When I heard about Good People Run I was instantly attracted to the notion of reciprocity. I was excited that GPR would “Give Back” to the community, specifically by donating a proportion of money earned through it’s creative endeavours to charity. I was also attracted to the notion that GPR is a grassroots collective, started by enthusiastic people who have (in some cases) disparate backgrounds.
At GPR our common bond is a love of running and desire in some way to effect change in our communities. GPR feels accessible, inclusive and refreshingly holistic. Greater than the sum of it’s parts. To me the most interesting aspect of any running media is when the focus is on the people who run, why they run and not just how they run.
The experience of holism and inclusivity mirrors my experience with the running community in general, and more specifically the Aotearoa off road/trail running tribe. A tight knit, inclusive, dirty-ankled bunch that I count myself privileged to be one of and within whose ranks I’ve made many good friends.
For my part I’ve made the notion of “Giving back” central to my existence. I am a Registered Nurse, working in acute mental health, with a largely disadvantaged, traumatised and marginalised population. The people I server have enduring and complex needs and increasingly poor outcomes. If we factor into this population the effect that poor socioeconomic status has on health and vice versa, then this almost exponentially complicates matters. I find myself often in a position of advocacy for those who have lost their voice; literally assisting people in reconciling their narrative, thus making sense of who they are. The further along I go in this role I’ve found the most successful outcomes stem from “being with” rather than “doing to”. That is, engaging in a reciprocal relationship with a person, rather than a hierarchical one. Nursing is taxing and at times all encompassing. Having said that, I love my job, and feel fortunate that I have the ability to do it.
I’m aware that my role affords me disposable income and leisure time that allows me to indulge my love of running. This relative luxury has lead running to shift from being something auxiliary to being an integral part of my life. It’s not just something I do, it’s a part of who I am. In so much as I am a husband, a father a son, I am also a runner. Running in itself can be a solitary and at times self involved pursuit, and soon I found myself wanting to find a way to engage my love of running with the community that I lived in.
Riverhead, with it’s population of approximately 3500 people sits on the the doorstep of Riverhead forest, a Pine forest approximately the size of Rangitoto island. Rather than the steady stream of locals hammering trail like you would see in Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, running in Riv has been a largely solitary endeavour. It’s clear from the quizzical looks that I receive from other locals, that yes, myself and some other (mainly non Riverhead residents) run IN the forest. It rapidly became clear that our woods are a sorely underutilised resource.
Looking for a means to spread the word, invite people to run in the forest and contribute positively to the community the Riverhead Rampage was born. For the last three years myself and four other parents have put on a 5, 10, and 21km foot race on the trails in the forest. We are a not for profit organisation and all proceeds from the event go back to the local primary school that our children attend. We operate from a sponsorship model, (that is, our expenses are paid by sponsors, thus maximising the return the school gets) This year, we had a field of 466 runners, taking on the 5, 10 and 21km trail runs. It struck me that I was giving back to my community in more than monetary terms. I was giving back in providing an experience. In creating an event with three distinct courses, I was attempting to communicate my love of running in Riverhead forest and hopefully show people how accessible, fun and engaging trail running (or indeed any running) can be.
I came from a creative background, for most of my life being sedentary and heavily involved in the music scene. Becoming active in my thirties and reaping the benefits of becoming fitter, calmer, more engaged and mindful lead me initially to think that I’d moved away from the creative aspect of my life to a more process orientated stance of training, learning, running, repeat. Being involved in Riverhead Rampage has made me realise that planning a foot race is every bit as much a creative as writing prose or composing music.
The epiphany I had is they all employ process, rhythm and structure. They all attempt to convey narrative. The difference is with planning a course you use elevation and distance instead of melody or words.
The familiar anticipation and anxiety that I felt when writing music, playing a new song or planning a show was present when I was poring over maps and wracking my brain trying to come up with an interesting and varied course. I ran and re-ran the 5, 10 and 21km courses a number of times before I set on what I thought were the ideal routes, having them “speak to me’ if you will. trying to find the right structure, flow and story. I’m completely aware that interpretation is subjective. What I took from these routes would be in some cases diametrically opposed to the participants would. Experience resonates differently to each of us, and that sense of story and flow is conveyed by the melody, the prose, or the trail.
This year will be the third time I’ve stood in the starting/finishing chute, counting down the runners. It is one of the most nerve wracking experiences I’ve ever had. “What if they hate my course?” “What if the get lost or hurt?” and a thousand other thoughts piled through my mind. It was all for nothing though. Everyone made it back safe, no-one got lost, everyone enjoyed/cursed my name at the gnarly pinch climb I included in the final 2 kilometres….
I don’t know if the notion of giving back to my community through organising this race is more taxing than if we did it as employment as each standpoint has it’s own stressors. What I am sure of, is that being able to involve running and community engagement (not to mention being able to gift our local school twenty thousand dollars in the last two years) is one of the most fulfilling, inspiring and refreshing things I have ever done. The reward, apart from seeing happy people and contributing to your community, is an increased sense of excitement, connection with others and a desire to continue to create an event that will challenge and encourage people to run and explore not just Riverhead, but their own communities.