Running with Strangers

It’s hard to talk about my personal experience running with all the chaos that is going on in the world right now. Divisive nasty politics, the eruption of racial violence, and mass shootings here at home, more insidious violence in both the sadly “normal” hot spots (Syria, Afgahnistan, Iraq) and places we think of as “safe”. I feel horrified, numb, bewildered and ultimately astonished.


Another birthday in the mountains with the best people. Photo by Jenny Johnson.

It feels ridiculous of me to tell you about what a great time I had exercising my racial, educational and economic privledge by spending the weekend finding my happy place on a small snow field in the alpine zone in the Chic Choc mountain range in the Gapse region of Quebec, or running a 25 km race in the 2nd largest urban parkin North America in St. John Canada, or taking the mail boat to an Isle au Haut to run in the national park. That I recently returned from another year’s Herring Run, put on by friends who open their home to strangers (and friends) and host 100 adult runners and 40 kid runners and 40 volunteers and many more families and spectators, or that I spent a birthday weekend in the White Mountains with my best friends, running and hiking the Kinsmans and soaking in a mountain stream, swollen from the previous nights thunderstorms.

How do I inspire people to get out there on their own without it feeling like gloating? Getting outside is how I stay “sane and grounded” in an “insane and ungrounded” world. But having that option is the result of a lot of things beyond my control, and choices on my pallet that not everyone has.


Atop Kinsman, in the clouds. Not much of a view. Photo by Jenny Johnson.

How do I do these things and not feel guilt? Or should I feel guilt? I’m not sure guilt is at all useful but when guilt gets transformed into awareness, consciousness, then it can become action. A friend has been working this angle for years, resulting in the international development project called Legado, who’s first project took rock climbers to an isolated mountain in Mozambique to assist scientists in accessing otherwise inaccessible terrain. Closer to home a local running race director has organized the Millinocket Marathon, an effort to get runners to flood that town’s economy with much needed cash.

I don’t think I am an outdoor adventure/running philanthropist/social entrepreneur. I’m a teacher and a writer and a human being trying to figure out how to be in this world. Maybe that is the point—that the struggle is real, and as long as we all understand that it isn’t the same struggle as a Syrian refugee trying to cross the sea to get to Europe, an African American man simply trying to drive across town, an inner city family trying to source fresh, non processed food, that society places different burdens on us, burdens that are very real and not equally distributed, maybe it is ok for my voice to be heard.

Running is a basic human condition. We can all do it at some point in our lives. We can all move. For some of us, moving is life or death, for others a way to take control, for me it is a way to feel like a real human, not a machine, not a dysfunctional animal. So I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m lucky, and I know it. I have an outlet, I have something that makes the crazy go away for a little while. Maybe what I say will help you find a way to make the crazy go away for a while too, whatever that crazy is, unfortunately there is no shortage of that in this world.

I joined a group run one night in July, showing up at the Camden Snow Bowl to run trails with a group of strangers. It was intimidating, but because this group continually posted on social media that they welcomed all comers I had nothing to lose. Something about running with strangers felt right, felt like the antidote. Just being willing to show up starts building community, and community is what will eventually overcome all the bad stuff I wrote about at the beginning of this post. So I guess that is what I am trying to do here, create some community, build some bridges, and acknowledge my gratitude that I gave this option in the first place.

We’ll be getting back to our regularly scheduled programming in the coming weeks, but thanks for bearing with me as I got that off my chest.


Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.