In 2008 I was introduced to the concept of the Ultramarathon when I was asked to provide the timing for Karl Meltzer's Speedgoat 50K at Snowbird UT. At the time, I was a runner for two reasons: First - I had my annual fitness assessment in the National Guard each year so I needed to maintain a reasonable level of fitness for that, and Second - I was running daily to de-stress from a very difficult business collapse. Meeting Karl was an eye-opener to be sure. The idea of running beyond 15 miles or so never even occurred to me, and here was this guy telling me that 31 miles through the mountains in a day is "normal". I'd never even entered a 5K in my entire life, and yet I signed up to run the Speedgoat the next year, and it became my first-ever "race".
Obviously, I was absorbed into the culture and have adopted running at ultra distances as a major part of my life. I've gone on adventure runs across the Highline Trail in the Uinta Mountains, and run solo through the West Desert in Utah. I've met 100s of amazing people who I call my friends. I enjoy the general lack of "competitiveness" and the supportive nature of most participants in these events. I've stopped to help others many times during an event I in which I was "competing" in, and had others offer their help when I was struggling. My competition has always been with myself, and for me the process of the ultramarathon has more importance than the result. I realize there are many to whom that concept is unappealing, but that's the magic of this sport; it is capable of supporting many different perspectives within it's ranks while not alienating any one of them.
Recently however, I've observed situations that indicate the culture of our sport is in danger. Some within this community are willing to deride and degrade others because of any number of things that aren't in-line with their own perspectives. I see exclusionary statements are being directed at people just looking into our sport via online forums because they've "only" done a 10K or 1/2. I've now heard of ridicule and derision being relentlessly laid upon a runner who became lost in the dark and epic storm of last years Salt Flats 100 event. I find it inconceivable that someone would find it acceptable to be anything but fully supportive and concerned for someone who experienced such a traumatic event.
I believe we are better than that. I believe that the ultramarathon itself allows us to become introspective, resilient, accommodating and generally better people as a result of our participation. I think we're a special community simply because we run in places where we often need volunteers, and each other to succeed. I hope that we as a community will work hard to continue to make our sport as welcoming and inclusive as when I was first introduced to it by Karl.