This past weekend, we held a race in a beautiful park nearby my home. This particular event is dear to my heart: these are my home trails and I was excited for our runners to enjoy them as much — if not more — as I get to whenever I want.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares this mindset. Some people think they own the trails and the park — and then act upon these beliefs, putting 300 people in danger just because they couldn’t share the public park one day in the whole year.
I had an aid station, so the news got to me a bit later. In short, somebody vandalized the course even before the race started, completely remarking the thing to lead our runners off the trail and up the steep hill via deer trails until these deer trails ended — and our runners got lost.
We noticed that in the morning, and quickly re-marked it, although we couldn’t do our best job, and didn’t catch all the places before the 50 and 35-kilometer runners embarked on their journeys.
But that wasn’t enough, as said vandal (or perhaps an organized group of them) went out again and tore our course apart once more, making it nearly impossible for our half-marathon and 10-kilometer runners to get literally anywhere. All in all, everyone but one runner got lost.
The vandals put in danger nearly 300 people who went out to enjoy the trails that day, trails they didn’t have any less right to use than whoever felt conceited enough to very purposefully destroy the experience for everyone else.
Marking the route takes hours. It takes a lot of energy; and no, it’s not a pretty, relaxing run. You have to stop every 600 feet/200 meters or so to tie ribbons on trees, then backtrack, and make sure they’re easily visible. And don’t even get me started on marking turns when there’s a five-trail junction with two of the trails forking into two more only a few steps after said junction. But we do it — and we do it with love and care because the safety of our runners is our number one concern, very closely followed by our desire for them to enjoy the race.
We check the markings in the early morning before the race to ensure they’re intact and add signs and flour arrows to make the route even easier to follow.
The markings are taken down immediately after the race. Not the next day, not the next week, but the same afternoon. All in all, the markings are out there for about 36 hours during shorter races (which this one was) and for at most 48 hours when we have a longer event.
As for the runners; by the time you meet them, most of them are spread far apart. There are no blockades on the trails, we do not claim the trails for ourselves. There’s no restricted access anywhere. You can enjoy the park as any other day.
We pay hefty fees to use the park trails — yes, the park gets quite a nice sum from the company whose course some person/s decided to vandalize because “These are their trails.” *insert mocking voice*
First of all, this park requires no fees for access. It’s open to anyone. Our runners paid to enjoy the trails that day. So the argument of (*insert mocking voice again*) “These are our trails” kinda falls right there.
But the truth is, it’s not even about the money. That’s just the proverbial cherry on top, if that. In fact, it’s about the people.
We have runners from all walks of life. We have runners who run in memory of their deceased loved ones. We have runners who never thought they’d walk again. We have runners who run to enjoy the community and camaraderie that comes with it. We have runners who run for the win — but don’t hesitate to slow down and help out should something happen, who still call out words of encouragement to others.
That day — as at any other race — there were people who dreamt of crossing the finish line for the first time, people who trained long and hard to make that happen.
There were people who dreamt of beating their personal best, people who trained long and hard to make that happen.
There were people who just wanted to enjoy the trail that day, have a good time, and do something for their health. And they, also, trained long and hard for that run.
These are all the people I’m honored to take care of, these are all the people I have the privilege to root for.
While you, dear sir or madam Vandal, can, with all due respect, go fuck yourself.
We managed to get all runners back to start/finish safely. Many of them found their way thanks to other runners who are local to the trails and have run this race in the past. The trail running community came together to get them back on track, and I’m forever grateful for that. Whoever helped our runners out there this weekend: thank you. We are all beyond grateful.
This concludes my little speech. To the arrogant, swollen-headed, narcissistic, stuck-up piece of ham who took it upon themselves to try to destroy the whole day for so many people: I hope you find a bit of humanity and happiness in yourself in the future. Hell, come run with us, on me. I’ll get you a race entry. So that you, too, can see what a beautiful, supporting, and loving community of people we have. Maybe you’ll even make a few friends that will help you get out of that ugly, lonely place where you must be.
Much love to everyone,