"Trail Runners Are Lazy Parasites," Marc Peruzzi of Outside wrote in May of 2019, and the trail running community lost their goddamn minds.
"...Peruzzi's article? Well, it's going in a six-inch hole, where it belongs," Stephanie Case, author of UltraRunnerGirl.com, fired back. "There was a new subscription renewal letter here on my table," Max King tweeted, "but now it's in the trash." Billy Yang added, "Way to alienate a chunk of your readers..."
Certainly, Peruzzi's article is full of emotionally inciting language, with name calling such as, "deadbeats" and low blows along the lines of, "They might not want to get their arms all swole doing manual labor." Peruzzi's writing style is inflammatory, certainly, and it makes sense that trail runners are insulted and defensive in the face of this piece of writing. But that is simply Peruzzi's writing style; a quick review of his other Outside contributions hihglights articles like "Fuck the Gear Police", where he gripes about other people griping about athletic fashion. Petty, name calling, aggressive stances with a few facts thrown in is Peruzzi's formula, and it must be working, because here we are, reading another response to his article.
However, some of his data, while potentially misused, is sound. There are an estimated 9 million plus trail runners; while the solo impact of one running group in a town may be low, 9 million of us adds up on our impact to the trails, land, and community. Nancy Hobbs, founder of the American Trail Running Association, notes that, "Trail runners often think we have little or no impact, but as our sport gets bigger, we do need to give back." Clare Gallagher, a prominent environmentalist and trail runner, muses over this population versus presence issue: "Trail runners have a disconnect from their favorite activity. Why aren't we doing more?...Where's the action?"
Peruzzi wasn't able to provide number to back up his claim that "trail runners are the least likely to volunteer to build and maintain trails", but Stephanie Chase, who responded with her own article, "Response form a Proud 'Lazy Parasite' Trail Runner", admits that she couldn't come up with numbers to dispute his claims, either. She believes this is due to a lack of formal, national organizations for trail runners; "...the trail running community does not systematically organize and mobilize resources and methodically tall the result of our collective action." She adds that trail running is not about the numbers, and certainly isn't about "advertising these good deeds", musing that perhaps this modesty is making us appear less involved than we truly are. Stephanie points out a few organizations that are trying to bride the gap between trail runners and trail stewards, but two of the three she cites are in Canada. She also remarks on the trail ultras that require volunteer work for entry, including Western States, Vermont 100, Angeles Crest, and Wasatch Front 100. Other livid comments online protest that trail runners are some of the most eco-conscious athletes, thanks to our literal connection to the earth; many running groups and races donate money to conservation groups; and race volunteers and directors are mindful to cleaning up aid stations and race routes after an event.
However, the question remains: is that enough? Are four or five major races contributing enough to offset the massive amount of foot traffic trail runners contribute to public trails? Are the maybe ten running clubs that require trail volunteer hours for membership enough to offset the hundreds that don't? More specifically for our communities, are local trail running groups doing enough in their local community to not only negate their impact, but also be an asset to the wider network?
Bob Ducette, a Tulsan heavily involved in his local urban wilderness spaces, also wrote a response to Peruzzi's article on the website "Proactive Outside". Ducette focused on local public trails, such as Turkey Mountain and Chandler Wilds. While Ducette argued that, "It's not fair to lay all the blame on runners for trail damage and erosion. We're all part of it", he goes on to point out that trail runners represent the lowest numbers of volunteers on local trail work days. In his experience, cyclists are the ones who pull more than their share of the weight, and he attributes this to the large-scale, widespread emphasis placed on environmental stewardship on a national scale. However, Ducette points out a very valuable insight into trail runners doing local trail maintenance; he acknowledges that giving to charitable groups, being eco-friendly, and paying taxes to support public land is a step in the right direction, "but it doesn't mean anything to the trails you use unless you go out and put your ideals into action on the trails you use."
TOTs is lucky enough to meet at Turkey Mountain once a week, every Tuesday. We often split off into several teams based on pace, and in this way, we hit an exponential number of trails within our hour gatherings. Additionally, most of us log miles on Turkey Mountain, Chandler Wilds, and even the paved Riverside Trails, every other day of the week. The recent historic flooding brought a new awareness of how fortunate we are to have access to these locations; for many of us, the rains and flooding made our favorite dirt trails dangerous or even impossible to utilize. And now, to restore our stomping grounds to their proper state, we need to put our hands where our feet normally are.
The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition is hosting a Trail Work Day at Turkey Mountain on Saturday, Sept 28th, 2019 at 8-12PM. We've dedicated thousands of hours to running and learning these trail; now, it's time to commit a little sweat equity to them as well.