personal goals??? … And how many times have you cheered on a runner even though they are wearing the shirt of a different country????
I got my start in ultrarunning in the summer of 2001. I ran the 24 Hour Sri Chinmoy race in Ottawa, Canada. Having run the shorter distances of 5 kilometers, 10 kilometers and the half marathon, for more than half of my life, I was amazed by the sense of solidarity as soon as I stepped foot into the pre-race pasta party.
The atmosphere in that kitchen was more of a reunion, with runners chatting and catching up, as opposed to the tone of national championships. No one was discussing the game-plan to become the Canadian champion but rather sharing personal news on long lost runners. This was my first introduction to discipline of athletics that we all so lovingly call ultrarunning.
That was about a decade and half back and this persona of ultrarunning still holds true. This is the case whether you run an ultrarun in the trails of the United States, the grassy plains of Europe, the roads of South Africa or the track in Australia. Regardless of where an athlete is, they can expect a warm handshake and pat on the back, sometime even during the ultra race.
Ultrarunning is bigger than an individual athlete. It is, in the truest sense of the word, larger than the sum of its parts. The athletes who partake in the races are competitors, individuals with a sheer will power to achieve their goal, while running towards their personal achievements culminating years of hard work and training.
But the athletes who partake in these races are also members of a wider community of runners, people with a compassion for their fellow runner with a firm recognition of their efforts on the race course coupled with respect for the achievements being strived for on any given day.
This feeling of camaraderie transcends boundaries, extends beyond languages and surpasses varied cultures. The universality of ultrarunning is the basis of this companionship between runners who are competitors on the race course and friends off of it.
I have been fortunate enough to have noticed this first hand in the international realm. I have witnessed the cheering crowds in the twenty third hour of the 24 hour race applaud for runners of all nationalities carrying flags of their countries. I have seen athletes share their podium space on stage with other athletes. I have noticed competitors along with their families, from different countries, socializing with each other the day prior to the race. I have observed athletes of different nationalities cross the finish line holding hands.
Ultrarunning has started garnering media globally bringing it into the mainstream sporting life. Huge accolades for this spotlight go to our athletes. Reporters have become aware of the personality of this sport and the persona of our athletes. They have noticed the camaraderie of the ambassadors of the sport realizing that one can be ultra-competitive and yet hold the friendliness of a welcoming sport. The athletes can compete on a world class level, establish world’s best performances over the toughest of courses and still remain at the finish line till the very end of the race cheering on all the finishers. This is what this sport represents: Camaraderie!
I am very fortunate to be a small part of this very large (and growing) global community of ultrarunners. I am confident, working together we will continue to increase the profile of the sport, while continuing to promote the greatest asset we have in our sport… And that is the camaraderie amongst our athletes.