The New Ethic

Quick leg update: After 2 days off from running and lifting, starting on the 3rd, my leg has improved drastically. There is minor tightness that comes and goes and my normal gait is returning quickly. Rest, it seems, is all I needed. My family will be heading to North Carolina today to visit my son, so I’ll have another day or two of rest, maybe with some light jogging to keep the muscle memory intact, and then one day of trail running with serious hills. This should give me a good measure of where I stand, literally, with effort. Overall though, things are turning around quickly. It’s funny how NOT running is such a crucial component to running well.


I’ve been rather enamored with surf culture lately, which I know is absurd since I’m surrounded by cornfields and pigeons instead of wave breaks and seagulls. Still, spending a week or two every summer in Ocean City has introduced me to surf culture in a more direct manner that has resonated with me more than just watching Point Break 50 times. I think, if I lived in the right environment, I could develop the “surfer” identity with relative ease. I came to this awareness through the development of a seemingly inherent trail runner identity I’ve come to appreciate. The similarities are rather obvious to me.

"Bring your filthy big city ass to our ocean again and we'll set the dolphins loose on you!"

The culture of both is incredibly relaxed and appreciative. Trail running, compared to road running, is more about camaraderie among runners than it is driving competition into the ground. And as in surfing, it involves a direct interaction with the natural environment, not just acting through it, but within it. The varied terrains, altitudes, animals, rocks, roots, etc., require a symbiosis one doesn’t find in road racing, or the surfing equivalent, skateboarding. The alternatives lean towards a battle against the environment rather than in concert. Ultimately, I think this interaction develops an awareness and appreciation of the natural world that tends to span both cultures, whether that is an almost religious worship of the sea or an equally spiritual anthropomorphism placed upon the forest and mountains. Or on the other hand, maybe our individual appreciation of the natural world draws us to activities like surfing or running almost naturally. Regardless, the result is the same – a supportive relationship with the natural world and a desire to protect its value.

Hesitation Point rock garden

Flipping through a surf magazine the other day I came across a couple ads promoting a “save the oceans” type cause, but didn’t give them much thought, thinking it was nothing but an expected appeal  to a crowd with a vested interest in the cause. I think, subconsciously, I felt the surf culture was too laid back  to care much about devoting their time to a liberally attempt at “saving the oceans”. I assumed they might be verbally supportive, but disconnected from the actual nuts and bolts that go into both protecting the oceans as well as resistant to involving themselves with actually fighting against the industries that are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem itself. I could see them putting “Save the Dolphins” stickers on their boards and bumpers, but not doing much else. Then I read further into the magazine and came across an article and photo montage that highlighted surfers involvement in not only supporting environmental causes involving the ocean and its inhabitants, but even taking charge as “activists”, whether that was through campaigning, lobbying or other measures. This wasn’t even a “save my playground” type of approach, but acting on behalf of the oceans inhabitants for their sake alone. It was relatively selfless, fully informed and even more passionate. I was thrilled to see this sort of involvement and developed an even deeper appreciation of the culture

Naturally, I found myself considering the role of trail runners in our environment and what our potentials and possibilities might be to have a positive effect on the forests, mountains and inhabitants alike. Are we, as a culture,  involved in environmental causes? Do we truly care about the well-being and expansion of the forests inhabitants? Do we engage in causes to protect our interests or the interests of the entire ecosystem itself?

Without much extensive research and going on gut instinct alone, it feels like we as trail runners have a lot of potential to involve ourselves in important environmental struggles, but often do not. I’m certainly aware of trail building gatherings, casual discussions about the beauty of the forests, trail etiquette, shutting off trails to allow regrowth and similar topics, but those all seem to be selfish interests dealing only with our involvement in the ecosystem as a playground or escape. What about our potential to have a voice (or hands or pick axes) in issues dealing with waterway pollution, clear cuts, mountain top removal, herd culling, ecosystem balance, etc. etc.?

Nice work assholes.

What if, and here comes the big WHAT IF, we established a new ethic of SYMBIOTIC STEWARDSHIP of the ecosystems we interact with as trail runners, so that to be a trail runner involved not only running on trails and developing an appreciation of the environment, but also going beyond that and WORKING to protect that environment as well, not because it is our “playground”, but because we exist with it and within it as a smaller part of a greater whole? What if we went beyond picking up GU wrappers and broken reflectors, getting together for trail-building seminars, staying off trails after heavy rains and instead showed up in masse at land bids, stood in the way of industries hell-bent on clear cutting the forests, defended the animals in the forest from hunting (and widened our protection of animals on the whole and went vegan), campaigned for anti-highway groups in the area? What if being a trail runner opened one to the possibilities for much larger and more important endeavors related to protecting our crucial forest and mountain ecosystems? Seriously, WHAT IF we created  a new ethic for our culture? One where beer was consumed post-run, but while discussing how to get involved with the campaign to stop turtle slaughter in Southern Indiana. What if our races ended with a table of food, but one that didn’t contain the bodies of tortured factory farm animals? What if our meetups at the trail head began back in the city where we carpooled to the woods instead of all driving seperately (who says I don’t know about baby steps?)?

All animals are wild.

I know, I’m not resonating with a lot of you on this, but this is the potential I think we really have as a large community of relatively like-minded individuals. The surfers, with all their diversity, still have an underlying ethic of respect and appreciation for the ocean, but took that respect and appreciation to its logical extent by involving themselves in the fight to protect their second home. There is no reason we shouldn’t do the same.

The question that follows, of course, is HOW. How do we imbibe our culture with a new ethic of “symbiotic stewardship”? At the very least…we start the conversation.

I’d love to hear your voices in this conversation.

Symbiotic Stewardship


5 responses to “The New Ethic

  1. Start the conversation by appealing to people’s selfishness. At least, that’s what worked for me. I manage a coffee bar, and was doing a somewhat lax job of recycling the materials we go through. It was simply easier not to bother – as it almost always is. It only took one person saying one thing to motivate me. “Just picture all that trash piling up on your trails,” she said. Or something to that effect. I don’t mean to say that I’m doing as much as I can now, or even that I’m doing enough (however we quantify that). But I’m doing something that I wasn’t before, which is certainly better.

  2. Have you heard of the organization Tread Lightly? They already do about 70% of what you have mentioned.

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